Think Twice About Rice? New Study's Advice

By Dr. LAWRENCE BORGES, ABC News Medical Unit

With every forkful of  white rice you eat, your risk of  type 2 diabetes could go up, or so says an analysis of research published today in the  British Medical Journal.

But don't put the rice cooker away just yet. Other experts caution there may be only a grain of truth to this latest health warning.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health compiled data from seven studies that followed 352,384 subjects for up to 22 years and kept track of what they ate using food questionnaires.  The subjects came from all over the globe, with three of the studies done in Asia, three in the United States and one in Australia.

The results indicate that people in Asia who ate the most white rice were at the highest risk, showing a 55 percent increase in type 2 diabetes over other Asians who ate the least white rice.

But people everywhere were susceptible, as the risk of diabetes went up 11 percent for each additional serving of white rice eaten per day, according to the analysis.

In Asian countries where rice is a staple, this news could have widespread implications.  But diet experts argue it's not just the rice causing trouble there - rather, a societal shift away from physical activity and toward increased food consumption may be to blame.

"White rice has long been a part of Asian diets in which diabetes risk was very low," says Dr. David Katz, associate professor of public health at Yale University. "It is white rice  plus aspects of modern living- including less physical work- that conspire to elevate the incidence of type 2 diabetes."

The study authors acknowledge this, and note in their conclusion that, "this transition may render Asian populations more susceptible."

In the United States, where white rice is eaten much less, no alarms bells have sounded yet.  So nutrition experts are sticking to their usual advice for patients.

"I'd tell them what we know for sure," says Keith Ayoob, associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "Take steps to keep from becoming overweight, make physical activity a real priority, include some protein and fiber in each meal and snack, and spread your calories throughout the day".

Dr. Charles Clark, professor emeritus of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, echoes that sentiment and sums up his advice concisely: "Eat less, eat more natural food and move more."