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Less Meat, More Greens and Grains

07 Feb 2019

Cutting down on white rice may not in itself lower one’s risk of getting diabetes. What matters more is what the rice is substituted with and the overall quality of a person’s diet.

These were presented in two new studies that used data from the Singapore Chinese Health Study (SCHS) and were co-authored by Professor Rob van Dam, Vice Dean (Academic Affairs) and Epidemiology Domain Leader, and Professor Koh Woon Puay, SCHS Principal Investigator and director of the Centre for Clinician-Scientist Development at Duke-NUS Medical School.

One study measured the link between diet quality and diabetes risk, using established diet quality indices to determine the overall quality of a person’s dietary pattern. It was found that a high-quality diet with low intake of animal foods (such as red meat), high intake of plant foods (such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains) and reduced intake of sweetened beverages is associated with reduced risk of diabetes.

The second study found no link between the quantity of white rice consumed and the risk of diabetes, when controlled for other variables like age, sex, body mass index and various other food intakes.

Those who ate less rice also ate more of everything else to maintain the same calorie intake, but people who ate different foods in place of rice were affected differently.

“Some ate more red meat and poultry to feel full, but such a diet has a higher risk of diabetes. Others ate more noodle dishes, which are often cooked in sauces that are high in sugar, salt and oil. On the other hand, those who ate more whole grains and vegetables in place of rice had a decreased risk,” said Prof van Dam.

“The risk depends more on the overall quality of a person's diet. Recommendations to reduce white rice consumption may be effective only if the substitute foods are considered carefully,” added Prof Koh.

This is in line with the Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) recommendation to eat more brown rice.

Dr Annie Ling, group director of HPB’s Policy, Research and Surveillance Division, said: “It is important to look at diet in totality, and not overly focus on any individual component. Some tend to make up for eating less rice by eating more unhealthy food. We must be mindful of how the deficit is made up.”

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