Is It Worth Switching from White Rice to Brown?

Is It Worth Switching from White Rice to Brown?
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What happens when brown rice is put to the test in a randomized controlled crossover trial?

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In 2012, a meta-analysis was published tying white rice consumption to diabetes—especially in Asian countries, as I explored previously. But even in the U.S., where we eat much less, the regular consumption of white rice was associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes, though brown rice was associated with lower risk, and that was after controlling for other lifestyle and dietary factors, such as smoking, and exercise, and meat, fruit, and vegetable consumption. They estimated that replacing even just a third of a serving per day of white rice with the same amount of brown rice might lower diabetes risk 16%.

The meta-analysis was published in 2012.  Since then, a study out of Spain suggested white rice consumption was associated with decreased diabetes risk. But it was a tiny study compared to the others, hundreds compared to hundreds of thousands of people involved. In Spain, rice is usually consumed in the paella, which has a spice, saffron, that may have therapeutic potential against diabetes, and white rice consumers also ate more beans, which appear to have antidiabetic properties as well.

This gives you a sense of how difficult it is to infer cause and effect relationships from population studies, since you can’t control for everything. Yes, you can control for weight, smoking, alcohol, exercise, etc. But maybe people who are smart enough to eat brown rice are also smart enough to wear seat belts, and bike helmets, and install smoke detectors, and forgo bungee jumping. What we need is a way to fund randomized interventional studies, where we switch people from white rice to brown rice and see what happens.  Until then, the effect of the consumption of white rice on the development of type 2 diabetes will remain unclear. But we didn’t have such studies, until now. 

Overweight women were randomized into two groups, a weight-loss diet with about a cup of cooked white rice every day, or a cup of cooked brown for six weeks, and then the groups switched. The white rice group ate brown, and vice versa, and when they were eating brown rice, they got significantly more weight loss, particularly around the waist and hips, lower blood pressure, and less inflammation. 

Similar effects were found for prediabetics: substituting brown rice for white rice led to significantly more weight loss, more waist loss, and better blood pressures.

And brown rice may not just help get rid of tummy fat, but also preserve our artery function. See, high blood sugars can stiffen our arteries, cutting in half their ability to relax within an hour, whether you’re diabetic, have prediabetes, or are nondiabetic—though for diabetics, their arteries go down and stay down. And we know that brown rice can have blood sugar-lowering effects, compared to white rice.

So, can switching to brown rice help preserve arterial function? In folks with metabolic syndrome, within an hour of eating about a cup of cooked white rice, we can get a drop in arterial function—but not so with brown rice.

Despite all the benefits of whole grain rice, Asian people often prefer white rice, considering it softer and tastier than brown. But in a focus group of Chinese adults, only a minority had ever even tried brown rice. Before tasting brown rice, the majority of participants considered it to be inferior to white rice in terms of taste and quality. So, the researchers just served some up, and after actually tasting it and learning about it, most changed their minds.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to suc via Pixabay

In 2012, a meta-analysis was published tying white rice consumption to diabetes—especially in Asian countries, as I explored previously. But even in the U.S., where we eat much less, the regular consumption of white rice was associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes, though brown rice was associated with lower risk, and that was after controlling for other lifestyle and dietary factors, such as smoking, and exercise, and meat, fruit, and vegetable consumption. They estimated that replacing even just a third of a serving per day of white rice with the same amount of brown rice might lower diabetes risk 16%.

The meta-analysis was published in 2012.  Since then, a study out of Spain suggested white rice consumption was associated with decreased diabetes risk. But it was a tiny study compared to the others, hundreds compared to hundreds of thousands of people involved. In Spain, rice is usually consumed in the paella, which has a spice, saffron, that may have therapeutic potential against diabetes, and white rice consumers also ate more beans, which appear to have antidiabetic properties as well.

This gives you a sense of how difficult it is to infer cause and effect relationships from population studies, since you can’t control for everything. Yes, you can control for weight, smoking, alcohol, exercise, etc. But maybe people who are smart enough to eat brown rice are also smart enough to wear seat belts, and bike helmets, and install smoke detectors, and forgo bungee jumping. What we need is a way to fund randomized interventional studies, where we switch people from white rice to brown rice and see what happens.  Until then, the effect of the consumption of white rice on the development of type 2 diabetes will remain unclear. But we didn’t have such studies, until now. 

Overweight women were randomized into two groups, a weight-loss diet with about a cup of cooked white rice every day, or a cup of cooked brown for six weeks, and then the groups switched. The white rice group ate brown, and vice versa, and when they were eating brown rice, they got significantly more weight loss, particularly around the waist and hips, lower blood pressure, and less inflammation. 

Similar effects were found for prediabetics: substituting brown rice for white rice led to significantly more weight loss, more waist loss, and better blood pressures.

And brown rice may not just help get rid of tummy fat, but also preserve our artery function. See, high blood sugars can stiffen our arteries, cutting in half their ability to relax within an hour, whether you’re diabetic, have prediabetes, or are nondiabetic—though for diabetics, their arteries go down and stay down. And we know that brown rice can have blood sugar-lowering effects, compared to white rice.

So, can switching to brown rice help preserve arterial function? In folks with metabolic syndrome, within an hour of eating about a cup of cooked white rice, we can get a drop in arterial function—but not so with brown rice.

Despite all the benefits of whole grain rice, Asian people often prefer white rice, considering it softer and tastier than brown. But in a focus group of Chinese adults, only a minority had ever even tried brown rice. Before tasting brown rice, the majority of participants considered it to be inferior to white rice in terms of taste and quality. So, the researchers just served some up, and after actually tasting it and learning about it, most changed their minds.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to suc via Pixabay

Doctor's Note

Here’s the link to the video I cited: If White Rice is Linked to Diabetes, What About China?

More on the paella spice, saffron:

If brown is good, what about all the even more colorful varieties? See Brown, Black, Purple and Red Unlike White on Rice.

For another interventional trial with whole grains, check out Whole Grains May Work As Well As Drugs.

What about the so-called “rice diet”? See:

How could the simple difference between whole and refined grains make such a difference? For a clue, you’ll have to wait until my next video: Gut Dysbiosis – Starving Our Microbial Self.

Update: I did a deep-dive into the issue of arsenic in rice in summer 2017. Here are the 13 videos in that series:

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