People who eat brown rice or other whole grains seem to have a lower risk of developing diabetes than those who eat white rice, according to a U.S. study.
A team of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital analyzed about 200,000 adults followed for up to 22 years and found eating more refined white rice was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels caused by a body's inability to process sugar properly and is often linked to obesity and poor diet. The illness can sometimes be controlled through diet and exercise but may require drugs.
"In general, the public should pay special attention to their carbohydrate intake and try to replace refined carbohydrates, including white rice, with whole grains," researcher Dr. Qi Sun told Reuters Health.
Current U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that at least half of carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grains.
More Americans are eating rice, Sun and colleagues note in their report published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rice consumption has shot up more than threefold since the 1930s.
However, most of the rice eaten by Americans is refined white rice, which is stripped of its fiber, vitamins and minerals in the refining process and is more likely to fuel an increase in blood sugar.
The researchers assessed rice intake and diabetes risk among nearly 40,000 men and more than 157,000 women in three long-running studies.
Altogether, 10,507 of them developed type 2 diabetes.
Across all three studies, having more white rice in the diet was associated with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers estimate that replacing one third of a serving of white rice daily (about 50 grams) with the same amount of brown rice could lower a person's risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 16 percent.
They further estimate that replacing white rice with whole grains as a group could be associated with a risk reduction as great as 36 percent.
Sun pointed out that they adjusted for numerous factors that might influence the results and the findings still held up but added that it was possible that eating more brown rice was a marker for a healthier lifestyle.
"We adjusted for these factors including body adiposity (fat), smoking, physical activity, and other dietary factors, and the significant associations remained. This suggests that what we observed is unlikely the result of other factors," said Sun.