A new study conducted by Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) shows that rice can be part of a healthy diet of average consumers, contrary to reports that it is linked to diabetes.
According to Dr. Melissa Fitzgerald of IRRI, their research showed that the glycemic index (GI) of rice may vary from one type to another, with most varieties of rice scoring a low to medium GI.
“It is good news because it not only means rice can be part of a healthy diet for the average consumer, but it also means people with diabetes, or at risk of diabetes, can select the right rice to help maintain a healthy, low-GI diet,” Fitzgerald said in an article posted in IRRI’s website.
“Understanding that different types of rice have different GI values allows rice consumers to make informed choices about the sort of rice they want to eat,” she added.
Fitzgerald said that rice varieties such as India’s most widely grown rice variety, the Swarna, have a low GI and varieties such as Doongara from Australia and Basmati have a medium GI.
GI is a measure of the relative ability of carbohydrates in foods to raise blood sugar levels after eating.
Based on the research findings in some 235 rice varieties worldwide, the glycemic index may ranges from a low of 48 to a high of 92, with an average of 64.
Low-GI foods are those measured 55 and less, medium-GI foods are those measured between 56 and 69, while high-GI foods measure 70 and above.
When food is measured to have a high GI, it means it is easily digested and absorbed by the body, which often results in fluctuations in blood sugar levels that can increase the chances of getting diabetes, and make management of type 2 diabetes difficult.
On the other hand, foods with low GI are those that have slow digestion and absorption rates in the body, causing a gradual and sustained release of sugar into the blood, which has been proven beneficial to health, including reducing the chances of developing diabetes.
IRRI, together with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization—Food Futures Flagship also identified the key gene that determines the GI of rice, an important achievement that offers rice breeders the opportunity to develop varieties with different GI levels to meet consumer needs.
Future development of low-GI rice would also enable food manufacturers to develop new, low-GI food products based on rice.
Dr. Tony Bird, CSIRO’s Food Futures Flagship researcher, said that low-GI diets offer a range of health benefits, noting that low-GI diets can reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, and are also useful for helping diabetics to better manage their condition.
“This is good news for diabetics and people at risk of diabetes who are trying to control their condition through diet, as it means they can select the right rice to help maintain a healthy, low-GI diet,” he added.
Eating rice with other foods can help reduce the overall GI of a meal and, when combined with regular exercise, can reduce the chances of getting diabetes. In addition, people who exercise need more carbohydrates in their diet and can take advantage of low-GI foods for sustained activity.
Rice plays a strong role in global food security. Being the staple for about 3.5 billion people, it is important to maximize the nutritional value of rice.
Low-GI rice will have a particularly important role in the diets of people who derive the bulk of their calories from rice and who cannot afford to eat rice with other foods to help keep the GI of their diet low. Low-GI rice could help to keep diabetes at bay in these communities.
IRRI and CSIRO said this is just the first of several studies they to carry out based on investigating the role of rice in mitigating chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.