We know that fiber is good for us but, as if to keep this fact firmly in our minds, researchers keep discovering additional compelling examples of its benefits. For example, a June 2010 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine from the Harvard Medical School found that if, instead of eating 1/2 cup of cooked white rice every day, we were to eat an equal amount of brown rice instead, this simple substitution would decrease our risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent.
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the incidence of type 2 diabetes increased in the U.S. from 5.6 million in 1980 to 17.4 million cases in 2007, a frightening jump, and one being seen in our children and teens as well.
Barley’s even better
The Harvard study further found that if you replace that half-cup of cooked white rice with 1/2 cup of cooked whole barley (or, if you eat roughly two slices of whole-wheat bread instead of the rice), you’ll be cutting your risk for type 2 diabetes by a whopping 36 percent!
In fact–let’s call a spade a spade here–white rice just isn’t very good for us. The researchers found that the more white rice the study participants ate, the higher their risk of type 2 diabetes climbed. Subjects who ate five servings or more of white rice (1 serving = about 1/2-cup cooked rice) in a given week saw their risk of type 2 diabetes increase by 17 percent compared to those who consumed less than one serving of white rice per month.
What’s the deal with white rice?
Well, for starters, it’s refined, which means that the bran (outside) and germ of the brown rice–the parts of the grain containing the vitamins, minerals, and all-important fiber–have been ground away by the milling process. Stripped of this roughage, white rice can’t slow the body’s blood sugar response or the emptying of the stomach–which may raise the risk of blood-sugar levels getting too high. And when blood sugar levels get elevated, they stimulate the pancreas to produce too much insulin, which over time causes that organ to become sluggish.
- While this study doesn’t prove that eating brown rice, barley, and whole wheat instead of white rice was solely responsible for lowering the study participants’ risk of type 2 diabetes, it suggests this. And so, it’s one more piece of evidence telling us that we should be limiting our consumption of refined foods like white rice, white bread, and processed cereals–while instead choosing whole grains and 100-percent whole wheat.
- Avoid products that have “enriched” flour among their ingredients, and try some whole grains–even some of the “ancient” grains like quinoa. Also, look for cereals made from barley.
- Aim for at least three whole-grain foods per day and get at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
- The American Cancer Society recommends 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day; fresh fruits and vegetables will help get you there (think raspberries and strawberries for highest fiber content). Eat at least four to five fresh fruits and vegetables a day to help you get your vitamins and minerals as well as your fiber.
- Consider fiber to be your weight-loss friend since you can’t absorb the calories in it, and since it helps you feel fuller after meals, for longer. Try some “multigrain lite” English muffins (I see at least two brands of these when I shop here in the U.S.)–they have 8 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving.
- Remember to drink enough fluids (water, preferably; limit caffeine and alcohol) so that your urine is clear or nearly so. Fluids help flush fiber out of your system (after it’s done its work) and contribute to your overall health and energy.