Rice that’s nice, not a vice, for diabetics

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 16, 2015 09:22 IST

India could have new ammunition to fight diabetes, an unstoppable epidemic.

Three varieties of low glycaemic index (GI) rice — ones that don’t instantly explode into copious amounts of sugar in the bloodstream — have done well on the field. What’s now required is a push towards commercialisation, officials said.

The Hyderabad-based state-run Indian Institute of Rice Research has identified the varieties by cracking a jigsaw puzzle of plant chemistry.

Diabetics commonly crib their diets allow very little rice. Here’s why.

Rice is naturally high in starch, and to make things worse, it also has a high GI score, causing a sugar spike in the body. The glycaemic index is a measure of how quickly food is ingested and its sugar released into the bloodstream.

For a nation on course to be the world’s diabetes capital by 2025, the discovery of low GI index rice may not be a magic bullet to reverse the epidemic. But it can surely help target ‘diabetes control’ better and avert complications from a disease that’s wrecking so many lives.

Read:Diabetic? This is the biggest mistake you're making

“People just can’t give up rice because food habits are entrenched cultural habits difficult to change,” says Aparna Misra, a food writer.

It’s understandable why.

What’s a delicacy in the West is a staple for two-thirds of Indians. Nearly 500 million farmers grow nearly 600 varieties. Rich or poor, everybody takes it: as plain rice, as pilaf and slow-cooked biryani, as milk-boiled desserts and also as a frugal soupy mix of lentil or khichdi. What’s more, the government even distributes rice cheap to some 800 million poor and malnourished Indians every month.

But plentiful rice can cause a patient to shoot his permissible calorie limits. Diabetes is a condition where the body can’t maintain the right amount of glucose in the blood. Having rice that breaks down more slowly to glucose, or low-GI rice, can therefore ensure sugar is more evenly released over time, rather than all at once. Any variety of rice with a GI score of 55 or less is considered diabetic-friendly.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research-run institutions have developed three types of wunder grains which hav e alower score, as validated by the flagship National Institute for Nutrition: Lalat (GI=53.17), BPT5204 (GI=51.42) and Sampada (GI=51).

“Rice naturally has a GI score of 70-80. The challenge was to reduce that to below 55. Also, one had to ensure the grain is of fine quality. Otherwise people would not prefer it. We did all this through conventional breeding,” said V Ravindrababu, project director at the Hyderabad institute.

The downside, however, is the government often does a poor job of selling state-developed innovations. “This is so because the culture of public-private farm collaboration is far more limited in India than in developed markets,” said S Raghunathan, a former consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to Ravindrababu, his institute would allow seed companies to use the varieties for an applicable fee. Raghunathan says that’s not enough and what is needed is a marketing hardsell.

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