Food

Why You Shouldn’t be Afraid of White Rice

White_Rice_vs._Brown_RiceDon’t you just hate it when just as you are about to take a bite of your food, someone decides to tell you about all the dangers lurking in that bite?

If only I had a dollar for every time someone did this to me, I would be able to buy a lifetime worth of white basmati rice! Mmm… fluffy basmati rice, I could eat that everyday, and you know what? My Persian ancestors did eat it every day, as do many people of countries where rice is a dietary staple.

I’m sad to say that before I made a commitment to learn more about the science of nutrition, I too was easily swayed by all of the food propaganda that is out there in the world. New food studies, talk shows, the news, advertisements, blog articles and new food products, they are all constantly contradicting themselves and each other by pushing new food trends and products. They cite a research study and all of a sudden a whole new “healthy” food product is created to replace what you and your ancestors were eating for eons before.

The problem with a lot of studies come down to their methodologies and they sometimes make generalization and associations between factors that aren’t always correlated. Take for example, a 2012 study that claimed white rice consumption is associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. Immediately people take this to mean that White Rice = Diabetes which is absolutely not true nor the case. In reality, the study was making an associates between the “risk” of diabetes and rice consumption, where a significant spike they observed was that 20% of diabetes prevalence in their study was in the United Arab Emirates, a country with high white rice consumption. Yes, they eat a lot of rice in the UAE, but because it is one of the richest countries in the world, people also tend to eat a lot of sugar, processed foods and a lot of everything else in excess. If anything, diabetes incidence goes down as rice consumption increases, which is evident in countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, where they have the highest white rice consumption and have very low rates of diabetes.

Here is a map released by the Wall Street Journal from the International Diabetes Federation that shows the 2013 prevalence of Type 2 diabetes around the world. You can see that a lot of countries who have historically eaten a lot of white rice like basmati or jasmine rice actually see much lower diabetes prevalence.

Diabetes_Map

The other problem is that people don’t realize that there are many different rice varieties (about 40,000 different varieties exist in the world) with different compounds to each one. Most people are familiar with varieties like brown rice, long grain, short grain and aromatic like basmati and jasmine. When it comes to grains, it matters what type you are eating. When news sources pick up these research study findings, it quickly alerts food companies to offer an alternative. People now think that brown rice is healthier than white rice and that it’s because all white rice is bleached and brown rice is the unprocessed version. This is not true either. Sorry to burst your bubble but a carb is a carb, so if white rice is going to give you diabetes, then so will brown rice. Brown rice may technically have more nutrients over it’s white version of the same variety (because the rice is not milled and the bran is not removed), but that bran has a lot of phytic acid that makes brown rice not as easily digestible as white rice. Grain based fiber can be harmful to the gut and in fact, white rice is lower in phytic acid than most nuts, seeds and almost all other grains.

Besides, remember when I said rice varieties matter? Basmati and jasmine rice are naturally occurring white rice varieties that do not get milled in the same way as the short white rice varieties sold in stores. Basmati and jasmine rice are gluten-free and low in fat, they contains all eight essential amino acids, folic acid, and are very low in sodium and have no cholesterol. They also have a low to medium glycemic index, meaning that energy is released at a slower, steadier rate leading to a more balanced level of energy. Recent studies have also shown that brown rice may also have higher concentrations of arsenic, while basmati and jasmine typically have significantly lower arsenic levels than most rice grown in the U.S. (Thailand has banned genetically modified rice from their country, so buying imported rice from a country like that is probably the best idea).

The moral of this story is that if you eat anything in excess, you could set yourself up for increasing your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. The second moral of the story is that you need to do your research and not just rely on the media to give you nutritional advice. Just because there was a study done somewhere, someplace, doesn’t mean that it will always makes sense for you.  The Third moral of the story, Uncle Ben’s white rice is probably bleached, so instead stick to imported basmati or jasmine rice and make it yourself, from scratch, and it should take you more than a minute to make. Contrary to popular belief, not all white rice is the same as “minute rice”.

Try this link for my favorite white rice recipe, perfect for after a workout and as a low glycemic filler and side dish. If you don’t like brown rice, don’t feel guilty about enjoying white rice. Add veggies, spices or garlic and serve with a good source of protein. Just watch your portions, a half a cup of cooked rice is enough to help restore glycogen levels and fuel you for the rest of the day.

To Eating Positively Well,

Sunny

4 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t be Afraid of White Rice”

  1. Nice job on this. Not just on the white/brown rice distinction, but the whole idea of using your mind to digest the entire story, not just come away with superficial conclusions.

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      1. Funny you would ask. I usually cook brown, but my girlfriend and I recently visited a noodle shop in Reno and fell in love with their fried rice. I have found a noodle shop here that makes a similar dish and I eat it regularly. I know that is white rice. So, I guess I am straddling the fence.

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