Why I’m going to keep on eating white rice

by Jonathan Wong, 9 May, 2016

Introduction

Recently there was an article in Singapore’s Straits Times on how white rice increases diabetes risk. The two main points that the article made were…

  1. A bowl of rice has “more than double” the amount of carbohydrates as a can of sweet drink, and gives a greater blood sugar response.
  2. Replacing 20 percent of white rice with brown rice decreases diabetes risk by 16 percent

From these points, I see lots of people on my social media feed saying how they are going to “replace their rice” from today onward.

But as usual, things may not always be as they appear to be. In fact Genesis Gym Singapore’s personal trainers often include white rice is part of our client’s meal plan. So far we have had good testimonials in both health markers (cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar etc) as well as weight loss.

Let’s dig deeper to find out if we should all get rid of our delicious white rice and replace it with brown rice – a food that many people describe as eating sand!

Point 1: A bowl of rice has ‘more than double” the amount of carbohydrates as a can of sweet drink, and gives a greater blood sugar response.

The data seems inaccurate

I’m not sure where they got this information from. From the data shown on most nutrition websites, a regular-sized bowl of white rice (150g cooked) has about 45g of carbohydrates. While a can (330ml) of Coke has 35g of carbohydrates.

More, but not “more than double”.

Perhaps putting in a value of over 70g (more than double) of carbohydrates for white rice has skewed the graph of blood glucose increases in favour of soft drinks.

Almost nobody eats white rice alone

Whenever foods are combined, we need to consider the Glycemic Index (GI) of the meal, not the individual foods. Certain nutrients are well-known to reduce the GI of a meal.

The two main nutrients that lower the GI of the meal are protein and fiber. Fat also has a GI lowering response, but about 2-3x less than protein.

And what do we usually eat with rice? Meat and veggies. I.e. protein and fiber.

This means that a meal with white rice plus dishes is going to be significantly lower in GI than eating white rice alone.

White rice has a high satiety index (makes you feel full)

In this chart compiled by the European Journal of Clinical nutrition, white rice actually makes you feel really full! White bread has a score of 100. White rice has a score of 138. And brown rice has a lower score of 132.

top personal trainers singapore satiety index

Close score. But still, this means that you won’t eat that much white rice – as long as you have a healthy relationship with food. And total food amount is an important factor in blood sugar control.

Point 2: Replacing 20 percent of white rice with brown rice lowers diabetes risk by 16 percent. This data was taken from this study here.

  • It’s a population study which means that people (about 200,000) of them were interviewed about their food habits every 2-4 years. They were almost all nurses. And 3/4 of them were women. The data was compiled across a period of about 20 years.
  • The GI of the white rice was estimated at 64, and the GI of the brown rice was estimated at 55. Not a big difference actually.
  • Those who ate more than 5 servings per week of white rice had a 17% higher incidence of type 2 diabetes than those who ate less than one serving a month.
  • Those who ate more than 2 servings of brown rice per week had a 11 % lower risk of type 2 diabetes than those eating less than one serving per month.
  • Using this mathematical data, the researchers guessed that replacing 20% of white rice with brown rice would reduce type 2 diabetes risk by 16%.

Those are the actual results. But it’s not that clear cut.

Population studies can be notoriously flawed.

Firstly, they use food recall interviews, which can be very inaccurate. At Genesis Gym, our Singapore personal trainers ask clients to recall the food they ate over the last week. We do this as part of the process of designing customized meal plans. But even a 7-day recall will have errors. What more a 2-4 YEAR recall period!

Next, population studies cannot give conclusions. They can only give theories.

That is the why the statement  “Replacing 20 percent of white rice with brown rice lowers diabetes risk by 16 percent.” was NOT actually what the study said.

It was incorrectly reported.

The study said “MAY lower diabetes risk”. It had no certain conclusion. All that the study has done is that it made a co-relation. It has not determined a cause.

The people eating more brown rice may be more health-conscious overall. They may exercise more effectively (like how we suggest in our guide here). They may take more supplements etc.

The only way to “prove” anything is to get two groups of people into a lab and control their diets for years at a time. Each group would be given different ratios of white vs brown rice. And their results would be tracked long term. This is very impractical. And is almost never done.

Here is why I am still going to eat white rice

Brown rice has high levels of phytic acid which reduces absorption of minerals like zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium. The rice bran is removed in white rice, and so is the phytic acid. In effect, while it is true that brown rice does have more nutrients than white rice, you probably aren’t absorbing them.

Phytic acid also lowers the activity of the enzymes pepsin and amylase – which means that you will have poorer digestion of protein and sugars.

Brown rice has high levels of insoluble fiber. This is not always bad. But too much can cause digestive issues and wear out the sensitive cells of your intestine lining. Imagine a rough brush scrubbing hard and damaging your digestive tract cells.

From experience, we find more issues of intolerance with brown rice vs white rice. Gas, bloating, and gut irritation are more common with brown rice than white.

Finally, most people find white rice really delicious. If using white rice as a carbohydrate sources helps clients (or myself) stick with a diet plan, then that is very important. The best long term diet is the one that you can stick to.

How to maximize the benefits of white rice without increasing diabetes risk

Replacing some of your white rice with brown rice is not a terrible idea. However, the following points will give you far more benefits that changing the colour of the rice you eat.

Don’t eat too much white rice if you are already fat. If you are overweight or obese, then you probably should not be eating excessive carbohydrates of any kind. Stick to vegetables and one or two servings of fruit per day.

Eat white rice immediately after a hard workout. The spike in blood sugar will send nutrients to your muscles. Not your fat cells. The benefits of blood sugar and insulin rises for post-workout recovery are very well studied.

Eat white rice with protein and fiber (veggies). This makes the entire meal much less disruptive to blood sugar levels.

Make sure your cells are healthy, and can absorb sugars, rather than having them keep circulating in your blood stream. The problem with diabetes is the elevated blood sugar that is not able to be stored properly. This excess sugar running around is what causes all the damage. Supplements, lifestyle changes and proper training can all make cells healthier.

A good start would be 2-3 strength training sessions per week. A multivitamin and omega 3 supplement, along with 8 hours of sleep per night. All these long-term habits will increase the “insulin sensitivity” of your cells This then translates to easier absorption of the blood sugar. More details can be found in our “Ultimate Guide to Fitness After 40“.

Conclusion

It is very common for mainstream media to come up with headlines that sound conclusive. This gets more readership, but often enough, the conclusions are not as clear as the headline makes them appear.

To take responsibility for your own health, you will need to dig a little deeper for the truth. I hope this article has helped you do that.

If you want a deeper understanding of how to implement a nutrition plan for yourself, then we welcome you to join what is probably the best personal training programme in Singapore by clicking the button below.

The Genesis Gym personal trainers will design the nutrition, lifestyle and fitness plan for you and guide you to your fitness goals.

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To your continued strength, health and happiness,

Coach Jonathan Wong

Director,

Genesis Gym Singapore

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