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Rising obesity among Asians that is traced to excessive intake of bad carbohydrates like rice, white bread, sugary drinks and sweets—can be checked with simple changes in dieting behavior, a shift to brown rice and the recent launching of the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) new thrust toward biofortification of rice. Glycemic index is on the rice? Glycemic index (GI), which measures bad carbohydrates (carbs), has been on the rise among Asians. That means glucose released from excessive carbs can trigger spikes in insulin from the pancreas that could develop into diabetes.


At the recent IRRI launching of its new research thrust, surprisingly not covered by media from Metro Manila, Prof. Jeyakumar Henry of the University of Singapore presented interesting study findings worth adopting by our businessmen-readers who have developed “sedentary” lifestyles sitting all day long at their offices, while ironically on the fast lane, grabbing fast-food meals and always on the go.


Professor Jeya, as he is fondly called, revealed that obesity of Westerners, like Americans and the British, are caused more by high-fat diets of about 33 to almost 40 percent, compared to Asians, whose diets are composed of 67-percent carbs and only 21-percent fats. Much of an Asian’s diet is rice that is on the rise, whereby what is not burned as energy is converted into fats that is causing the Asian-obesity phenomenon.


Sitting on your work is unhealthy? Rapid urbanization and the rising office-based business-process outsourcing industry will also see the rise of unhealthy lifestyles of fast foods, graveyard sleeping habits and day-long or night-long work, literally sitting on their jobs.


Thus, old friend V. Bruce J. Tolentino, PhD, and IRRI deputy director general, who is worried over his paunch on the rise, is doing again the unconventional by raising his office desk on stilts, to four-feet high to force himself to work while standing. Apparently, he can’t stand the idea of sitting the whole day.


When he was agriculture undersecretary a few decades back, Bruce did the unusual with his desk facing the wall and his back to an open door, which meant he was open as a public servant, but could not be distracted easily as he pored on his work.


Google and Youtube upload synopses of studies, saying that indeed “Sitting will kill you,” because you only exercise a little. We sit most of the time—when we drive, we sit; when we work, we sit; when we watch TV, we sit; when we dine, we sit, etc. Too much of sit is not sweet but bwisit in any Filipino language. Locally, sitting on one’s job (inupuan ang trabaho) figuratively means delaying work or not letting papers move.


The World Health Organization reveals that prolonged sitting can increase risks of developing diabetes by 90 percent, and lead to cardiovascular diseases, colon and breast cancer, depression and others.


Choose for more chews. Jeya’s comparative time and motion studies on the use of fingers, spoons and chopsticks and their impact on GI resulted in interesting findings.


For the same volume of rice eaten, he measured the comparative number of mouthfuls, the number of chews per mouthful, the chewing time per mouthful, the chewing rate, the volume of rice per mouthfu and the total time consumed per portion. It turns out spoons ended with the higher GI of 81.3, followed by fingers with 73.3 and chopsticks with only 67.9.


This only indicates that it is healthier to take smaller bite sizes and spend more time chewing, and this requires dining with company or converting your meal times as opportunities for social interaction. It is good to revive the old Spanish tertulia of having eat chats, or the local salabatan, which means discourse while taking salabat or (ginger) in a garden or gazeeboo or patio sa labas or outside the house proper.


You need not shift to chopsticks, so still use the more convenient and hygienic spoon, but this time, chat in between bites and never gobble down food in a rush. So choose to chew slowly, or go slow not fast food. Prof. Jeya says meals with soups also lower the GI, maybe because they enhance digestion. The same works for salad vegetables.


Rise of fortified rice. The bigger problem is still quantity or agricultural production, and their equitable distribution with 3 million children under 5 still dying from lack of food and nutrition in war-ravaged or backward countries.


IRRI Director General Matthew Morell stressed, however, that while 3.5 billion people suffer from insufficient nutrition, either over or under nutrition as we increasingly wipe out pockets of famine, a new phenomenon is rising—the 1.4 billion people struggling with obesity. This may worsen with 50 percent of Southeast Asians to live in urban centers by 2020.


And because you cannot stop the culture of Asians from eating rice, which shares 67 percent of meals, the challenge, therefore, is to produce quality rice that is biofortified with the necessary vitamins, minerals and maybe protein.


And even without scientific biofortification, brown rice by itself, which is essentially less-milled rice that keeps the nutritious bran intact that is naturally packed, if I recall rightly, with 40 healthy micronutrients, minerals and vitamins. Unfortunately, these are scraped off to produce white rice.


Surprisingly, brown rice is more expensive and should be cheaper as it no longer undergoes further scrape milling of the bran. The reason is simple, the supply produced is less than the rising demand being a novelty.


So the next challenge if people still prefer white rice is to biofortify the grains themselves so poor people can attain a close to a balanced diet by just eating rice.


E-mail: mikealunan@yahoo.com

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