Eating more rice could help fight obesity, study suggests

Eating rice-based meals may increase feelings of fullness and prevent overeating.
Eating rice-based meals may increase feelings of fullness and prevent overeating. Photo: William Meppem

Experts found that people following a Japanese or other Asian-style diet based on rice were less likely to be obese than those living in countries where rice consumption was low.

Researchers said low-carbohydrate diets – which limit rice – are a popular weight-loss strategy in developed countries but the effect of rice on obesity has been unclear.

Japanese-inspired miso rice and charred greens salad.
Japanese-inspired miso rice and charred greens salad. Photo: Katrina Meynink

They looked at rice consumption in terms of grams per day per person and calorie intake in 136 countries. They also looked at data on body mass index (BMI).

In the UK, people were found to consume just 19 grams of rice a day, below dozens of other countries including Canada, Spain and the US.

The researchers calculated that even a modest increase in rice consumption of 50 grams per day per person could reduce the worldwide prevalence of obesity by 1 per cent (from 650 million adults to 643.5 million).

Professor Tomoko Imai, from Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts, Kyoto, Japan, who led the research, said: "The observed associations suggest that the obesity rate is low in countries that eat rice as a staple food.

"Therefore, a Japanese food or an Asian-food-style diet based on rice may help prevent obesity.

"Given the rising levels of obesity worldwide, eating more rice should be recommended to protect against obesity even in western countries."

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Giving possible reasons why rice can help, Professor Imai said rice was low fat, adding: "It's possible that the fibre, nutrients and plant compounds found in whole grains may increase feelings of fullness and prevent overeating."

The authors concluded: "The prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in the countries with higher rice supply even after controlling for lifestyle and socioeconomic indicators."

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "We have known for centuries that far eastern populations tend to be slimmer than in the west because rice is a staple food, but few obesity specialists may have appreciated why.

"This novel research is the first to hypothesise that we could nail obesity by eating a modest amount more."

The study was presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow.

Bloomberg