New study does not claim white rice is as bad as candy for heart health
Clickbait headings create false equivalency between white rice and candy
Claim: Multiple news content websites published clickbait headlines claiming white rice is as bad as candy, according to a new Iranian study.
Fact: The study did not claim that white rice is as bad as candy. The lead author stated that consuming a diet with high amounts of unhealthy and refined grains can be considered similar to a diet with high amounts of unhealthy sugars and oils. It did not make any direct reference to white rice or candy. The outcome of the study has been misconstrued.
Fact or Fiction?
On 3 October 2022, the American College of Cardiology published a press release about a study conducted by a group of Iranian doctors. The study aimed to assess the effect of different grain types on heart health, specifically whole grain and refined grain. The study, conducted on an Iranian population, found that eating refined grains was associated with an increased risk of premature heart disease and whole grains consumption with reduced risk. The press release came prior to the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Middle East 2022 Together with the 13th Emirates Cardiac Society Congress, taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where the study was presented.
On 4 October 2022, multiple news media websites such as the New York Post, UNILAD, Daily Mail, and Audacy reported on the study with headlines like “White rice is as bad as candy when it comes to heart health: study”. The articles were based on the hyperlinked press release by ACC. However, the ACC press release did not compare white rice with candy. In fact, the press release did not specifically refer to white rice at any point; it only referred to refined grains.
The articles make hyperbolic false equivalencies. Audacy, for example, writes as their lead sentence, “If you meal prep at the beginning of every single week, we have some words of advice for you: put down the white rice, and throw in the M&Ms.” The New York Post writes, “Here’s some spooky news for rice lovers this October: A new study has found that eating too many refined grains is just as bad for your heart as eating too much Halloween candy.” UNILAD writes, “So this Halloween, you might just want to have that extra treat instead of thinking that a rice-based dinner will be doing your body a favor.”
These statements and misleading headlines are based on a quote by the lead author: ”A diet that includes consuming a high amount of unhealthy and refined grains can be considered similar to consuming a diet containing a lot of unhealthy sugars and oils.” The statement has been grossly exaggerated and misrepresented. Whole grains are defined as containing the entire grain while refined grains are milled to improve shelf life. They lose important nutrients in the process. Refined grains, such as white rice, are broken down rapidly by the body because they have been stripped of fiber, which leads to a post-meal spike in blood-sugar levels. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves that control the heart and causing plaque to form in the artery walls. The study finds that consuming high amounts of refined grains is more likely to cause premature coronary artery disease (PCAD) than whole grains, which can improve heart health.
Furthermore, the article by NY Post and UNILAD claim that the study consisted of 2,500 participants whereas the number of people in the study was 2,099.
Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis for the 30-day period since 19 September to 19 October using the following search terms:
- “white rice bad candy”
The search turned up 49,519 interactions across 103 posts. The posts included links and screenshots of the articles. It was shared on Facebook by UNILAD with the caption, “Candy it is then… “. I was also shared on Facebook here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. The claim was also significantly viral on Twitter. It was shared by the New York Post in a tweet which gained 4,720 likes, 17,000 quote tweets and 1,146 retweets. It was also shared here here and here.
Conclusion: The Iranian study does not claim that white rice is as harmful as candy. It argues that a high consumption of refined grains is more likely to lead to PCAD and can be compared to a diet with high amounts of unhealthy sugars and oils.