The fact that those who chose brown rice tended to live more health-conscious lives than white rice eaters exaggerated the reduced risk of diabetes seen in the study, but it does not explain it away, Willett said.
Researchers controlled for the lifestyle choices that may impact diabetes risk, such as overall diet, exercise level, smoking habits, and a family history of the disease.
Taking into account all these behaviors, the association between brown rice consumption and a lower risk of diabetes was diminished but did not disappear, said Willett.
But those diminished benefits of brown rice alone did not impress all doctors.
Richard Feinman, a professor of Cell Biology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, called the direct link between eating brown rice and lower diabetes risk "weak."
"It [the article] is written in a technical way that consumers won't understand so the limited results are obscured," said Feinman. "But the conclusions stated in the abstract are not justified by the results."
Feinman said by looking at the study, he'd estimate that 1 person out of 1,000 people who subbed brown rice for white rice would be able to prevent diabetes.
Keith Thomas Ayoob, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, acknowledged that brown rice alone might have an effect on a person's risk for diabetes and brown rice isn't a remedy for disease risk.
Ayoob said he doesn't want consumers to think that switching to brown rice could replace the other habits necessary for good health such as portion control, exercise, and overall diet.
"I'm all for people swapping out refined grains for whole grains, but the issue of diabetes is more complex than can be seen by this study," he said.