If this Halloween you plan on skipping out on candy to opt for a healthy, home-cooked rice-based meal, you might want to reconsider that choice. A new study by the American College of Cardiology has found that eating white rice is just as bad for your heart as eating candy. These are the details of their findings.
White Rice As Bad For Your Heart As Candy?
White rice is a pretty common staple food around the world. In some households, families eat it almost daily. There are some good reasons for that. After all, it’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s good for you, right? According to the American College of Cardiology, not so much. The data indicates that eating highly refined grains, like white rice, is just as bad as eating high amounts of “unhealthy sugars and oils” (1) What has high amounts of sugars and oils? Candy, amongst other things.
According to Mohammad Amin Khajavi Gaskarei, MD, of the Isfahan Cardiovascular Research Center and Cardiovascular Research Institute at Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in Isfahan, Iran, “A diet that includes consuming a high amount of unhealthy and refined grains can be considered similar to consuming a diet containing a lot of unhealthy sugars and oils.” (1)
The study looked at a group of 2,500 people in Iran both with and without a history of coronary artery disease, aka heart disease. The researchers asked the participants how often they ate refined sugars and grains. Refined grains are those that have been processed to a point where they lose the nutritious parts of the grain and are left over only with the starchy part, such as white rice. They found that those who ate more refined grains, like white rice, had a higher risk of premature coronary artery disease (PCAD). Interestingly enough, this is the same problem that people who eat large amounts of sweets face.
“There are many factors involved in why people may be consuming more refined grains as opposed to whole grains … Some of the most important factors to consider include the economy and income, job, education, culture, age and other similar factors.” said the study’s lead author Dr Mohammad Amin Khajavi Gaskarei. “A diet that includes consuming a high amount of unhealthy and refined grains can be considered similar to consuming a diet containing a lot of unhealthy sugars and oils.” (2)
How Do Refined Grains Affect The Body?
The reason for this is simple: Refined grains, like white rice, act in the same way in the body as sugar does. They are processed very quickly, causing your blood sugar to rise quickly after eating them, too. If you do this often, it can damage your heart and blood vessels. This leads to a buildup of plaque in your arteries, which will eventually cause a heart attack if not monitored and taken care of. (3)
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For those who are surprised and asking why no one has said anything about this before, well… they did. The American College of Cardiology actually warned us about eating too many refined grains back in 2019. They actually published a report explaining that everyone should be including vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, and whole grains in their daily diet rather than processed, refined ones. (4)
Eating Whole Grains
Refined grains are called refined because they have had a lot of parts of the grain removed. This is done to give them a finer texture and longer shelf life. They have had the healthy parts of the grain, such as the bran and germ, removed, leaving just the sugary starchy part. Think white bread, white rice, most pastas, crackers, and most pre-packaged grain-based carbohydrates. Whole grains, however, have not gone through that process. This means the nutrient and fiber-providing parts of the grain are included, whether left whole or ground into a flour. These include whole grain bread, oats, and yes – brown rice.
Coronary Heart Disease is a huge problem in the United States. Every 34 seconds, someone dies from it in the US. In 2020, it was responsible for one in five deaths. Of those deaths, two of every 10 were people less than 65 years of age. (5) This is a problem that affects all of us, either directly or someone we care about. To protect your heart, focus your diet on:
- Vegetables (especially leafy greens)
- Some fruits (not too many each day – the focus should be on vegetables)
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains
When considering carbohydrates, don’t just look at grains. Consider potatoes, sweet potatoes, and various types of squash, as well. These are all nutrient-dense foods that when prepared properly (ie. not deep fried or prepared with heavy creams or added sugars) can give you the carbohydrates you need without needing to rely on processed foods.
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- “Which Grains You Eat Can Impact Your Risk of Getting Heart Disease Earlier” ACC. October 3, 2022.
- “White rice is as bad as candy when it comes to heart health: study.” NY Post. Erin Keller. October 3, 2022.
- “Diabetes and Your Heart.” CDC
- “2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines.” JACC. Donna K. Arnett, et al. September 2019.
- “White rice and pasta are just as bad for your heart as CANDY, study suggests.” Daily Mail. Caitlin Tilley. October 3, 2022.