People in the world's biggest rice-eating countries are developing some of the world's biggest bellies, but chemists in Sri Lanka say they've found a way to combat obesity by dramatically cutting the calorie count in rice. The researchers say cooking rice with a small amount of coconut oil—they used a teaspoon for every half-cup of rice—and then putting it in the refrigerator can reduce digestible starch, and calories, by more than 50%, reports Popular Science. The researchers found the method, which converts starch into a form the body can't easily turn to glucose, cut calories more than 10% in the most fattening kind of the 38 varieties of rice they looked at, and they believe it could reduce starch by up to 60% in other kinds of white rice, ABC reports.
While obesity has long plagued the US, the professor supervising the research tells the Washington Post that "it's becoming a problem in Asia, too. People are eating larger and larger portions of rice, which isn't good." The team says earlier research has shown that similar methods can reduce starch and calories in other staples like potatoes, and there's a chance it could work for bread. But much more research remains to be done: The scientists plan to look at other varieties of rice, as well as other kinds of oil, and Popular Science notes that it's not clear whether the cooking method affects nutrients like potassium that are found in rice—or, for that matter, taste. (More healthy eating news: This diet was found to slash the risk of Alzheimer's by 53%.)