Please Don’t Worry, Eating White Rice is Fine

My changed perspective on refined carbohydrates

Kaki Okumura

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Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

“Why are there so few overweight Japanese people? They eat so much white rice!”

After several years of living in Japan, when I went back to the United States I was asked this by someone. It was kind of an awkward question, one that I didn’t even know how to approach, because I didn't agree with how the person was equating eating white rice with weight gain. This thought surprised me, because just a few years back, I used to be really afraid of eating refined carbohydrates too.

Japanese people eat lots of rice. It’s no hidden fact: on average, a modern typical Japanese person consumes 82.1 kg of rice per year — for comparison, Americans consume about 10.8 kg. In Japan, rice is often served in school lunches and in government cafeterias. It comes with almost every kind of Japanese meal, most typically as short-grain white rice. Yes, the rice that’s served is not brown, black, red, or wild: just plain white rice.

What happens when we place taboos on certain foods

Lots of people still cringe at the term white rice. While the pervading notion that all carbohydrates are bad has passed — we admit the health benefits of whole grains and fiber-rich starchy vegetables — enjoying refined carbohydrates still seems taboo. People talk about white rice or white bread as if it’s a toxic substance, as if it’s a cigarette. Refined carbohydrates are often associated with terms like dangerous, cancer-causing, and even poison. That it must be avoided at all costs.

This is troubling to me, because a fear of food does not solve our health problems. A fear of food only feeds into our anxiety. It leads to extremism, whether this be undereating, overeating, stressful and time-consuming diets, or an obsessive relationship with food. When we find ourselves unable to adhere to strict eating rules, our self-esteem takes a hit and we feel out of control. We do even crazier things to try and regain that control. It eventually creates avoidant behavior so we don’t eat with others, and makes obsessing over food the forefront to our lifestyle when it should be a supplementing factor that brings us joy.

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Kaki Okumura

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