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May 2024

Northeast India’s Traditional ‘Joha’ Rice Variety …

Representational Image: Paddy field in Meghalaya.

Rice, a staple food grain in many Asian countries, feeds nearly two-thirds of the human population almost on a daily basis. However, millions of diabetic and pre-diabetic patients are often forced to take the beloved rice off their plates due to the high glycemic index of processed white rice on our supermarket shelves.

But fret not! Scientists have recently shed light on a culinary treasure trove — an endemic Indian rice variety showing immense promise against not only type 2 diabetes but also cardiac ailments.

The variety in question is Joha, an aromatic small-grain winter paddy crop grown in Northeast India, largely in Assam. For centuries, many people in the region have been using this variety as a healthier alternative to regular white rice. Such claims around its anti-diabetic and cardioprotective potential prompted researchers at Guwahati’s Institute of Advanced Studies in Science and Technology (IASST) to explore its unique properties.

“Given that rice is a staple in the Asia Pacific region and also widely consumed around the world, we believe that popularising a rice variety with potent anti-diabetic activity such as Joha could greatly help reduce the prevalence of type 2 diabetes,” told Rajlakshmi Devi from the IASST to SciDev.Net.

Through in vitro laboratory analysis, the scientists detected two unsaturated fatty acids in Joha rice variety – linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic (omega-3) acid. Remarkably, these essential fatty acids, which humans cannot produce on their own, offer a plethora of physiological benefits. Particularly, omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to combat various metabolic diseases, including diabetes, heart ailments, and even cancer!

Intriguingly, scented Joha rice has a perfectly balanced ratio of these essential compounds compared to other widely consumed scented varieties.

That’s not all! Joha rice is also brimming with bioactive compounds, popularly called antioxidants, flavonoids and phenolics, with known efficacy in lowering blood sugar and protecting against heart disease.

In fact, laboratory studies conducted on diabetic rats show Joha rice diet actively lowered blood glucose levels and raised insulin levels compared to diets based on other rice varieties. Surprisingly, the rats on the Joha rice diet could even successfully recover from diabetes and thwart its onset!

By 2045, India’s diabetes burden is set to skyrocket to a staggering figure of 134 million, per the International Diabetes Federation. Therefore, the next crucial step would be to mainstream such little-known healthy rice variety.

Scientists say that Joha packs the punch with not only its protective benefits but also its flavours and tender texture. With a little push from the policymakers, scientists hope that incentivising its cultivation can help it transition from a lab-favourite to a preferred choice for households. QR Code

Published Date: July 14, 2023

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