White Rice, Curry And Diabetes: The Skewed Indian Meal Plate

Read Time: 7 mins

The entire country is being fed with rice. Rice is life, specifically in South India where they make a ton of recipes with rice. From poor to rich, no meal is complete without it and for many rice is the only affordable meal.

Being a staple food in Asia, rice feeds more than half the world population.

Rice is believed to be cultivated for more than 10000 years. In India 50% of the population depends on rice for sustaining life.

The Rice Story

Archaeological surveys trace back rice cultivation to Asia, particularly China, to about 10000 to 12000 years ago. Although there are many accounts of the origin of rice, here is a brief account from India.

Rice is mentioned in the Yajur Veda (c. 1500-800 BC) one of the 4 oldest Hindu scriptures. Rice finds mention in various Sanskrit texts and is seen as a symbol of prosperity and fertility.

There is a custom in India where rice is thrown at newly wed couples as a blessing.
Steamed or boiled rice is also the first food offered to babies when they start eating solids. 

It’s important to note that ancient rice refers to brown or colored rice which was hand pounded. This is due to the fact that milling and polishing techniques are recent inventions.

Trivia: Two species of domesticated rice, Oryza sativa (Asian) and Oryza glaberrima (African) are grown globally.

Is White Rice Bad For You?

There is some evidence that suggests that a high intake of white rice may be associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A 2013 study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that people who ate the most white rice were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least. The study also found that the risk of diabetes increased with the amount of white rice consumed.

Another study, published in the journal The Lancet in 2019, looked at data from 132,373 people in 21 countries. The study found that people who ate the most white rice were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least. The risk of diabetes increased by 20% for every 100 grams of white rice consumed per day.

-data from various studies, internet sources.

white rice curry and diabetes vimalmohan.com
The International Diabetes Federation data 2021

Many studies point fingers at white rice and I believe it’s true in India’s case. Because we eat a lot of rice. The hard working class eats an average of 2Kgs of cooked rice or more in a day. Don’t hold me to the numbers, those are based on my observations. In Fact, I might be modest here.

The problem lies with the hardly working class, read sedentary lifestyle, who eat about an average of 1Kg of rice or more in a day. And they don’t stop at that.

We Indians have an obsession with sweets ( made of white rice, refined flour and refined sugar) and savories ( made with white rice or lentils & refined oil). The sweets go right after a meal or before and the savories, between meals. There is no shortage of festivities and occasions in India and that means more intake of sweets and savories.

Diabetes was considered a rich man’s disease then, fast forward to present,  it’s become a lifestyle disease affecting everyone from childhood to old age.

The rising standard of living, more cash in hand for the middle class and convenience foods available at the tap of a button has clouded our senses to such an extent that we have forgotten what and how much to eat.

Portion out of proportion

White rice is an easy main course meal. It cooks under 10 minutes, goes well with all curries due to its mild flavor and is easy to digest. Not only that, it’s easy to store for a long time without being spoiled. The older the rice, the better it gets at texture and taste.  

White rice is an attractive option for making one pot recipes like pulao and biryani. It’s a perfect fit for the internet age hustle where time is a premium.

We have been boasting and bragging about our rich cultural heritage, spices and culinary prowess but that is all empty talk. No matter how much spice and herb is being used we are not getting any healthier in this age of refined and packed food.

Thanks to white rice that has taken up a major real estate on our meal plate throwing diet out of balance. We have forgotten how to eat.

Too much rice and very little vegetables and fruits. The humble curry fails at providing adequate protein or vitamins and is used as an aide to gulp down rice.

Sedentary lifestyle and white rice is a potent combination for chronic illness and the younger population is at risk in the form of weight gain, mild to moderate fatty liver and early diabetes.

Ancient food knowledge is lost to modern obsession to taste. The ancients knew what to eat and how to combine food to fix health.

Popular Belief About White Rice

When I tell people to cut down on white rice they come back telling me how rice has been our staple food through our traditions and cultures and how we have been cultivating rice for ages and our ancestors ate it. 

They are not wrong, but I tell them, you are not your grandfather. You are not plowing, tilling and toiling under the sun nor are you eating what your grandparents ate.

Little do we realize that our ancestors ate hand pound rice, if at all they did eat rice. For example, a 100 years ago, White Rice was a premium that only the elite could afford, it was reserved for the rich. Same was the case with white sugar. 

Porridge or gruel of millets, vegetables and roots that grew in the backyard are some of the food that our ancestors ate after a hard day’s work in the field. If I have to tag what they ate, it was simple organic food.

Words like refined and polished are often misunderstood. The educated see these words as clean and hygienic. This perception is a treasure box for the marketing industry. Hence they have been taking us for a ride while we still believe that everything shown on TV and print is true.

White Rice vs Brown Rice

With the germ and bran layer removed from white rice, it’s a no-brainer that brown rice is a clear winner since it retains the essential bran and germ layers. Yet people keep arguing and promoting white rice based on the fact that both have similar calorie profiles.

They also go on to say that the fiber, vitamin and mineral present in the bran and germ layers are comparatively low. OK, but what about the long term benefits of eating “comparatively low vitamin content” rather than not eating it at all?

Some of the reasons Brown rice loses the game to white rice:

– Brown rice costs twice as much,
– Takes 2 to 3 times longer to cook, 
– Requires more chewing, 
– May come out strong in flavor, 
– Color and texture may not appeal to all.

Thus white rice is a clear case of choice and a matter of convenience.

Let’s assume sedentary life to be a zero sum game.

Then does this equation balance out from a financial standpoint?

[White rice + chronic illness + medical expense] = [brown rice + health]

Which side would you be inclined to? (no political pun intended).
I suppose good health tips all scales.

It’s time we go back to eating colored rice and millets. Let’s reserve white rice for special occasions.


Any food can be bad when eaten wrong. Diabetics find it hard to reduce their dependence on white rice and to switch to alternative rice or grains. You don’t want to put yourself in this situation of juggling food to maintain health.

If eating in moderation is a good thing, then it’s best applied to eating white rice. If you have been eating white rice as your main course everyday and leading a sedentary lifestyle, it’s never too late to fix your food.

Balance your meal plate with lots of vegetables and good fat. Switch to whole fruits for snacks.

The best way to eat white rice is by fermenting it. We have been doing this in the form of idlis, dosas and gruel. The only part missing here is the need to balance white rice with more nutrition from vegetables and fruits.

Avoiding bad food (processed and refined) is half the battle won and a sure path to losing fat and maintaining good health. Many are turning to brown rice and millets which is encourage and I hope this trend continues for the rest of time.

I hope you found this informative.
Thank you for your time.
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