Rice Eaters Have Healthier Diets

A growing consensus of rice as a healthy food in US diet
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Eating white or brown rice helps improve diet and manage weight and other risk factors for disease, according to results from a study presented today at the Experimental Biology 2012 conference, in San Diego, CA.

According to Hanqi Luo, research scientist at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition, there are many reasons to encourage consumers to eat rice. "Rice is a staple enjoyed by most of the world.  Our research shows that it contributes important nutrients to the US diet, such as folate, iron and potassium, and may help improve overall diet quality and reduce the risk of becoming overweight."

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2007 to 2008, the Tufts researchers compared the diets of more than 8,000 adults and children who reported eating rice versus those who reported not eating rice, for important health parameters, including risk for obesity, cholesterol levels and diet quality.

The results show that rice eaters, including children and adults, consume significantly more folate, iron, potassium, vitamins B6, B12 and A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and zinc. Potassium and vitamind D are identified in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as two important nutrients for the the general population. Growing research supports higher daily intake of vitamin D as beneficial. Also, folic acid fortification of grains is responsible for a 27 percent decrease in certain birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Rice eaters also consumed a lower percentage of calories from fat and saturated fat compared to those who did not eat rice.  In addition, adults who eat rice are less likely to be overweight or obese and have a smaller waist circumference.

"This study builds on and further confirms previous published rice studies that demonstrate that individuals who consume rice are less likely to be overweight and enjoy a healthier diet than those who don't consume rice," explained Luo. "And for the first time, there are data to support that rice is a positive addition to US children's diets, which is important given the obesity epidemic. Taken together, the results suggest that the type of grain, as well as amount of grain, consumed may be an important influence on nutritional status," she concluded.

Two previous published studies have shown the positive contribution of rice to the US diet. A 2009 observational study using NHANES datasets and Continuing Survey of Food intake by Individuals (CSFII), found that rice eaters consumed significantly less fat and saturated fat and consumed more iron, potassium, fiber, meat, vegetables and grains.  A follow-up study in 2010, also using NHANES datasets, included children in the study group and further confirmed that rice consumption was associated with greater intake of a range of healthier foods and nutrients.

Rice is a naturally nutritious grain that provides about 100 calories per half-cup cooked serving.  Brown rice is a 100 percent whole grain food and white rice is enriched with important nutrients including folic acid and iron. Wild rice, which was also included in this study, is a 100 percent whole grain. In addition, rice is versatile, safe for those with gluten or other wheat allergies and is enjoyed by children and adults, alike.

The Tufts study was funded by the Rice Foundation, which serves as the independent research and education program arm for the rice industry. For more information about the USA Rice Federation, visit usarice.com.