Consumption of rice by those suffering from diabetes is discouraged by physicians because of its ability to get digested fast to release glucose which will increase the blood sugar immediately after ingestion beyond recommended levels. Traditionally diabetic patients were dependent more on wheat based diets which have marginally lower Glycemic Index (GI) value compared to rice. Those habituated with rice during their life time have difficulties in changing over to other grains and therefore any developmental activity that will make rice compatible with diabetes is a welcome news. After all more than 50% of the world population consume rice as a staple food and hence such a development will have great relevance. This is what is being attempted in International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila, Philippines in collaboration with other institutions engaged in rice research. According to the results already available from the study, there are many varieties of rice which have low GI, as low as 45 and those who want to have protection from diabetes can use low GI rice varieties while others with Type II diabetes can manage the disease better with such varieties. It is interesting to read the findings of the group as contained in the following report.
"The study found that the GI of rice ranges from a low of 48 to a high of 92, with an average of 64. The research team from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Food Futures Flagship also identified the key gene that determines the GI of rice, an important achievement that offers rice breeders the opportunity to develop varieties with different GI levels to meet consumer needs. Futuredevelopment of low-GI rice would also enable food manufacturers to develop new, low-GI food products based on rice. Dr. Melissa Fitzgerald, who led the IRRI team, said that GI is a measure of the relative ability of carbohydrates in foods to raise blood sugar levels after eating. "Understanding that different types of rice have different GI values allows rice consumers to make informed choices about the sort of rice they want to eat," she said. "Rice varieties such as India's most widely grown rice variety, Swarna, have a low GI and varieties such as Doongara from Australia and Basmati have a medium GI." Dr. Tony Bird, CSIRO Food Futures Flagship researcher, said that low-GI diets offer a range of health benefits: "Low-GI diets can reduce the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, and are also useful for helping diabetics better manage their condition. "This is good news for diabetics and people at risk of diabetes who are trying to control their condition through diet, as it means they can select the right rice to help maintain a healthy, low-GI diet," he added.Low-GI foods are those measured 55 and less, medium-GI foods are those measured between 56 and 69, while high-GI foods measure 70 and above.When food is measured to have a high GI, it means it is easily digested and absorbed by the body, which often results in fluctuations in blood sugar levels that can increase the chances of getting diabetes, and make management of type 2 diabetes difficult".
While theoretically it is an excellent study what is not realized is that there are only a few recognized brands in rice in the market while vast majority of them are sold loose in many countries with no way of identifying the variety and it is next to impossible to make any meaningful selection by the consumers at the market place. GI as a measure of assessing the anti-diabetic credentials of food is fraught with many practical difficulties. For example same rice variety can have varying GI values depending on the location it is produced, type of cooking it has undergone, the age of the rice, amount of water used for cooking, etc and unless more work is done to sort out these discrepancies there is no way consumer can rely on the published GI figures as a guide for evolving suitable diets. Of course for ready to eat foods with GI values declared on the label may have a meaning as they do not undergo any further cooking before consumption. Reading more carefully the above report, one gets the impression that it seems to be an attempt to genetically modify rice varieties to make changes at the gene level to impart low GI characteristics. Whether consumers will accept such GM varieties even with the low GI values remains to be seen.