White rice, the staple food of Filipinos and other Asians, has been proven to cause spikes in blood sugar because it has a high glycemic index (GI). Studies have linked high rice consumption with increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Eating high-GI foods can cause blood sugar levels to rapidly rise—triggering the pancreas to release more insulin—and then quickly fall. This can promote cravings and overeating. Repeating this cycle frequently may lead to weight gain and insulin resistance, factors associated with type 2 diabetes and higher cardiovascular risk, according to a Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) research.
The HSPH researchers reviewed four earlier studies involving more than 352,000 people from China, Japan, the United States, and Australia who were tracked between four and 22 years. They found that people who ate the most rice—three to four servings a day—were 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes than people who ate the least amount of rice. In addition, for every additional large bowl of white rice a person ate each day, the risk rose 10 percent. The link was stronger for people in Asian countries, who eat an average of three to four servings of white rice per day.
A perspective paper in Diabetes Care recommends reducing white rice in your diet. Avoiding large portion sizes can help reduce insulin and blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of diabetes. In fact, eating too much food at one time has been shown to cause higher blood sugar and insulin levels in people at risk of diabetes.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, there are 3.9 million people with diabetes in the Philippines as of May 2020. As a chronic illness, diabetes can bring about an increased risk of developing heart disease and stroke. In 2020, 6.5 percent of deaths in the country were caused by diabetes mellitus diseases.
Now comes a bill filed at the House of Representatives that may unintentionally help Filipinos prevent the risk of diabetes. House Deputy Majority Leader Janette Garin’s proposed legislation mandates restaurants, canteens, eateries, and food establishments to provide a half-cup rice serving option. Dubbed the “Rice Waste Reduction Act of 2023,” the bill is geared towards curbing rice wastage, estimated at P7.2 billion a year. (Read the BusinessMirror report, “With P7.2-B wastage, bill mandates half-cup rice,” November 15, 2023).
Incidentally, President Marcos filed a similar bill—Senate Bill No. 1863—seeking to penalize restaurants for refusing to serve half a cup of rice when he was a senator during the 16th Congress. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to act on his proposed measure.
Garin said her bill seeks to minimize food waste, encourage balanced and sustainable eating habits, and promote healthier meal portions. “By implementing this measure, the legislation envisions a future where individuals are more conscious of their food choices, establishments prioritize responsible serving practices, and society as a whole benefits from a more sustainable and balanced approach to food consumption,” she said.
Garin’s bill, if signed into law, is like throwing two strikes with one pitch. Her primary purpose is to help reduce rice wastage in the country. But the incidental health benefit of this measure is potentially huge. It helps prevent overconsumption of white rice, which can raise blood glucose levels and increase the risk of diabetes.
In the age of social media, however, we can’t predict the effect of half-cup rice image posts on the reputation of a restaurant, particularly on people who don’t know that this is a customer’s option and not the restaurant’s regular serving size.
Under the regime of “unli rice,” we also don’t know who would avail themselves of just a half-cup rice serving. But, who knows, this may just be the legislation needed to make people aware that we cannot continue cultivating an “unli rice” culture if we want to lower our blood sugar level and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.