Friday, March 16, 2012

Food Race War Expands

Damn those whites. Everywhere you turn, they are wreaking havoc.

No, I'm not speaking of Caucasians. I mean white sugar, white flour, and now more definitively--white rice.

In a recent meta-analysis of four grouped studies, researchers found that consumption of higher amounts of white rice was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared to eating the lowest amounts.

Patients who ate the greatest amounts of the grain had a 27% greater risk of developing the disease than those who ate the least, and the relative risk was higher among Asian patients, wrote Qi Sun, PhD, of Harvard and her co-authors.

According to the authors, "Although rice has been a staple food in Asian populations for thousands of years, this transition [to more sedentary lifestyles and greater availability of food] may render Asian populations more susceptible to the adverse effects of high intakes of white rice, as well as other sources of refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, white bread, and sugar sweetened beverages." 
In further analyses, the association appeared to be more pronounced in women than in men.

The authors cautioned, however, that the meta-analysis was limited by the observational nature of the included studies and by their reliance on food frequency questionnaires to assess dietary intake. Also, they did not analyze consumption of brown rice, since only one of the four studies examined this food.

Still, the dose-response relationship may indicate that "even for Western populations with typically low intake levels, relatively high white rice consumption may still modestly increase risk of diabetes."

Bruce Neal, MD, in an accompanying editorial, cautioned that the "interpretation of the observed association, and, in particular, determination of the likelihood of causality, are problematic." Neal added that the highest and lowest levels of rice intake varied greatly between studies, and that what's really needed is a "more sophisticated analysis based on primary rather than summary data." Neal believes that there are "few immediate clinical implications," since "further research is needed to develop and substantiate the research hypothesis" -- even though funding is likely a challenge.

"Public health nutrition awaits the discovery of the model that will secure the investment needed to answer questions about the role of nutrition in health using large randomised studies," Neal wrote. "Until then, the effect of the consumption of white rice on the development of type 2 diabetes will remain unclear."

Here's a description of why white rice raises concerns.
It is milled rice that has had its husk, bran, and germ removed. This removal changes the texture and appearance of the rice. After milling, the rice is polished, resulting in a seed with a bright, white, shiny appearance. The milling and polishing processes both remove important nutrients. When unenriched, white rice has little to no nutritional value. However, white rice, as required by US law, is enriched with B1, B2, and Iron, which add back some of the nutrients stripped from it during its processing. However, these nutrients represent insignificant nutritional value compared to what is removed and in general.

It is therefore reasonable to conclude that while we don't know for sure how bad white rice is, we can reasonably conclude that it's not particularly good for us. So sushi lovers, check to see if your favorite sushi restaurant is willing to make rolls with brown rice, which is unmilled or partially milled by having only the outermost layer removed and has more nutrients and magnesium than white rice.  Or skip rice altogether and eat grains like quinoa.

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