Eating rice apparently may not be so bad for your body weight. If the findings of a latest study are to be believed, obesity levels are substantially lower in countries that happen to consume high amounts of rice, while countries with lower average rice intake have higher obesity levels.
Interestingly, the link between rice intake and obesity persisted even after they adjusted and accounted for other lifestyle and socioeconomic risk factors, including total energy consumption, education, smoking, gross domestic product per capita, and health expenditure. The findings revealed that if people were to increase average rice consumption even with a modest percentage, it could reduce the worldwide prevalence of obesity by 1%.
"The observed associations suggest that the obesity rate is low in countries that eat rice as a staple food. Therefore, Japanese food or an Asian-food-style diet based on rice may help prevent obesity. Given the rising levels of obesity worldwide, eating more rice should be recommended to protect against obesity even in western countries," said Tomoko Imai, lead researcher of the study discussed in European Congress on Obesity meeting.
The findings stated that people with diets that included more of dietary fibre and whole grains have lower body weight and cholesterol, and lower rates of non-communicable diseases compared with people with lower intakes.
It is still unclear as to how rice consumption really affects obesity. To investigate the link between the two, Imai and her team examined rice (all rice products, including white rice, brown rice, rice flour) relative consumption and energy consumption in the diets of 136 countries with populations of more than one million. For the study, they used the data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
These data were analysed together with estimates of obesity prevalence, the average number of years spent in education, percentage of the population over 65 years old, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, and health expenditure. Countries were categorised into low and high consumption groups.
Their analysis showed that total energy consumed, smoking rates, obesity levels, percentage of population over 65 years old, GDP, education, and health expenditure were significantly lower in countries that consumed high levels of rice, including as Bangladesh (ranked 1st; 473 g/day/person), Lao (2nd; 443) Cambodia (3rd; 438), Vietnam (4th; 398), and Indonesia (5th; 361), compared to countries with lower rice intake, including France (ranked 99th; 15 g/day/person), the UK (89th; 19), the USA (87th; 19), Spain (81st ; 22), Canada (77th; 24), and Australia (67th; 32).
Researchers said that eating rice may protect against weight gain. It is also very likely that fibre, nutrients, and plant compounds found in whole grains help increase feeling of fullness and prevents you from bingeing on other fattening foods.
"Rice is also low in fat and has a relatively low postprandial blood glucose level which suppresses insulin secretion. However, there are also reports that people who overeat rice are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Therefore, an appropriate amount of rice intake may prevent obesity", said Imai.
The study was observational in nature, and did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between country-level rice consumption and obesity, the researchers say that it is a subject that requires more investigation.