freelance journalist, print journalist, online journalist, copywriter, content editor, freelance editor, health and lifestyle, blogger Rice not nice? Well, at least when it's white… | Christine Morgan - Journalist
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So the latest food to get the pubic-enemy-number-one treatment is rice. Or rather, specifically white rice. You’ve probably seen the headlines already. Yes, white rice increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, but brown rice decreases it. So all those experts who keep telling us that wholegrain foods – as opposed to refined foods – are good for us were right all along. Well of course they were. But how dangerous can an innocent bowl of lovely, fluffy white rice be, really?

Writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers from Harvard Medical School – who analysed the findings of three different studies which, together, involved almost 200,000 volunteers – say eating five or more servings a week of white rice increases your risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 17 percent. BUT if you eat brown instead of white rice, you can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes by 16 percent. Hmmm. So perhaps if you mix brown and white rice 50/50, you get back to a more-or-less level playing field where diabetes is concerned. Sorry, thinking out loud there.

Well so far, I’m not particularly worried. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t eat five or more services of rice (of any colour) a week – more like one a week or a fortnight even. But many people from other cultures eat masses of the stuff. So I thought it would be interesting to check out the diabetes statistics in different countries to see if there’s an epidemic of the disease in places like China, Japan and India.

So here, according to the most recent figures I could find from the World Health Organisation, is what I found:

The worldwide prevalence for diabetes in 2000 was 171,000,000, a figure that’s estimated to rise to 366,000,000 in 2030 (now I don’t know if that’s type 1, type 2 or both types of diabetes)

Japan: 6,765,000 diabetes sufferers in 2000, with a projected 8,914,000 by 2030

China: 20,757,000 in 2000, 42,321,000 by 2030

India: 31,705 in 2000, 79,441,000 by 2030

UK: 1,765,000 in 2000, 2,668,000 by 2030

USA: 17,702,000 in 2000, 30,312,000 by 2030

To put those figures into context, here are the latest estimated population figures for the above…

Japan: 127,360,000

China: 1,338,090,000

India: 1,182,850,000

UK: 62,041,708

USA: 309,504,000

Well, as I’ve said before, I’m no mathematician. But glancing at those figures, it seems as if places like China and Japan (and to a lesser extent India – though bear in mind that, for some reason, people from South East Asia already have a higher risk for developing diabetes than many other races) are more than holding their own compared to the USA – where it looks like there are far more people with type 2 diabetes in relation to the overall population. So perhaps it’s not just about white rice, but the overall diet (and, dare I say, how much you eat too).

The study’s experts are quoted as saying that the reason why brown rice may reduce your risk for diabetes, whereas white rice increases it, is perhaps because brown rice still contains the fibre that’s stripped out in white rice. And as all good nutrition-watchers know, fibre helps slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. In other words, white rice causes blood sugar spikes (because its sugars are released quickly) while brown rice prevents them. And lots of sugar spikes messes with your insulin production, which, taken to its logical conclusion, could mean the development of diabetes. Or at least, that’s how I understand it.

But of course it all depends what you have with the rice. For instance, beans and pulses are packed with fibre, so are veggies. So if you have them with a bowl of white rice, the overall release of sugars is slowed-down by the fact that you’re eating high-fibre foods with the rice. There again, my half-brown/half-white rice idea sounds like a good bet too.

All of which goes to show, it’s never as simple as the headlines make out, is it?