Does Eating White Rice Lead to Diabetes?

A study from Harvard School of Public Health analyzed people from China, Japan, U.S. and Australia who did not have diabetes, and found that those who ate the most rice were more than 1.5 times as likely to have diabetes as those who ate the least amount of rice.  For every large bowl a person ate each day, the risk rose 10%.  In China, people eat an average of 4 servings of white rice/day while those in western countries eat fewer than 5 servings a week and is the most common type of rice eaten worldwide.  So it is not surprising that this association appears to be stronger for Asians than for Western populations.

Why does eating white rice pose such a risk for diabetes?

Eating white rice could cause a sudden spike in blood sugar because white rice is rapidly converted to sugar.  This can cause a person to become hungrier sooner than if they ate a low-sugar food, leading to overeating which is another risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

White rice doesn’t contain as many nutrients as brown rice, which is packed in fiber, magnesium and vitamins.  Not getting enough of these nutrients could contribute to type 2 diabetes risk.  Similarly, some of these nutrients, especially fiber and magnesium, are thought to protect against diabetes.  Starchy carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, white pasta, white potatoes) could have the same effect as rice, if eaten enough. 

So what should you do if rice is a staple in your diet?

Practice moderation! Only eat white rice 1-2x per week, and try to incorporate more brown rice into your diet.  Your genetics also play a role in your risk for diabetes and that is unchangeable.  But there are certain things that you can change, such as eating habits, exercise and physical activity.

Risk factors for diabetes include:

o   Being overweight or obese

o   Getting little to no physical exercise

o   Having a family history of diabetes

o   Age (can develop at any age, but risk of type 2 diabetes goes up with age, especially after age 45)

o   Being African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian-American

o   Having high blood pressure

o   Polycystic ovarian syndrome

o   Gestational diabetes

If you have been diagnosed with prediabetes, there are ways to take control of the condition early. This includes making healthy lifestyle changes such as eating healthy foods, getting more physical exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight. All of these things can help lower your blood sugar level and bring it back to normal, warding off diabetes. See your doctor to get tested and if diagnosed, they can help you create a plan to manage your condition.