White rice is more potent than soda drinks in causing diabetes


One of the most common advices given by nutritionists and diabetologists these days is avoid anything white – sugar or rice! Tell it to an Asian and they are most likely to frown! After all, it is a staple of most Asian diets!

But several studies suggest that Asians are more predisposed to diabetes than Caucasians, so they are at risk irrespective of whether they are obese or not. One of the main reasons why white rice is a big risk factor for diabetes is due to its high glycemic index i.e.it can cause spikes in sugar levels.

Singapore’s Health Promotion Board Chief Executive Zee Yoong Kang recently shared his concerns about the increasing burden of diabetes among Singaporeans and Asians at large. He stated that obesity and sugary drinks have long been identified as the major causes of diabetes in the West. Keeping this in mind he has decided to wage a war on diabetes, but with a specific focus on: white rice. That’s right! The beloved white rice!

His fear has a basis though. A meta-analysis of  four major studies involving more than 350,000 people who were tracked for four to twenty years by Harvard School of Public Health threw up some alarming findings! These are some of the findings of the study-

  • Each plate of white rice eaten in a day – on a regular basis – raises the risk of diabetes by 11% in the overall population.
  • A bowl of rice has more than twice the carbohydrate content compared to a can of soda drink, eliciting a higher blood glucose response.
  • Asians like Chinese had four servings a day of cooked rice as opposed to Australians and Americans who just ate five times a week!

This doesn’t mean Singaporeans need to stop eating rice, cautions Mr Zee. He suggested that people should turn to healthier varieties of rice such as long grain white rice which is better than short grain white rice due to their lower glycemic index levels.

Read more: Singaporean Indians, Malays and Chinese produce different insulin responses to a bowl of rice

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Source: GI Research Unit at Temasek Polytechnic, HPB

Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the extent to which a carbohydrate-containing food raises glucose levels in blood. The higher the GI, the more is the blood sugar produced leading to a sudden spike in glucose levels in the blood. This causes the pancreas to produce more insulin and such frequent spikes can lead to diabetes. On the contrary, foods that have lower GI – break down slower and takes longer to digest. A GI of 70 or more is considered high, while a GI of 55 is considered low and better.

He also suggested that 20% of brown rice could be mixed to white rice, which is enough to reduce the risk of diabetes by 16%. “There is no need to fully replace what they now eat. Just increase the quantity of whole grain and brown rice,”said Mr. Zee Yoong Kang to The Straits Times

Diabetes is the leading cause of complications such as kidney failure, diabetic retinopathy, blindness and amputations in Singapore. Health minister Gan Kim Yong in a talk last month claimed that this disease is already costing the country’s exchequer more than $1billion a year!

Increased awareness is the need of the hour but a survey by The Straits Times on 50 Singaporeans about their food habits suggests that a lot needs to be done on that front. Out of the 50, 42  or 84%  said they consumed white rice daily and the majority of them (54%) weren’t aware of the harmful effects of white rice and its potential in raising the risk of diabetes.

Seeking healthier options, choosing foods with lower GI and controlling the portion size may go a long way in keeping the disease at bay! Also the mantra: Everything in moderation!

Read more about what Food scientist and Prof. Dr. Henry Jeyakumar has to say about this in “Know your Food”

Source: Straits Times



  1. If white rice to be blame, countries which have rice as their main staple should have higher prevalence but these facts do not seem to support.


    The table indicates that noodle (processed carbohydrates) has lower GI than short grain white rice. Soda drink has much lower GI than brown rice. Commonsense makes me doubt these results. Why body breakdown and absorbs unprocessed carbohydrates faster than processed carbohydrates?