Ask Dr. Etingin: Rice; Pulmonary Fibrosis

Q:  A Japan-based study suggested that eating a lot of rice, with its fiber and nutrients, is how people in Asian communities stay so thin. Is there any truth to this?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 39.8 percent of Americans are obese. The World Health Organization says just 4.3 percent of Japanese people are obese. While rice may be a contributor, it’s not the only reason. Seafood and vegetables are key staples of their daily diet. Both are high in a wide variety of nutrients (such as omega-3s, calcium, and potassium) and low in calories and saturated fats.

Rice is a worldwide food staple. However, in Asian countries, long-grain rice, including brown, black, red, or Basmati, are more popular than the short-grain white rice that is common in America. Also, many Asian cultures don’t add salt to rice, which makes it even healthier.

Short-grain rice lacks many of the nutrients found in long-grain rice. For instance, brown rice has about four times the fiber of white rice, and most of the phytochemicals (a type of antioxidant) are in the outer bran covering that is removed to create white rice. Red, purple, and black rice have even more nutrients than brown rice.

White rice also has a higher glycemic index than long-grain rice, and can spike blood sugar levels. Eating long-grain rice as part of your daily whole grain allowance can help you stay healthy and maintain a normal body weight.

Q. I have pulmonary fibrosis (PF). Are there dietary changes I can make to help me manage my disease?

A: Diet does not have a direct effect on PF, but maintaining a healthy diet can help control your symptoms.

The American Lung Association (ALA) suggests that people with PF eat a lean diet low in sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. A lean diet would include fish, poultry, lean meats, fruits, whole grains, beans, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Whole grains are very satiating. If you find them too filling, try partial portions spread out across your day instead of a full portion at a single meal, but don’t skip them.

With packaged foods such as soups or crackers, look for a “low-sodium” version. But don’t rely only on the front of the package for information. Read the Nutrition Facts label on the back to understand the exact amounts of sodium, carbohydrates, saturated fat, and added sugars in each serving and to choose the item with the least amounts. Added sugars should be less than 10 percent of your daily calories.

Protein is needed to maintain strong muscles for breathing in and out. Women should consume 46 grams per day. Protein can be found in seafood, poultry, lean meats, low-fat cheese, soy, beans, lentils, eggs, and nuts/nut butters.

The ALA suggests eating smaller, more frequent meals to prevent feeling full, which can make it harder to breathe. Also, maintaining a normal body weight and body mass index (between 18.5 and 24.9) will help make it easier to breathe, as well.

-Orli Etingin, MD, Editor-in-Chief

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