Rice is a staple in many different countries and their cultures. It has been around for thousands of years and is consumed and celebrated in many different ways. In Italy, they like it in the form of a risotto. In Spain, it’s paella and in the southern US it’s common in the form of jambalaya. It’s also a staple in India, Colombia, China, Mexico and more. Only one question is there to be answered is rice a good source of nutrition?
This is one of the most commonly found and consumed cereal grain across the globe. Typically, rice is cooked in the form of white rice but brown rice isn’t too far behind. But before we dive into that, a small historical detour.
Let’s Start At The Beginning
The origins of rice production and consumption go as far back as 10,000 years. It is one of the most important food products and over a period of time it has come to be known as the item that feeds more people than any other.
Needless to say, its importance can be challenged but rice is not going anywhere anytime soon (or ever, for that matter). But there are some things you should know about it to make sure that you consume it responsibly and healthily.
Here’s the lowdown.
Rice is a whole grain that has three major parts.
- Bran: This is the outer layer that is hard and is meant to protect the seed inside. It has minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
- Germ: This is the core of the grain which is rich in nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbohydrates.
- Endosperm: It’s the biggest component and has starch and a small portion of protein.
Now, white rice does not have bran or germ because they are removed in the process of refining the grain. That means a lot of its nutrition gets stripped down but on the bright side, white rice lasts longer and has improved cooking qualities.
Brown rice, on the other hand, is a whole grain that has both germ and bran which means it has more nutrients and is rich in antioxidant and fibre content.
Types Of Rice
White rice is mostly a refined variation of brown rice because the latter is milled to remove the bran layer and is polished. This changes its texture and flavor but improves its shelf life as mentioned before.
Now, apart from brown and white, there are a few other types of rice. For instance, there’s red rice and purple rice which have that color because of a pigment called anthocyanin which is an antioxidant.
Now to the different varieties. The biggest difference between the many types of grains is in the starch profile but when it comes to size, this is how it’s done.
- Long-grain rice is firm and has a dry texture. The grains stay separate even after they are cooked. Examples: jasmine and basmati.
- Medium-grain rice is tender and has a moist texture which makes it sticky after being cooked. Examples: Valencia.
- Short-grain rice is also tender and has a soft texture which makes it stickier compared to medium grain rice. Examples: sushi rice and arborio.
Nutrition In Rice
Let’s get down to business now. When it comes to its nutritional value, all types of rice are a great source of vitamins like niacin and thiamin, minerals like phosphorus and zinc and protein.
But when the grain is milled and polished, it loses essential nutrients like vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and potassium. That’s why white rice doesn’t have this while brown rice does. But whichever type you pick, there are a lot of health benefits from adding rice to your diet.
Rice is high in calorie content.
- 1 cup of short- or medium-grain cooked white rice = 241 kcals
- 1 cup of long-grain white rice = 205 kcals
- 1 cup of medium-grain brown rice = 218 kcals
- 1 cup of long-grain brown rice = 216 kcals
- 1 cup of wild rice = 165 kcals
Needless to say, this is why those who are on a calorie-controlled diet stay as far away as possible from rice.
Rice is also notorious for being rich in carbohydrates but complex carbs are a very good source of energy. Now, it has a high GI value which measures how quickly a food can increase blood sugar levels which increases the risk of diabetes.
But different rice items have different GI values which means instead of eliminating rice from your diet, you need to make an informed choice that suits your lifestyle.
GI when glucose = 100
Boiled brown rice
68 (± 4)
Boiled white rice
73 (± 4)
This is just a demonstration of the health benefits of rice and rice products without having to worry about the GI value. The trick is to keep it low.
How Preparation Impacts Nutrition
It’s not just about picking the right kind of rice but also about how you prepare it. For instance, rinsing the grain is recommended because rice gets exposed to dust and contaminants when it is being processed and packed. But washing it too many times results in a loss of starch, vitamins and minerals.
So, you can try buying clean rice which is packaged after being cleaned. That way, you don’t have to worry about losing nutrients. Pre-soaking it is also a definite way of losing nutrients. The same is true for draining excess water (if any) before eating it.
For example, if you are boiling polished white rice without washing it, you will lose:
- 7 percent protein
- 36 to 58 percent crude fat
- 16 to 25 percent crude ash
- 21 percent calcium
- 47 to 52 percent thiamine
- 35 to 43 percent riboflavin
- 45 to 55 percent niacin
Now, if you try wet milling rice flour, you will lose water-soluble nutrients like some sugars, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, starch, fat and albumin.
You can try parboiling the rice before the grain is milled, which is done in Bangladesh and India, two heavy rice consumers. This will preserve some vitamins and minerals coming from the endosperm and bran. This also helps preserve some proteins when the grain is being milled.
Fermenting rice is also a popular choice but it reduces the protein content.
Why You Should Regulate Your Rice Intake
You now know that rice is a staple and there are lots of benefits to consuming it. But there are a few problems which is why you need to watch how much rice you consume on a weekly basis. Here’s what you need to know about that moderation.
The Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your blood sugar levels are very high. When it comes to this, rice does not come off looking all too good.
It is likely that consuming lots of white rice might increase your chances of getting type 2 diabetes because it is high in glycemic index or GI. This is a measure of how quickly a food can increase your blood sugar levels and white rice doesn’t do too well in this area.
But studies on this aspect have not conclusively proved that white rice is necessarily bad. In fact, consuming it moderately is not bad at all. But we do know that brown rice is a whole grain which can help reduce the risk.
It is also important to note that both white and brown rice are rich in carbohydrates which means you must monitor your rice consumption in any case. But don’t go the other extreme and shun it entirely because rice has a lot of essential vitamins and minerals that make it an important part of a balanced meal.
The Presence Of Heavy Metals
Our body accumulates many heavy metals that are not good for it. Having them in your body for a long time has a negative impact on your health. Unfortunately, the rice in many countries contains these heavy metals which make it a bad idea to consume loads of it.
Bran, which is a big part of brown rice, contains more heavy metals when compared to white rice. If the rice, brown or white, was grown near a polluted area, it would have more arsenic and mercury. In fact, rice collects more arsenic from pollution than other grains like barley and wheat.
What Antinutrients Do
Antinutrients like phytic acid prevent your body from absorbing minerals like zinc and iron which are good for you. But this is truer of brown rice than white.
So, if you are worried about rice being bad news, you can switch or stick to white rice. You can also ferment or soak the white or brown rice before you cook it to reduce the impact of antinutrients.
Despite its many benefits, there are a couple of things that paint rice in a bad light and they are not entirely untrue. But that’s why you need to look at your weekly consumption of rice and manage it. The policy that too much or too little of anything is bad applies very well to this cereal grain.