New research shows that substituting brown rice for white rice may lower risk of type 2 diabetes in both men and women. Brown rice contains a fiber and vitamin-rich outer skin–called the bran– that is stripped away when processing white rice. The result? White rice is more quickly converted to sugar by our bodies and contributes to more dramatic spikes in blood sugar than an equivalent portion of brown rice.
The study, conducted with nearly 200,000 participants, found that regular intake (defined here as five servings or greater) of white rice over the period of one week was associated with a 17% higher diabetes risk compared to infrequent consumption of white rice (<1 serving per month). Conversely, researchers found that eating just two or more servings of brown rice over the same week-long period was associated with an 11% lower risk of developing diabetes compared to eating less than one serving per month. Based on these findings, the researchers estimated that by replacing 50g (about 1.5oz) of uncooked, white rice per day with an equivalent serving of brown rice would result in a 16% lower risk of developing diabetes. Furthermore, the research suggested that swapping that same white rice portion with an equivalent amount of other whole grains would produce a 36% reduced risk of diabetes.
Substituting a whole grain for a refined one is not a new suggestion. Research has already shown that foods — like brown rice — with lower glycemic indexes help to reduce the risk of heart disease in women. Conversely, white rice, which has a high glycemic index, causes blood sugar to spike after eating. And this recent study found that eating brown rice may be so beneficial because of its high content of nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, most of which are lost during refining and milling processes when the outer bran layer is stripped away.
While many health-conscious consumers realize that eating whole grain brown rice is more beneficial than refined white, many prefer white rice to brown. If brown rice just isn’t your thing, try exploring some other nutritious whole grain options that cook just as fast as white rice: like quinoa, millet, kasha (buckwheat groats), whole wheat couscous or pearled barley.
Next time you are at a restaurant simply ask, “Can I get that with brown rice, instead?” Your body will be glad you did.