Field Notes

Low Glycemic High Protein Rice: The Quest for a Perfect Food

Some perceive rice as a “bad” source of carbohydrates. That’s because most varieties of rice have a high glycemic index. This makes rice less favorable to people with diabetes as well as in supporting obesity prevention or weight loss programs. A recent Sustainable, Secure Food Blog post explains how rice breeders in Louisiana developed a new low glycemic index, high protein rice.

According to blogger Herry Utomo, he and colleague Ida Wenefrida and their teams at Louisiana State University have been working on breeding a rice that’s higher in protein and has a lower glycemic index.

The first of its kind anywhere in the world, this new variety—“Frontière”—has the lowest glycemic index for any rice. It has 53% more protein than regular rice. Its low glycemic index property enables people with prediabetes or diabetes to eat rice safely. The increase in protein content provides additional lean protein and improves overall rice’s nutritional profile.

In addition to the 750 million people suffering malnutrition, there are more than 260 million rice-eating people worldwide affected by diabetes. Providing low glycemic rice that can reach a great portion of these people from diverse cultures with different rice eating preferences is monumental. The low glycemic index, high protein rice that enters US markets this year perhaps can be used as an initial step to meet these great challenges. Frontière is sold commercially as “Parish Rice” and “Cahokia Rice.” It’s currently being grown on farms in Illinois and Louisiana.

How This New Variety Was Bred
The pursuit for perfect rice started with seven years of research using traditional mutational breeding techniques. This helped researchers acquire new genetic capabilities for the two traits of low glycemic index and higher protein. Both traits are rarely expressed in natural rice populations.

Retaining the premium standards for grain qualities for the US long grain rice was another important consideration while carrying out the process.

To provide a strong genetic foundation, rice cultivar Cypress was selected as a parental line in the mutational breeding. Cypress is well known for its high milling quality with a capability to maintain high whole grain milling yields at lower harvest moisture across different environments. This provides a great genetic source for an ideal grain quality consistency.

Mutation breeding in plants has been studied by scientists for almost 90 years. It has been used to induce mutations associated with favorable traits in plants. Seeds are treated with X-rays, gamma rays, or chemicals in low doses, and then the next generations are measured for the best qualities. Researchers used the chemical ethyl methane sulfonate on Cypress to breed new varieties. This chemical creates conditions that allow for faster mutations in plants, which speeds up the breeding process. All traces of chemicals are removed, and no residual remains in or on the plants.

The early generations of mutated materials exhibited an array of phenotypic variability. Some were sterile or grew less vigorously. Others grew to less desirable heights and had low yields. After years of extensive selections and purifications, various undesirable variabilities were successfully removed.

The successful variety was finally released as cultivar Frontière in 2017. Phenotypically, Frontière is similar to Cypress. It consistently performs well in diverse rice growing environments like the Southern and Midwest United States and Puerto Rico. Our team used conventional mutational breeding to acquire these exceptional characteristics to express naturally on their own. This new rice isn’t transgenic (non-GMO).

Characteristics of Frontière
Protein: The increased protein content in Frontière is important for optimal functioning of the human body. More than 750 million people globally are malnourished due to protein deficiency. More than one-half of them are in rice-eating countries where they eat rice three times per day. Rice with higher protein content provides additional protein to help reduce protein deficiency. For developed countries, using higher protein rice can reduce the amount of red meat consumed.

Low glycemic index: As individuals eat food or beverages high in carbohydrates, the body breaks down the carbs into glucose. The glucose goes into the bloodstream, causing blood glucose levels to rise. High-glycemic foods lead to a quicker and greater spike in blood sugar levels. These foods place a higher demand for insulin on the body. They also lead to more dramatic dips in blood glucose after the spike, potentially causing hunger, carbohydrate cravings, and weakness. Frontière’s low glycemic index alleviates these problems and is especially helpful for patients with diabetes who must watch their insulin levels.

Taste, cook, and appearance: Consumer acceptability of any new variety of food is critical. Without it, efforts won’t reach intended goals. The cooking quality, grain chemistry, appearance, and taste of the low glycemic rice are virtually the same as typical US long grain rice cultivars, such as Cypress and Cocodrie. This long grain, low glycemic, high protein rice can serve rice consumers in the United States as well as many countries of US rice export destinations, including Mexico, Haiti, Japan, Canada, and South Korea.

Next In the Pipeline
To serve more diverse market needs, researchers now are breeding other cultivars for low glycemic index and high protein. Two advanced lines are in the pipeline for release. One long grain and one medium grain were developed for southern US rice-growing regions. Another medium grain rice for California also is in development. A specific selection index with three key determinants is used for low glycemic index selections in parallel to high protein screening.

— Sources: American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Soil Science Society of America


For Breast Cancer Prevention, Diet Quality Matters

Research shows that what we eat can influence our cancer risk, but it’s not always clear which foods or dietary patterns are best for cancer prevention. Results from a new study suggest that the quality or overall healthfulness of a person’s diet may be key.

The study, based on data from more than 65,000 postmenopausal women who were tracked for more than two decades, found that a healthful plant-based diet was linked with a 14% lower risk of breast cancer, while an unhealthful plant-based diet was linked with a 20% higher risk of breast cancer. The findings were consistent across all breast cancer subtypes.

“These findings highlight that increasing the consumption of healthful plant foods and decreasing the consumption of less healthful plant foods and animal foods might help prevent all types of breast cancer,” says lead study author Sanam Shah, a doctoral candidate in the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health at Paris-Saclay University, Inserm, Gustave Roussy, France.

Previous studies have examined cancer risks associated with various dietary patterns, such as the Western diet, the Mediterranean diet, and vegetarian diets. Although some studies suggest diets with less or no meat consumption offer health benefits, results have been somewhat mixed. For the new study, researchers focused on differentiating between healthful plant-based foods—such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, and tea or coffee—and plant-based foods the study categorized as less healthful, including fruit juices, refined grains, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and desserts.

“What’s different about our study is that we could disentangle the effects of the quality of plant foods, which hasn’t been the focus of previous studies on other dietary patterns,” Shah says. “By scoring healthful, unhealthful, and animal-based foods, we comprehensively analyzed food intake by considering the ‘healthiness’ of food groups.”

The researchers analyzed data from 65,574 postmenopausal women living in France who filled out dietary intake questionnaires in 1993 and 2005 and were followed for an average of 21 years. Over the course of the study, 3,968 study participants were diagnosed with breast cancer. Comparing breast cancer rates among women with different dietary quality revealed significant differences in cancer risk among those with healthful and unhealthful diets.

The researchers used 18 food groups to categorize the degree to which participants adhered to a plant-based vs animal-based diet and ate healthful vs less healthful foods. Shah notes that a plant-based diet doesn’t equate to a vegan or vegetarian diet but rather describes a general emphasis on plant-based foods over animal-based foods.

While the findings suggest that choosing healthful plant-based foods is likely helpful for cancer prevention, Shah notes that more research is needed to assess the connections between diet and cancer risk in diverse populations, in particular, to determine causality.

— Source: American Society for Nutrition