Why are Asian Rice Eaters Thin?


Thin Rice Eater

It’s a common question. If carbs can make you fat, why were some populations (e.g. Japanese people) thin while eating a high carb diet?

Dr Peter Attia has written a nice post on this: The War on Insulin: How do some cultures stay lean while still consuming high amounts of carbohydrates?

I basically agree with his ideas, although I think there is a few more answers to this question: 

The three big reasons

Here are the main reasons why I think populations could stay thin on high carb diets:

  1. Low to insignificant consumption of refined sugar (fructose). This may stop insulin resistance from developing.
  2. Eating mainly unrefined starch (e.g. brown rice, root vegetables) that is slow to digest, due to high fiber content etc.
  3. Traditionally more physical activity then sedentary western population. Compare a Japanese rice farmer (in the field all day) to an American office worker with a car. If you burn more glucose (via physical activity) then less insulin is needed when you eat carbs.

If you avoid sugar (fructose) and refined high GI starch and stay physically active you can probably stay thin and healthy on a high percentage of carbs. Lots of populations have done so.

Three more factors

  1. Poverty: These traditionally thin populations were on average fairly poor by todays standards, meaning perhaps they could not always afford all the food they would like to eat.
  2. Food reward / addiction. This may be controversial but I think there is a point to all this food reward talk that’s been going on in the blogosphere. Our processed junk food and candy is carefully designed to artificially make it taste great and be addictive. It also contains a lot of sugar and starch. It’s like cigarettes: The nicotine makes people addicted, thus they smoke a lot and the smoke gives them cancer. Fast food and candy is also addictive, thus people eat more of it and the sugar / starch overdose makes them fat.
  3. Genetic makeup. Asians do not look like Caucasians or Africans. They have (on average) way less musculature, they have a thinner build. This means that comparisons between the weight of Americans / Europeans and Asians using BMI is misleading, it exaggerates the difference. Asians are often “skinny fat” or even get diabetes at BMI levels that are considered normal for Caucasians (e.g BMI 24).

What do you say?

What do you think about this common question and the possible explanations?

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