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Zorba Paster: Avoid foods that raise risk of diabetes

I don’t need to tell you diabetes is on the rise. It’s in the news nearly every day. And this epidemic is not just in adults, but kids, too.

Last year, I saw a 14-year-old girl who had developed what we used to call “adult-onset diabetes.” Now we call it Type 2 because we’re seeing it in kids.

This teenager weighed 250 pounds, never exercised and ate McDonald’s or Burger King nearly every day. Even at home, she seemed to supersize her meals. I knew this because mom and dad both had diabetes and weighed more than 300 pounds.

We know that too much food day after day increases your risk for diabetes. But does all food carry the same risk?

The answer is no.

New research out of Harvard points out that one food is riskier than others – white rice.

Asians eat a lot of white rice, generally about four servings a day. Diabetes is on the rise in Asia just as it is in the U.S., but many diabetics in Asia aren’t as overweight.

So investigators looked further at the most common carbohydrate in Asia – white rice. They showed that white rice was an independent risk factor for diabetes. The more a person ate, the more likely they were to become a diabetic.

Why is this the case? One theory involves the B vitamins that are milled out of white rice when it’s converted from brown rice. B vitamins are protective. The jury is out on that one.

Another theory is that white rice has what is termed a “high glycemic index.” Foods with a high glycemic index turn instantly into sugar in our body. That sugar surge overwhelms the insulin-producing pancreas, eventually burning it out.

The glycemic index concept came into play more than a decade ago when folks noticed that refined carbohydrates and sugars were linked to diabetes. Not all doctors are on board with the index concept, but I think it has merit.

Foods with a high glycemic index include soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or sugar, cakes, candy, pastries and cookies. Other not so obvious foods include white bread, mashed potatoes, watermelon, chips and the “culprit of the day,” white rice.

Foods with a low glycemic index include nearly all veggies, beans, peas, legumes and brown rice. You see, mom was right: Eat your veggies!

Fruits are in the middle, not high and not low. Some fruits, such as pineapple, are high. Bananas are a bit lower, and apples are the lowest.

My spin: White rice is not as healthy as brown rice but in moderation it’s certainly OK. I am not recommending that you stop eating white rice, and I’ll have it when I eat Chinese, Thai or Mexican food. But do so in moderation. If you’re eating three or four servings a day, it’s clearly too much.

While we’re there, if you’re eating other high glycemic foods – and that includes nearly all refined carbohydrates – several times a day, stop! You can do it. You have the willpower to make a change.

You can, just as I have over the years, transition to more high-fiber, whole-grain foods and foods with a low glycemic index such as beans, chick peas and other legumes.

Change takes work, and so does good health, unless you’re one of the lucky ones. Baby steps.

Stay well!