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White Rice and Diabetes Risk: Should You Really Stop Eating White Rice?

Medically reviewed by Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD · General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Oct 12, 2022

White Rice and Diabetes Risk: Should You Really Stop Eating White Rice?

A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health back in 2012 suggested that there might be a possible link between white rice and diabetes risk.

Based on their findings, people who ate one serving of white rice each meal had an 11% higher risk of developing diabetes. In addition, people who ate more than one serving had as high as 27% increased risk of diabetes.

Does this mean that eating white rice is unhealthy? Should Filipinos be extra cautious about eating rice with every meal?

white rice and diabetes

White Rice and Diabetes Risk: The Correlation

The goal of the study was to understand if there was any evidence that linked white rice and diabetes risk. This is of particular importance because the number of people with diabetes has been increasing over the years. In addition, white rice is a staple food for millions of people, including Filipinos, and it can be worrisome if it increases the risk of diabetes.

The study involved more than 352,000 people from the United States, Japan, and China. It also had follow-up periods with the respondents that ranged anywhere from 4 to 22 years.

According to the results, people who ate white rice indeed had an increased risk of diabetes. However, their study only confirmed an association between the two, and the researchers were not establishing whether rice can directly cause diabetes.

It is important to note that there are a number of factors that may increase diabetes risk. This includes a person’s overall health, genetics, as well as other types of food that they eat.

How Can White Rice Increase the Risk of Diabetes?

Despite the study not being able to show a direct link between diabetes and eating white rice, there is some evidence to support this claim. Rice contains a lot of starch which is a type of carbohydrate composed of glucose molecules linked together.

What happens when we eat starch is that our body breaks it down into its base molecules. The glucose is then absorbed into our bloodstream and used by the body as a source of energy. This is why eating foods rich in starch can give us a boost of energy.

The problem with white rice lies in eating too much of it. What happens is that our bodies cannot utilize the excess sugars, so it stores it in the form of fat. Over time, fat can accumulate and cause a person to become overweight or obese.

Being obese or overweight is a big risk factor when it comes to diabetes.

In addition, eating too many starchy foods or foods rich in carbohydrates can increase a person’s blood sugar levels. As a result, the body tries to compensate by producing more insulin in the pancreas. However, this can trigger an abnormal production of insulin, which also increases diabetes risk.

And in the case of white rice, it contains higher levels of starch when compared to brown rice or other varieties. This means that there could indeed be a possible connection between eating too much white rice and diabetes risk.

Serving size also plays a role

One important thing to remember is that while the types of food that a person eats can have an effect on their health, the serving size is just as important.

It’s a good idea to always eat in moderation, to avoid overeating and gaining weight. By keeping an eye on how much you eat, and focusing on eating the healthiest types of foods, you can significantly lower your risk for diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, as well as heart problems.

What are Other Alternatives to White Rice?

Healthier sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk. For those looking for other alternatives to white rice, here are some healthy and tasty options:

Brown rice

Brown rice is a type of whole grain that is essentially a healthier form of rice. It contains a lot of fiber, as well as more nutrients.

White rice has fewer nutrients because it has its husk, bran, and germ removed. While this process helps prolong shelf-life for rice, it also takes away many of its health benefits.

Cooking brown rice is more or less the same as white rice, only it takes longer. It also tastes great, and is much more filling compared to regular rice.

In terms of starch content, brown rice has less starch, so you’re also lowering your sugar intake by switching to brown rice.

However, it’s a bit more expensive compared to white rice, but the long-term health benefits are absolutely worth it.

Cauliflower rice

Cauliflower rice is just cauliflower that has been grated and boiled. It might not exactly taste the same as white rice, but it still works with most Filipino meals.

The upside to cauliflower rice is that it’s a vegetable, and it contains a lot of healthy vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Cauliflower is also a non-starchy food, so eating cauliflower rice is great for people trying to lose weight or for diabetics.

In addition to being healthy and tasty, it also keeps you full, which means you won’t have those snack cravings!


Lastly, quinoa has been touted as a superfood, and rightfully so! Quinoa is a nutrient-rich food, and is packed with essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs.

Compared to brown rice and cauliflower rice, quinoa is a bit expensive, but it tastes great and it is also low in starch.

It’s a very healthy alternative compared to white rice, and it’s readily available in most supermarkets and health food stores.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Mike Kenneth Go Doratan, MD

General Surgery · The Medical City Ortigas

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated Oct 12, 2022

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