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Switching to Brown Rice Cuts Diabetes Risk

What We Know

Diabetes is a powerful risk factor for heart and blood vessel disease. 10 million American women have diabetes, and these women are 5 times more likely to die of heart disease than a woman without diabetes. Diabetes also increases your risk of having a stroke or DVT (blood clot in the veins), and puts you at risk for heart failure and peripheral artery disease.

Your diabetes risk is partially determined by your genes, but is also influenced by lifestyle factors like excess body weight, lack of physical activity, and poor diet. A diet that includes too many foods that cause sugar to be quickly released into your blood may make you more likely to develop diabetes. Researchers measure how quickly a certain food causes your blood sugar to spike using a scale called the glycemic index.

Eating more whole grains, which have a lower glycemic index and contain more nutrients than refined grains, should therefore be able to help prevent diabetes. Can a simple switch be enough to cut the risk of diabetes and its health consequences, including heart disease?

What This Study Adds

To find out whether replacing refined grains with whole grains could be an easy way to lower your diabetes risk, a recent study looked the diets of 157,463 female and 39,765 male health professionals.

The researchers focused on a single food to simplify the comparison between the health effects of whole grains and refined grains: rice. The whole-grain form of rice is known as brown rice, which includes rice’s natural coating (the bran and germ) that carries most of its nutrients. To produce white rice, this outer layer is stripped off, leaving only the starchy white center. The Average American eats more than 20 pounds of rice a year, more than 70% of it white rice.

After accounting for differences in age, diet, activity level, and other factors that influence diabetes risk, the researchers found that people who ate more than 5 servings of white rice per week were 17% more likely to develop diabetes than those who ate it less than once a month. Brown rice had the opposite effect: people who ate two or more servings of brown rice per week were 11% less likely to develop diabetes than those who ate it seldom or never.

Based on these results, the researchers concluded that replacing one serving of white rice every 3 days (about 50 grams per day) with the same amount of white rice could lower a woman’s risk of developing diabetes by 16%. Doing the same with all the grains in your diet could cut diabetes risk by as much as 36%.

What it Means for You

This latest study adds to the growing evidence on the importance of whole grains to the health of your heart and blood vessels. The researchers found that simply replacing refined grains with their whole grain equivalents could cut a woman’s diabetes risk by more than one third. Other studies have found that eating more whole grains reduces your risk of dying early and helps prevent weight gain.

Despite these benefits, as many as 40% of Americans do not eat any whole grains at all. You should aim to have at least half of your 6 daily servings of grain be whole grains. See our article on Fiber & Grains to find whole-grain replacements for common refined grain foods, and for tips on how to identify whole grains.

Source: Sun Q, Speigelman D, et al. White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170:961-9.

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