A new study has linked rice consumption to reduced risk of bowel cancer.
Professor Ann Richardson of the University of Canterbury said more than 2800 Kiwis were diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and it was "very possible" dietary changes were associated with world cancer trends.
"Rapid increases in the incidence of bowel cancer in Japan and Hong Kong have been linked to dietary changes which have occurred in these countries over the last 50 years," Stuff.co.nz quoted her as saying.
Per capita, rice consumption declined by almost 50 per cent in Japan over the past 20 to 30 years.
But countries such as China and India had not seen the same decline in rice consumption and continued to have low rates of bowel cancer, she noted.
Richardson said rates of colorectal cancer in Japan and Hong Kong had increased "too quickly to suggest that it is something genetic".
"So instead of it being something harmful, it might just be the loss of something protective. There is some laboratory research that suggests that rice has a tumour-suppressing effect, and it's a very interesting idea and we're going to pursue it," she said.
Statistics New Zealand rice-import figures showed that in 1990 each person was eating about three kilograms of rice. In 2012, Kiwis were eating about 8kg each.
A Health Ministry report in 2010 showed bowel-cancer rates were highest for Pakeha and Maori men but lower for Asians and Pacific Islanders.