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November 19, 2019

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Indonesians quitting ‘rice addiction’ over diabetes fears

Indonesian Mirnawati once ate rice with every meal, but its link to diabetes convinced her to join a growing movement to quit a staple food in the third biggest rice-consuming nation on Earth.

As World Diabetes Day is held recently, the Southeast Asian nation is struggling to tackle a disease that affects as many as 20 million of its 260 million people, and has emerged as one of its deadliest killers behind stroke and heart disease.

But kicking the rice habit isn’t easy, with Indonesia’s favorite dish “nasi goreng” (mixed fried rice) sold everywhere, and the grain woven into the culinary fabric of a nation where it is a must-have meal.

“In my first week without rice I felt like I was being possessed by ghosts,” said Mirnawati, a 34-year-old former construction company employee who goes by one name.

“But now I’ll never go back to it,” she added, about four months into her new diet.

Complications from diabetes, which affects some 425 million globally, can lead to heart attacks, stroke, blindness and even limb amputation.

Most of the world’s sufferers live in low- and middle-income countries like Indonesia.

Rice is packed with fiber and key vitamins. But an unbalanced diet that relies too heavily on refined white rice has been linked to an increasing global prevalence of diabetes and insulin resistance as it raises blood sugar levels, according to experts.

That is what led Mirnawati — along with her mother and cousin — to drop rice in favor of more vegetables, meat and nuts.

It is a step that an increasing number of Indonesians are taking in an informal “no rice” movement, although there are no official numbers.

The push, partly driven by social media, has been backed by local governments including cultural capital Yogyakarta which last year rolled out a campaign to convince residents to go without rice at least one day a week.

“We’re encouraging people to change the mindset that rice is the only source of carbohydrates because we have many staple foods available,” said Agung Hendriadi, head of the agriculture ministry’s Food Resilience Agency.

Selling millions of Indonesians on a low- or no-rice diet will be a Herculean task, despite the possible health benefits. “I tried the no-rice lifestyle several times, but I failed,” said Bali resident Mentari Rahman. “My tongue is too Indonesian — I just couldn’t stay away from it.”


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