7 Key Reasons Why Switching to Brown Rice Helps Your Diabetes

brown rice diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes is a growing problem around the world. The World Health Organization estimates more than 422 million people worldwide suffer from this debilitating disease and 1.6 million people die each year as a direct result of diabetes.

It also causes blindness, strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, and lower limb amputation And it’s rising very rapidly in wealthy, middle and low-income countries. Studies show one major reason for the spike in diabetes is because a growing number of people around the world are eating too much white rice. But research shows switching to brown rice can help.

Billions Worldwide Eat White Rice

Rice is among the most abundant food crops on the planet. For over 5,000 years it has been an important food staple and about half of the world’s population depend on it. White rice has become increasingly popular because it’s cheap and has a long shelf life.

But research done in Australia, China, Japan, and the United States by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that white rice has a high glycemic index and several servings of it each week wrecks havoc with blood sugar and gives people a 10% higher chance of developing diabetes. Dietary experts say switching to brown rice can help to reduce the risk of people developing diabetes.

brown rice diabetes

Made From Brown Rice

White rice is made from brown rice. The grain’s naturally occurring form is brown rice. White rice is made by refining brown rice and removing its husk, oil-rich bran, nutritious germ and the rest of its outer layers. After this process, all that’s left is the rice grain’s inner white kernel.

Unfortunately, this process turns a nutritious grain into essentially a starch that’s so depleted of nutrients it usually has to be enriched to ensure it provides more than just empty calories. Eating white rice has a glucose-raising effect. It releases sugar very quickly into the bloodstream. That leads to a growing number of people around the world to develop diabetes.

How Brown Rice Helps

Left intact, brown rice contains lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The B vitamin thiamin found in brown rich helps with carbohydrate metabolism. Whole grain brown rice also contains selenium and magnesium. Selenium plays an important role in antioxidant enzymes and influences thyroid function.

Magnesium helps to build strong bones and is involved in countless enzyme reactions that help to synthesize DNA and the proteins needed for proper muscle contraction and nerve conduction. The fiber in brown rice helps to improve heart health, reduce bad cholesterol and stabilize blood sugars.

Using Brown Rice For Diabetes

Brown rice’s fiber-rich outer layer slows the digestive enzymes penetration into its starchy parts. This slows the process of releasing sugar into the bloodstream. This is important for diabetics because the bodies of people with Type 2 diabetes are unable to properly regulate and use the sugar in the bloodstream.

A research study done by a team of scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 11% when they ate brown rice two or more times per week. This can be particularly helpful to the 84.1 million Americans diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

A Look At The Harvard Study

A study looked at over 157,000 women and 39,000 men between the ages of 26 and 87 between 1984 and 2006. None of them had diabetes at the beginning of the study. Participants intake of brown rice, white rice, and other foods were assessed and updated every 2 to 4 years.

What researchers found were participants who are white rice five or more times a week increased their Type 2 diabetes risk by 17%. Those study participants who ate at least two weekly servings of brown rice, on the other hand, decreased their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by about 11%. Between 1984 and 2006, three follow-up studies were done by other groups to confirm the results.

A Japanese Study Done

The Japan Public Health Center also did a study on the relationship between Type 2 diabetes and white rice intake. Completed in 2010, the Japanese study lasted 5 years and involved 33,622 women and 25,666 men between the ages of 45 and 75.

None of the participants had diabetes at the beginning of the study, but by the time it was completed 1,103 of them reported being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The study found that Japanese women had a higher risk of developing diabetes from eating white rice. The study was very important because in Japan white rice is a major food staple. The results of the study were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Important For Americans

The relationship between eating white rice and developing Type 2 diabetes is of particular importance to Americans today. Recent statistics show white rice consumption has increased dramatically in the United States in recent decades and so has the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes.

About 30.3 million Americans have diabetes and each year 1.5 million new cases are diagnosed. A growing percentage of the new cases are children and people over age 65. In 2015, 79,535 Americans died from diabetes and in an additional 252,806 deaths, diabetes was listed as a contributing factor. That makes diabetes the 7th leading reason Americans die each year.

brown rice diabetes

Many Reasons To Switch To Brown Rice

With a growing body of evidence showing a clear link between eating white rice and developing Type 2 diabetes and how brown rice can help, switching to eating brown rice instead of white is important. White rice causes glucose metabolism to deteriorate and increases people’s risk of becoming diabetic.

That makes eliminating white rice from your diet and replacing it brown rice for diabetes prevention a wise course of action. A mounting body of credible evidence shows that eating brown rice instead of white rice helps prevent diabetes by slowing the release of sugar into the bloodstream.

This simple food choice can have a dramatic impact on diabetes management.

In addition to its lower Glycemic Index, brown rice also has about 7 times the fiber of white rice per serving. This abundance of fiber helps brown rice to stabilize blood sugars, improve heart health and reduce bad cholesterol. All of these things are important for controlling diabetes and keeping it at bay. Brown rice also has fewer carbohydrates and calories than white rice.

