Boil and Bubble, Rice is the Trouble

Refined carbohydrates in white rice and white bread are more harmful than a fatty diet. Hari Pulakkat reports

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Cheese burgers are bad for health, nutritionists have always said. Cheese and red meat, according to conventional medical wisdom, are not the healthiest of foods. Current research supports this statement but with a twist. It now turns out that it’s not just the cheese or meat that is the cause of worry but also the bread.

Saturated fat has been implicated in cardiovascular disease for a long time now, and with good reason. Too much fat in the diet increases triglycerides and LDL (low-density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol), and both raise your chances of falling prey to a heart attack. A fatty diet also reduces HDL (high-density lipoprotein or good cholesterol) levels, and low HDL is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But then if you cut saturated fat in your diet and substitute it with refined carbohydrates, you are actually worse off.

Many recent studies have shown that refined carbohydrates are some of the worst things you can eat. They can lead to type 2 diabetes if eaten consistently in large quantities. This applies not only to sugar but also staple items such as white rice and white bread. In fact, a recent study at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) showed that by just substituting white rice with brown rice, you can cut the risk of getting type 2 diabetes by 16 per cent. According to Qi Sun of the department of nutrition at the HSPH, “White rice is eaten in large quantities in many parts of Asia. It is not good for health.”

In white rice, the germ and bran of the grain are removed. What remains is the endosperm, the least nutritive part of rice. The bran and germ contain dietary fibre and magnesium, both important in controlling diabetes. They also contain vitamins and other important minerals. Lack of nutrition, however, is not the only reason why white rice is unhealthy.

“White rice has a high glycemic index and glycemic load,” says Sun. “High glycemic index foods are known to increase the risk for diabetes.” Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly the food raises glucose levels. White rice has a glycemic index of around 65 while it’s 55 in the case of brown rice.

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It is well known that high glycemic index foods are bad, and the Harvard study showed just how bad. Eating just 150 grams of white rice per week increased your chances of getting type 2 diabetes by 17 per cent, while eating just two servings of brown rice a month lowered the same by 11 per cent. Introducing a variety of whole grains in the diet lowered the risk of diabetes by as much as 36 per cent.

The link between saturated fat and cardiovascular disease is more complex, but it is becoming clear that fat is not as bad as scientists once thought. Research findings in this regard, however, are somewhat contradictory. Several studies have shown no increase in risk for cardiovascular disease with moderate fat consumption, while some others show an increased risk. A recent meta-analysis by the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California found no link at all between fat consumption and heart disease.

A meta-analysis is an analysis of all large amounts of research in the field. The Oakland meta-analysis looked at the dietary habits of 3,50,000 people between five and 23 years, for which data was already published.

It found no evidence of increased cardiovascular risk with fat consumption, but it of course does not mean there was no risk. As the authors argued in a paper published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, what is eaten with the fat was very important in how the diet influenced health.

The argument against fat was based on the fact that it raised total cholesterol levels. Total cholesterol level is not a useful indicator of cardiovascular health. Fat increases LDL and HDL levels at the same time, and one cancels the negative effect of the other. “More data are needed to elucidate whether cardiovascular disease risks are likely to be influenced by specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat,” the authors wrote in the paper. The authors also saw a publication bias against results that showed no link between fat and heart disease – that is, papers that showed fat was bad were more likely to get published in journals.

A few studies used in the analysis strongly reject a fat-heart disease link. One study two years ago, again from the HSPH and conducted on 322 individuals, was particularly striking. It looked at the lipid profiles of people on three different kinds of diet: a low-fat, low-calorie diet; an unrestricted diet; and a low-calorie but otherwise unrestricted diet. Those who were on the third regime had the healthiest lipid profile in their blood, although they ate the maximum fat. Of course, they ate the least amount of carbohydrates.

So, rice lovers, make that change. Be it a Sunday lunch or a family feast, keep that familiar mound of white off your plate.

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carbohydrates in rice

Source : The Telegraph ( Kolkata, India)

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