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White rice linked to diabetes risk

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 15th, 2013

Dr. Joel Furhman
Over 25 million people in the United States (about 11 percent of adults) have type 2 diabetes.

Carrying excess fat and eating high glycemic load (GL) foods contribute to the development of insulin resistance, leading to type 2 diabetes. When comparing the prevalence of diabetes in the USA with China, Korea and Japan, these Asian countries have considerably more diabetes despite fact that the U.S. has a greater obesity (a major contributing factor in diabetes) problem. This is the high content of white rice in the Asian diet.

Type 2 diabetes arises out of insulin resistance, a state in which the body’s cells cannot respond properly to insulin – a hormone that allows for the transport of glucose into the body’s cells and storage of the energy contained in that glucose. Carrying excess fat and eating high glycemic load (GL) foods contribute to the development of insulin resistance (and of course, eating high glycemic foods contributes to weight gain).

Refined carbohydrates like white rice, devoid of fiber to slow down absorption of sugars, raise blood glucose more and faster (have a higher glycemic load, or GL) than their intact, unprocessed counterparts.

An analysis of four studies has explored the link between white rice and diabetes - overall, the researchers found that each daily serving of white rice increased the risk of diabetes by 11 percent.

This new research serves to remind us: High-glycemic, nutrient-depleted, refined carbohydrates (like white rice) are more than just empty calories – they are disease-causing foods.

In this study, Westerners on average ate less than one daily serving white rice – but what about the other high-GL foods that Americans eat daily? White pasta, white potato, and white bread are also high in GL and therefore likely to be just as dangerous. It’s no wonder that U.S. diabetes rates have tripled in the past 30 years, and are expected to double or even triple by 2050. Consider the glycemic load of these foods (20 and above is considered high, 1-10 considered low): White potato – 29; White rice – 26; White bread – 24; White pasta – 21; compare these to black rice – 14; and butternut squash, green peas, and lentils, which all score 8.4 Similar to white rice, white potato has also been linked to diabetes - substituting 1 serving of whole grains per day with potatoes was estimated to increase diabetes risk by 30 percent.

High GL foods have dangers that reach beyond diabetes. Diets including large quantities of high GL foods increase the risk of several chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.

In the past, white rice was looked upon as a healthful, low fat staple in a vegetarian diet. We have progressed in nutritional knowledge such that white rice can no longer be considered healthful, or even neutral – it is a disease-causing food. The damaging effects of high-GL foods have been brought to light, and we now know that the most healthful carbohydrate sources are those with lower GL – beans, peas, intact whole grains, and starchy vegetables.

Dr. Fuhrman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat to Live, and a board certified family physician specializing in lifestyle and nutritional medicine. His newest book The End of Diabetes (available now for pre-order on Amazon.com, release date Dec. 6) explains how to prevent and reverse type II diabetes, avoid its serious complications, and lose weight in the process. Visit his informative website at DrFuhrman.com. Submit your questions and comments about this column directly to


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