This can also help to lower the incidence of diabetes. According to the Harvard study led by Qi Sun, replacing 50 grams of white rice in your daily diet with 50 grams of brown rice gives you a 16% less risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Nutritional Benefits of Brown Rice 

Brown rice contains vitamins B1, B3, E, K magnesium, iron, zinc, and protein, in addition to lots of fiber. It also has a significant amount of ferulic acid, lysine, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, selenium, and health-supportive vital fatty acids. These nutrients help to improve absorption during digestion.

Brown rice is also rich in essential polyphenols and phytic acid. All of these nutrients make this complex carbohydrate a great dietary choice to replace white rice for people who want to lower their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes while enjoying a food staple that adds texture and substance to any meal and can work well with a variety of seasonings and flavors.

The American Diabetic Association Recommends It

Nutrient-dense brown rice is recommended by The American Diabetes Association as a better choice over white rice for people trying to controls diabetes by adding essential vitamins, minerals and fiber to their diets. The organization points out that brown rice offers a wide range of benefits for hyperglycemic individuals and diabetics.

They explain that brown rice reduces insulin surges and helps to stabilize the body’s blood sugar levels because of its low glycemic index. Brown rice also helps to synthesize fats, control weight and combat obesity, three risk factors for Type 2 diabetes.

Improves Digestion

Brown rice helps to improve digestion. This is important for helping to fight diabetes. Excessive amounts of glucose in the blood can cause digestive system problems and increase the chances of people becoming diabetic. The fiber in brown rice helps the digestive system remain healthy and functioning properly. It makes gastric digestion better by preventing the absorption of humidity and acid and helps relieve colitis and constipation and help the body evacuate unwanted waste. This helps to keep the entire digestive system operating at peak efficiency and reduces the chances of the person becoming diabetic.

Brown Rice, Cholesterol And Diabetes

Diabetics and people at high risk for diabetes tend to have a high level of cholesterol and not enough high-density lipoproteins to remove it from their bodies. The American Diabetes Association recommends adding whole grains like brown rice to their diets to reduce their cholesterol level.

The naturally occurring oils in brown rice enable it to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Research reveals brown rice has hypocholesterolemic qualities that regulate cholesterol catabolism. Plus, the nutrients it contains help the body metabolize glucose and lipids. Eating brown rice also significantly increases the body’s beneficial HDL cholesterol concentrations and combats diabetes.

A Popular Grain

People in the UAE eat about 450 pounds of white rice each year. In Asia, they eat about 300 pounds per person. The average American now eats around 26 pounds of rice each year. And that number is rising. So is the number of people stricken with diabetes each year. This includes children and the elderly.

These people are at a growing risk of developing diabetes and being forced to endure painful side-effects and premature death. A number of studies have shown that if rice eaters replace the white rice in their diets with brown rice, they can reduce their risk of becoming diabetic by almost 20 percent.

brown rice diabetes

An Important Study

The 22-year study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and led by Dr. Qi Sun, MD, ScD was the first study to examine the potential benefits of Americans eating brown rice instead of white rice and how it can impact Type 2 diabetes rates in the United States.

It found that brown rice consumption could impart beneficial effects that reduce Americans’ Type 2 diabetes risk because this type of rice has a high nutrient content that white rice lacks due to the refining and milling processes. The results of the study were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, an online journal.

Simple Dietary Changes

According to Harvard’s Frank Hu, MD, Ph.D., from a public health standpoint, whole grains like brown rice are a better primary source of carbohydrates for people in the U.S. than white rice and other refined carbohydrates. Brown rice’s lower glycemic index can reduce the incidence of diabetes in Americans who eat at least two servings a week. Consuming large amounts of white rice, on the other hand, results in a monotonically increased Type 2 diabetes risk. The difference is brown rice’s high nutrient and fiber content and lower degree of processing, Dr. Hu explained.

Multiple Studies Verify The Results

Brown rice’s ability to reduce the risk of diabetes was verified independent of lifestyle, ethnicity and other Type 2 diabetes dietary risk factors. Three cohort studies done on American men and women who ate white rice regularly found that replacing the white rice in their diet with brown rice dramatically reduced their Type 2 diabetes risk. A randomized clinical trial showed that white rice’s isocaloric replacement with brown rice significantly reduced postprandial insulin and glucose levels.

Studies have shown that white rice’s high glycemic index is likely a consequence of the disruption of the rice grain’s physical and botanical structure during the refining process. The goal of the research is improving the staple food’s carbohydrate quality to prevent diabetes from becoming a global epidemic.


The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 92, Issue 6, 1 December 2010, Pages


White Rice, Brown Rice, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in US Men and Women

Dr. Qi Sun, MD, ScD.

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