In Singapore, the battle is on - against too much white rice

Starchy white rice has a high carbohydrate content which is broken down by the body to become sugar.
Starchy white rice has a high carbohydrate content which is broken down by the body to become sugar.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

In Singapore, where diabetes is threatening to get out of hand, the war is not just against sugary drinks but also on that ubiquitous staple food - white rice.

A bowl of rice causes a person's blood sugar to spike more than a can of soft drink does.

The reason is that starchy white rice has a high carbohydrate content, which is broken down by the body to become sugar.

In order for this sugar to be absorbed into a person's body, the pancreas produces insulin. But when too-frequent sugar spikes make the pancreas work harder, the body can become less efficient at producing insulin.

The end result can be diabetes, a chronic condition that can lead to complications such as blindness, amputation and heart attacks.

Short grain white rice is one of the major contributors to blood sugar spikes as it has a glycemic index (GI) of 98. The GI represents how much a person's blood sugar level rises after eating a certain food. The higher this number, the more sugar is produced.

In order to eat healthier, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has suggested replacing 20 per cent of white rice with brown rice.

There are more than 400,000 diabetics in Singapore today, a third of whom do not even know that they have the disease.

One in 10 people is obese, and obesity in children has gone up from 11 per cent in 2013 to 12 per cent in 2014.

A 2012 survey conducted by the HPB found that more than 40 per cent of teenagers aged 13 to 18 drink sugary drinks daily.

In general, a can of soft drink contains about 35g to 45g of sugar, or between seven and nine teaspoons per can.

It is thought that taking too much sugar can lead to obesity, which increases one's chances of diabetes.

In Parliament last month, several MPs gave suggestions to discourage such unhealthy habits and curb obesity, such as imposing a sugar tax.

Others suggested that sugar content in processed foods be clearly labelled, so that people know how much sugar they are consuming.

Short grain white rice is one of the major contributors to blood sugar spikes as it has a glycemic index (GI) of 98. The GI represents how much a person's blood sugar level rises after eating a certain food. The higher this number, the more sugar is produced.

In order to eat healthier, the Health Promotion Board has suggested replacing 20 per cent of white rice with brown rice.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'In S'pore, the battle is on - against too much white rice'. Print Edition | Subscribe