Simply Rice

Does Rice Help or Hurt with Obesity?

Beating up on carbs is a popular pastime these days. The nutrition guys at Harvard seem to hate potatoes. And rice sometimes gets a bad rap – especially white rice. But at ECO 2019 last week, we heard a different story. Increasing the world’s supply of rice might actually reduce the world’s prevalence of obesity, said Professor Tomoko Imai.

The professor has some interesting data, but we’re not so sure he has a magic answer for global obesity rates.

Leaping from Correlation

What Imai found was a correlation between obesity prevalence and the supply of this venerable grain in 136 countries. The countries that ate more of it tended to have lower obesity rates, even when adjusting for socioeconomic and lifestyle factors. Nevertheless, the study only provides a correlation, not evidence of causality. That didn’t stop the authors from making bold claims in a press release from EASO:

Given the rising levels of obesity worldwide, eating more rice should be recommended to protect against obesity even in western countries.

Good But Not Magic Food

The truth is that you can find good news and bad news stories on this subject. Studies have shown links between white rice consumption and obesity, as well as type 2 diabetes. But brown rice is generally thought to be a healthful option – one that offers good nutrition and fiber.

At the end of the day, rice is a dietary staple all around the world. Japan consumes a lot of it and has one of the lowest obesity rates of any country. But not necessarily because of the rice. Like most basic, whole foods, this ancient grain is neither savior nor villain.

So can we cut the sensational press releases? Please.

Click here for the study abstract and here for further perspective.

Simply Rice, photograph © Giulia Gasparro / flickr

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May 5, 2019