If you’re diabetic, have prediabetes, or are simply worried about your sugar intake, you may be overlooking a certain mainstay in your cupboards.
White rice is a food typically considered a staple in most diets; this is certainly true of American culture, but even more true among Asian demographics. With this in mind, it may come as a surprise that white rice in large doses can increase the risk for diabetes.
This understanding explains why diabetic rates are higher in Asians than other populations. Contrary to previous theories, it’s not a matter of genetics, but the levels of starch found in white rice. In such large amounts, starch can flood the body with blood sugar, thereby increasing diabetic risk. How much of a risk are we talking? Well, according to Zee Yoon Kang, chief executive of the Health Promotion Board, when white rice is eaten daily, it can increase the risk of developing diabetes by up to 11%.
Concerned? That’s understandable. Here are some other things to consider:
On average, one bowl of rice has about double the level of carbohydrates of a can of soda. All of this excess sugar can put a strain on the pancreas; this is because the pancreas, by means of insulin production, converts the sugar in our blood into usable energy. Certain foods, white rice among them, cause problems then by dumping too much sugar into the blood at one time.
When there is too much sugar in the blood, the event is referred to as a ‘sugar spike’. Sugar spikes are bad for the body because they overtax the pancreas, which makes it less effective in the future. What this means is over time, the pancreas gets weaker and weaker, which limits its ability to generate insulin. This means sugar levels in the body steadily rise as a result.
Excess sugar leads to kidney damage, and kidney damage leads to diabetes. So, put simply, too much starch in white rice leads to too much sugar in the blood, followed by organ damage and diabetic complications.
There are other factors that tend to contribute to diabetes. For example, a higher body mass index plays a part, and to a degree, genetics and family history do as well. As for the role that white rice plays in this, it, and other refined carbohydrate foods come packed with loads of extra sugar. Fortunately, the solution is simple: eat brown rice! Studies show that even replacing as little as 20% of the white rice you consume with brown rice can cut diabetic risk. Furthermore, brown rice, as well as other varieties of rice, simply packs more of a nutritional punch than typical white rice anyway.
If you’re dead set on keeping white rice in your diet, that’s okay. Just be sure to eat it in moderation. A good time to consume white rice is immediately after a workout. Post workout, your body will be seeking to quickly recover energy, and so the quick energy of white rice will be immediately broken down for the body’s use.
Another problem with rice (all rice) that is recently becoming more prevalent is the presence of arsenic in rice. Arsenic, typically known as a substance toxic to humans, does occur naturally in the environment, usually bonded to some other compound. It is found in rocks and ends up in water as well, which means it ends up in plants, and therefore, in our food.
Normally, this is of little concern, because arsenic only appears in small amounts. However, human activity and pollution (pesticides, herbicides) have greatly increased the level of inorganic arsenic in the environment. Given the ability of rice to take in so much water, it comes as little surprise that high levels of arsenic can end up in rice as a result.
Arsenic is deadly to humans, particularly children. It can cause a number of harmful effects, including factors that contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and narrowed or blocked blood vessels. It can also hinder cognitive development.
While the level of arsenic in rice is increasing, fortunately, for the time being, it is not a serious health concern, according to the FDA, which as establish various levels at which arsenic becomes harmful. If this is cold comfort, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself:
Washing and/or soaking rice in water can remove some of the arsenic. The same goes for using lots of water during cooking. Furthermore, different varieties of rice, such as basmati and jasmine rice, typically harbor less arsenic than white or brown rice. In general, when it comes to healthy eating, and therefore healthy living, do your best to buy organic, non-chemically treated products, clean and prepare them properly, and consume a wide variety of food, rather than too much of any one thing. Remember, healthy eating is healthy living.
Many Asians consume refined carbs, such as noodles and rice. These foods come with a lot of sugar. What’s even worse is that if you have a high body mass index, your diabetes risk increases the more you eat white rice.
Thankfully, there are ways to combat this risk increase and among them is to replace 20% of white rice consumption with brown rice. By simply doing so, you cut your risk by up to 16%.