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Moderate Rice Consumption Might Help Reduce Obesity Rates, New Study Shows

The secret behind Vietnamese and other Asians’ slender figure might lie in the region's rice consumption, a recent study shows.

An international study using data from 136 countries found that there might be a link between rice consumption and obesity rates, suggesting that a modest addition of rice to one’s daily diet may be beneficial. The research was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow, which took place from April 28 to May 1.

According to Professor Tomoko Imai, from Kyoto’s Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts, who led the study, her team found that obesity rates are lower in nations that eat rice as a staple food.

“Therefore, a Japanese food or an Asian-food-style diet based on rice may help prevent obesity," Imai said, reports Straits Times. "Given the rising levels of obesity worldwide, eating more rice should be recommended to protect against obesity even in western countries."

By the team’s estimation, if rice consumption is increased globally by as little as 50 grams per day per person, the worldwide prevalence of obesity could be curtailed by 1%, from 650 million adults to 643.5 million.

To conduct the study, researchers examined relative consumption of rice products — including white rice, brown rice and rice flour — and energy consumption in 136 countries using data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Nations were then separated into two main groups: those with high levels of rice consumption, and those with low levels.

Vietnam, unsurprisingly, belongs to the former, with 398 grams of rice daily per person. The top five rice eaters are Bangladesh (473 grams), Laos (443 grams), Cambodia (438 grams), Vietnam (mentioned), and Indonesia (361 grams). Developed nations, however, occupy the other end of the spectrum, with consumption as low as 15 and 19 grams a day in France and the UK, respectively.

The team’s analysis shows that, in countries whose citizens eat high amounts of rice (an average of 150 grams daily), obesity rates are substantially lower than in those whose citizens rarely eat rice (an average of 14 grams daily). The association exists even after researchers adjusted the results for other lifestyle and socioeconomic factors like education, smoking, GDP per capita, health expenditure and total energy consumption.

Regarding why rice intake might help reduce obesity, Professor Imai explained: “It's possible that the fiber, nutrients, and plant compounds found in whole grains may increase feelings of fullness and prevent overeating. Rice is also low in fat and has a relatively low postprandial blood glucose level which suppresses insulin secretion.”

Nevertheless, she warned that overeating rice increases risks of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. “Therefore, an appropriate amount of rice intake may prevent obesity," Imai added, according to the news source.

The researchers acknowledged that, while there’s an association between obesity rates and rice intake, there isn't a clear cause-and-effect relationship between the two variables, but they think the results warrant deeper research, especially longitudinal studies that monitor the same subjects over an extended period of time.

[Photo/CC BY]

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