People who ate at least five servings of white rice per week had a 17 percent greater risk of developing diabetes than those who consumed less than one serving per month, Harvard School of Public Health scientists found.
Examining data from over 197,000 adults for up to 22 years, the study also found that consuming two or more servings of brown rice per week was associated with an 11 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate less than one serving a month.
Patients with diabetes have high blood sugar levels, which are linked to the body's inability to produce enough insulin in order to properly break down sugars and starches into glucose for energy.
"We believe replacing white rice and other refined grains with whole grains, including brown rice, would help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes," said lead author Qi Sun, of Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
While still lower than in Asian countries, US rice consumption is increasingly rapidly. More than 70 percent of the rice consumed in the United States is white, the researchers noted.
According to the researchers, replacing just a third of a typical daily serving of white rice with the same amount of brown rice each day would lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent.
They also found that replacing white rice with other whole grains, such as barley and whole wheat, could reduce risk of the disease by 36 percent.
"From a public health point of view, whole grains, rather than refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, should be recommended as the primary source of carbohydrates for the US population," said senior author Frank Hu.
"These findings could have even greater implications for Asian and other populations in which rice is a staple food."
Rice loses most of its bran and germ -- its most important sources of fiber and nutrients -- when it is refined to produce the white variety.
Brown rice, which retains the bran and germ, has more fiber, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals than white rice. It also usually does not cause blood sugar levels to spike as much as the white variety.