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Can Eating White Rice Lead to Diabetes?

By Francisco Renick, M.D.
photos by adam dietrich

Rice is an essential part of Costa Rica's diet. There are few staple foods with which Costa Ricans have such a close relationship. Just take a look at any Tico family's everyday menu: gallo pinto for breakfast, a casado (with rice, of course!) for lunch and arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) for dinner.

According to the Corporación Arrocera Nacional (CONARROZ- National Rice Corporation) during 2009-2010 the per capita rice consumption among Costa Ricans was 50.98 kg. Clearly anything related to rice will have a direct impact on Costa Rican's daily habits and diet.

Global annual rice production and consumption is about 430 million metric tons. With these figures, it's no wonder that various researchers have set out to discover the effects of this staple food on consumer's health.

In mid-March 2012, a group of researchers at Harvard School of Public Health published in the British Medical Journal the results of a review of four studies conducted over 22 years that are ongoing. They found a direct link between regular consumption of white rice and a 10% increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The studies included 352,384 healthy individuals from several countries with different rice consumption trends (China, Japan, the United States and Australia). At the beginning of the study, none of these people had the disease. However, by the end of the follow-up period 13,284 individuals had developed type 2 diabetes.

Researchers also came across an unexpected finding: the risk for diabetes associated with rice intake is higher among women than men. They also noted an important point: the increased risk is only associated with eating white rice. Therefore researchers suggest replacing it with brown rice, which is less processed and retains many of its benefits and nutrients, as well as being rich in fiber and magnesium.

However, health experts warn against overinterpreting these findings. Before implementing any large scale actions among the population, more studies should be conducted to accurately determine the mechanism by which white rice raises blood sugar levels.

For many, rice will continue being the perfect side dish for any meal! Its low price makes it affordable for most people and even in small quantities it has a significant energy content. It is also an important source of fiber (which aids with constipation), vitamins and minerals.


What is it? It is a disease in which there is an imbalance between sugar (glucose) that enters the body and the way in which it is processed or metabolized. Basically, the body does not know what do with so much sugar and gets sick. If the disease is not treated promptly through healthy lifestyle changes, drugs and/or exercise, it may cause great damage to the body, especially the heart, kidneys, eyes and nerves.

How is it diagnosed? Through a simple blood test while fasting that measures blood sugar (glucose) levels.

How does it develop? Diabetes is acquired by eating too much sugar and carbohydrates, which causes obesity. This can lead to high blood pressure. If a sedentary lifestyle is also present, the risk for type 2 diabetes is even greater.


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