Hooked on white rice, but some ready to change diet

Around 4 in 5 polled consume the grain daily despite many being aware of diabetes risk

A bowl of white rice. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Singapore remains a nation of white rice eaters - and even the shadow of diabetes may not be enough to wean Singaporeans from their favourite staple.

Mr Zee Yoong Kang, chief executive of the Health Promotion Board, flagged white rice as one of the main agents behind the high rate of diabetes here.

But when The Straits Times spoke to 50 residents about their food habits, 42 - or 84 per cent - said they consumed white rice daily.

They did this even though the majority - 56 per cent - were aware that white rice could be harmful and raises the risk of diabetes.

For more than two in five people, the link between white rice and diabetes came as an eye-opener. Marketing executive Yao Xi Qing, 33, said: "I will really consider changing my intake, now that I know it contributes to diabetes."

Nine of the 50 respondents said they were prepared to completely replace white rice with brown rice in their diet, while some have already done so. Mrs Joanne Seow, 53, a manager, said: "Upon discovering how harmful white rice is, I've been cooking only brown rice for my family."

Sales executive Meeran Maricar, 29, agreed that brown rice, being a complex carbohydrate, was a healthier choice.

While reluctant to make a complete switch, many others were willing to compromise for the sake of their health.

Half the respondents were inclined to partially seek out healthier substitutes. While some of them said they would consider mixing brown and white rice, others were open to choosing long grain rice, which has a lower glycaemic index.

Among those unwilling to make a switch, convenience and the force of habit were major factors. Mr Ralph Marcos, 30, said: "Despite being a nurse, I prefer white rice as it is easily available. I am used to eating it daily."

Ms Amanda Stromberg, 39, also a nurse, cited resistance from her family. "Although I'm trying to gradually switch to brown rice, my children don't really like its appearance," she said.

Ms Natalie Goh, chief dietitian for Parkway Pantai hospitals in Singapore, offered several tips for those seeking healthier options.

She said wholegrain foods could be added gradually to the diet. Mixing a bit of brown rice with white was one option.

She suggested using brown rice bee hoon or brown rice mee sua when cooking noodle dishes.

"For those who enjoy baking, try experimenting with your existing recipes by replacing one-quarter portion of regular flour with wholegrain flour. I have experimented with baking a healthier version of pineapple tart with wholegrain flour. There is no difference in taste except for the texture."

Medical student Gui Chuan Hao, 20, plans to switch to brown rice. "Once my family sees how easy the transition can be, they will be motivated to make the switch," he said.

The graphic above has been updated for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2016, with the headline Hooked on white rice, but some ready to change diet. Subscribe