Rice unlikely the main culprit

Rice is a staple food consumed by more than half of the world's population and has been so for hundreds, if not thousands, of years ("Diabetes: The rice you eat is worse than sugary drinks"; last Friday).

Yet, diabetes was a very rare disease until recently - in China, for example, diabetes prevalence was less than 1 per cent in 1980 but rose more than 10 times to 11.6 per cent by 2013.

This is despite a per capita rice consumption drop of 36 per cent over the same period.

At home, our diabetes prevalence was 1.9 per cent in 1975 and rose almost six times to 11.3 per cent by 2010.

How did our per capita rice consumption pattern change over this period? It went down an estimated 10.7 per cent.

So, it is highly unlikely that the explosion in diabetes rates is caused by our rice consumption, white or otherwise.

Something else in our diet is driving this. And we need our best and brightest to work on the true cause of diabetes if we want to win this war.

Perhaps we could hypothesise that if sugar were rare in our diet, diabetes would remain a very rare disease. We could then set out to test this.

Leung Hon Yew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline 'Rice unlikely the main culprit'. Print Edition | Subscribe