Could rice help fight cancer?
Having rice pudding for breakfast, sushi for lunch and risotto for dinner might reduce the risk of bowel cancer, research suggests.
University of Canterbury researchers are looking into whether colorectal cancer may be influenced by changes in diet.
Professor Ann Richardson said more than 2800 Kiwis were diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and it was "very possible" dietary changes were associated with world cancer trends.
"Rapid increases in the incidence of bowel cancer in Japan and Hong Kong have been linked to dietary changes which have occurred in these countries over the last 50 years," she said.
Per capita, rice consumption declined by almost 50 per cent in Japan over the past 20 to 30 years.
She said countries such as China and India had not seen the same decline in rice consumption and continued to have low rates of bowel cancer.
Richardson said rates of colorectal cancer in Japan and Hong Kong had increased "too quickly to suggest that it is something genetic".
"So instead of it being something harmful, it might just be the loss of something protective," she said. "There is some laboratory research that suggests that rice has a tumour-suppressing effect, and it's a very interesting idea and we're going to pursue it."
Statistics New Zealand rice-import figures showed that in 1990 each person was eating about three kilograms of rice. In 2012, Kiwis were eating about 8kg each.
A Health Ministry report in 2010 showed bowel-cancer rates were highest for Pakeha and Maori men but lower for Asians and Pacific Islanders.
Population health nutritionist and Appetite for Life programme manager Bronwen King said a high-fat, low-fibre diet and lack of exercise would increase a person's risk of bowel cancer.
"Ill health is a result of many factors, both environmental and genetic," she said.
"Even if evidence shows that rice is protective against bowel cancer, there would be many other factors involved, such as an increasing reliance on convenience and processed food and inactivity."
Brown rice was healthier than white rice as it contained more fibre, she said.
Christchurch man David Bately said rice was a staple in his household because it was cheap and filling.
"Rice that is left over in our house never lasts long.
"It either gets fried with caramelised onions or is made into a rice pudding served with raspberry jam," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you believe eating superfoods makes you healthier?Related story: (See story)