NEW DELHI – Rice isn’t the diet villain as commonly thought. In fact, two types of rice commonly consumed by India’s middle classes have now been found to have the lowest Glycemic Index (GI) — the measure of its ability to raise blood sugar levels after eating — when compared with 233 other types of rice consumed around the world.
Swarna and Mahsuri’s GI levels were below 55. Another favourite among Indians —Basmati — too fared well but figured in the middle GI group (with GI levels above 60). This means that Indians, especially the country’s 60 million strong diabetic population, need not worry about having rice in their diet.
Low GI foods are those measured 55 and less, medium GI are those measured between 56 and 69, while high GI measures 70 and above.
The study was conducted by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the University of Queensland. It also found that three of the top 10 rice varieties with lowest GI were being grown and consumed by Indians. Chief researcher Dr Melissa Fitzgerald told TOI that a rice grown in China called Shen Huang Zhin 2 was found to have the lowest GI (around 45) while a variety in Laos had the highest GI (92).
Diabetes has become a serious health epidemic. By 2030, almost 330 million people will be affected by diabetes globally.
“Basmati has higher GI than commonly consumed rice varieties in India — Swarna and Mahsuri. The Basmati showed a GI of between 68 and 74. The other Indian varieties were all below 60. This is good news, especially for non-Basmati consumers, which is the general middle class population,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
Dr Fitzgerald added, “We now know rice isn’t that evil. It does not cause diabetes. However, this study will help diabetics to select rice wisely.” She, however, warned those with low physical activity about consuming rice. “Rice is high in carbohydrates which is needed for energy. Those with high physical activity like sportspersons need carbohydrates. But if a person leads a sedentary lifestyle without much physical movement, high energy isn’t required and hence rice consumption should be reduced.”
But is brown rice a better option? “Brown rice does not have higher nutritional content than white rice and is also not as palatable. However, brown rice has higher vitamin and mineral content. People must consider having brown rice at least once a week,” Dr Fitzgerald said.
Another researcher Dr Tony Bird said that low GI diets offered a range of health benefits. “Low GI diets can reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes and are also useful for helping diabetics better manage their condition. This is good news for diabetics and people at risk of diabetes who are trying to control their condition through diet, as it means they can select the right rice to help maintain a healthy, low GI diet,” Dr Bird said.
When food is measured to have a high GI, it means it is easily digested and absorbed by the body, which often results in fluctuations in blood sugar levels that can increase chances of getting diabetes and make management of diabetes difficult.
Conversely, foods with low GI are those that have slow digestion and absorption rates in the body, causing a gradual and sustained release of sugar into the blood, which has been proven beneficial to health, including reducing the chances of developing diabetes.
Researchers analyzed 235 types of rice from around the world. The study found that the GI of rice ranges from a low of 48 to a high of 92, with an average of 64, and that the GI of rice depended on the type of rice consumed.
The research team also identified the key gene that determines the GI of rice, an important achievement that offers rice breeders the opportunity to develop varieties with different GI levels to meet consumer needs. Future development of low GI rice would also enable food manufactures to develop new, low GI food products based on rice.
Rice is a staple diet for Indians. This study confirms that rice can be part of a healthy diet for the average consumer.
The main varieties of rice from India and southeast Asia which were tested includes Swarna, Mahsuri, MTU1010, Yamini (CSR30) and Basmati from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and BG92 from Sri Lanka.
“What is important is the balance between food intake and physical activity. Globally, we are getting fatter, and this puts pressure on our organs. So we need to keep our weight in check and combining low GI, sensible eating and sensible amounts of physical activity should all combine to give a healthy outcome,” Dr Fitzgerald signed off.