Not all rice is created equal

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Dr. Jeyakumar Henry, biochemistry professor of the National University of Singapore School of Medicine and the director of Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, A*STAR Singapore, talked about trends in research and human health during the celebration of National Nutrition Month in the Philippines.

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines (17 July 2017) — “Your mom was right when she told you to eat your vegetables (and) eat your meat. If you combine your rice with vegetables and meat, you get a lower rate of glycemia,” said Dr. Christiani Jeyakumar Henry, a biochemistry professor of the National University of Singapore School of Medicine and the director of Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, A*STAR Singapore, during a special lecture at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) last 17 July. “What we have been doing intuitively has scientific evidence,” he adds.

Dr. Henry’s presentation, titled Trends in Research and Human Health, was held at IRRI headquarters in celebration of National Nutrition Month in the Philippines.

“The challenges facing global nutrition today are staggering. Around 3.5 billion people suffer from inadequate or inappropriate diets,” said Matthew Morell, Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in his opening remarks.

“Every year, we lose 3.1 million children under the age of 5 to malnutrition. Among the top 10 rice-consuming countries, 1 in 3 children under 5 is stunted,” Dr. Morell emphasized, highlighting the need for better nutrition especially in rice-consuming countries. “While we are keeping pace with requirements for staple foods, it’s, it’s unacceptable that so many in developing countries still struggle with malnutrition.”

Speaking about another challenge of developing countries – the rise of non-communicable diseases as a result of over-weight, Dr. Henry explained that carbohydrate foods that increase blood glucose rapidly in the body are called high glycemic index (GI) food. These can cause the body to overproduce insulin, increasing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Rice and rice-based products are generally considered high GI food.

A research study on the ethnic differences in bodily responses after consuming the same amount and type of food found that Asians (Southeast, Chinese, and Indians) had higher blood glucose levels and insulin secretion than Caucasians.

“The repeated consumption of high-GI foods stimulates insulin secretion from the pancreas and predisposes us to diabetes,” explained Dr. Henry.

However, he adds that not all rice is high GI. Depending on variety, composition, processing, and other factors, the GI index of cooked rice could vary from 30 to 100. He proposed that there are simple dietary interventions that could potentially reduce the glycemic impact of rice, such as adding vegetables and protein, allowing newly cooked rice to cool down, and lessening the amount of rice per mouthful.

To help attendees expand their conception of healthy rice dishes, Chef Lionel O’Hari Go of the Center for Culinary Arts in Manila, Philippines conducted a cooking demonstration. Chef Lionel shared cooking tips while preparing nutritious versions of a one-pot Chinese-flavored Lab-Labi rice and sweetened Balatinaw coconut pudding with tapioca pearls and mangoes. Lab-Labi and Balatinaw are heirloom rice varieties from the Cordillera Region of the Philippines.

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Attended by representatives of the National Nutrition Council, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, and local government units from Los Baños, the event also marked the launch of IRRI Nutrition.

“Man does not eat by rice alone. As part of the mandate of IRRI Nutrition, we are looking at ways that IRRI can help change rice systems from a nutritional standpoint,” stated Dr. Cecilia C. Santos-Acuin, IRRI Nutrition Senior Scientist. She further recognized that the work of IRRI Nutrition would only be successful through deep partnerships with the Philippine Departments of Agriculture, Health, and the Environment and Natural Resources, nutrition experts, and local research institutes.

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Rona Azucena