A US study from researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, which surveyed over 200,000 people’s dietary habits, says that simply replacing white rice with brown rice could cut the risk of diabetes by one-third. The study found that people who ate white rice most of the time had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. After adjusting for age and other diabetes risk factors, the study found that eating five servings of white rice per week could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 17 per cent. By replacing white rice with brown rice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes dropped by a third.

More than 70 per cent of rice eaten in Western developed countries is white. The refining process removes the outer bran and germ portions from the brown rice to leave a white starchy endosperm, or the inside of the seed. The fibre in the outer bran of brown rice is healthier because it releases sugar more gradually. It also contains vital B vitamins needed for the proper metabolism of starchy foods.

Professor Paul Zimmet, director emeritus of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne says “We do know that brown rice and whole grain foods do not cause rapid elevations of the blood sugar level which puts stress on the pancreas, …….a future risk of diabetes.”

Dr Gary Deed from Diabetes Australia in Queensland says the study confirms what has long been suspected. “Brown rice has a very different composition to white rice, ……… having up to almost 350 times a percentage of fibre compared to white rice and also high rates of certain minerals and vitamins compared to milled white rice.

Brown rice has a lower glycaemic index of 55, compared to white rice of around 70, meaning it is a more sustaining food and doesn’t raise the blood sugar as high as the white rice.
Of course, you can’t blame white rice alone for causing diabetes. However, white rice is one in a list of refined grains that are habitually consumed in both developed and underdeveloped countries. In India, the habit of husking rice to produce white rice, contributes to the problem of malnutrition there, as it removes the source of critical B vitamins that assist with brain development. Refined grains have very little nutrition remaining.

Brown rice does take longer to cook than white rice – but not that much longer. There is no extra labour involved – it just needs to be put on about 15 minutes earlier than you would white rice. This simple change improves the amount of nutrition, fibre, and flavour, in a meal.

A compromise is to add some white rice to the brown rice you’re cooking, part of the way through. This may help to gradually change the habit of choosing white rice. Just buy brown rice next time, and leave white rice just for special occasions.