Rice is the most common cereal grain in the world and a staple diet for the bulk of the world’s population. The rice industry in the U.S contributes $6.3 billion to the American economy, supporting more than 38,000 jobs and nearly $11 billion in increased output.
Where I come from, rice is so popular that the wise local ancestors came up with an adage that comfortably sums up our country’s eating habits: “You haven’t properly eaten if you haven’t had rice in your plate”. Everything else you have, including ample-portioned noodle bowls and sandwiches, are considered mere snacks.
So what is rice?
White rice — the most widely available variant of rice — is a refined, high-carb food that comes from cereal grain. It has been grown for thousands of years now, dating back to the earliest post-nomadic agricultural settlement — having played an important role in the birth of human civilisation.
The unprocessed whole grain is composed of 3 major components:
Rough, hard outer shell that protects the inner seed. It contains fibres, minerals, and antioxidants.
The nutrient rich-core containing carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutritious plant compounds.
The largest part of the grain, virtually consists of pure carbs and a negligible amount of protein.
White rice is stripped of its more nutrient-ladened outer layers in a quid pro quo with better taste, an improved shelf life, and enhancement in its cooking qualities.
Brown rice, which is the second most common variety of rice and is usually regarded as the more healthful option because it retains the nutritious bran and germ. There are several other types of rice, including the famous Indian Basmati, the fragrant Thai Jasmine, and pages more of them. In total, there are more than 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice.
Now how healthy is it really?
Brown rice contains a relatively high amount of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and essential amino acids, thanks to its preserved bran and germ while ‘fortified’ white rice wins in iron and folate content.
A 3.6 ounce (100g) serving of brown rice contains 112 calories, 24g of carbs, 2g of fibre, 2g of protein, and 1g of fat. In addition, it houses 55% RDI of manganese, 11% of magnesium, 8% of phosphorus, 7% of vitamin B6, and 14% of selenium. White rice’s stats look slightly grimmer than that but it’s a lot like comparing a BMW 3-Series to a Mercedes C-Class. They each have their strong points, but at the end of the day, they’re the same car under 2 different brands. (Petrolheads please don’t kill me for this analogy)
All types of rice are gluten-free, even the sticky, glutinous-type rice which is an extremely common find in some Asian countries. No, the ‘glutinous’ term has inherently nothing to do with ‘gluten’, it’s a mere description of the glue-like stickiness it possesses.
Gluten, a protein compound that naturally occurs in wheat, barley, and rye, is nonexistent in rice, which makes them a great carbohydrate option for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
The glycemic index, or GI for short, is a measurement of how fast the typical human body processes carbs. A high GI means that the process is quick, promoting a swift spike in blood glucose levels after a sugar fix. This is not ideal, especially for people with diabetes.
Last year, Harvard University released a list of over 60 food items and their associated GIs. From the list, brown rice is said to have a GI of 68, while white rice’s is 73. The lower GI in brown rice is believed to be able to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, as some studies have suggested.
Comparing the two with other common carb options, white wheat bread has a GI of 75, boiled potatoes 78, oatmeal porridge 55, spaghetti 49, a corn tortilla has 46, and barley 28.
Easy to digest
Rice is a neutral, low-fibre, easy-to-digest carbohydrate option. This makes them an ideal solution for people with digestive problems such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis (UC), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and others. Consumption of rice is said to be able to promote symptomatic relief to said conditions.
Rice’s unspoken dark side
Now we’ve come to the peak of this conversation. Its benefits seems quite convincing to me, so what’s it really bad for? Here it is, my friend.
Rice is by far the most readily available and affordable carb source in the Eastern hemisphere, it has a very neutral and welcoming taste, making it an extremely versatile meal base in the dining table. It is very easy to cook, unlike noodles and bread, which require sophisticated steps and tools to produce. All these things make rice a very comfortable carb source, maybe even skewing to the extreme end of comfort.
The funny thing about rice is that its consumption comfort makes it sort of addicting in a way. When you’ve climbed up the corporation ladder high enough, you’ll probably be loaned a company car as part of the contract. The company car is paid-for by the company, including its gas, taxes, and maintenance cost. The fact that a cost-free car is sitting in your driveway make it a no-brainer to drive it to work everyday, instead of having to undertake in a less-comfortable daily commute inside a public bus.
When rice becomes a no-brainer for every single meal a person has, they are turning a blind eye towards other equally nutritious sources, restricting their nutrient intake dynamics in the process. People stop indulging in a well-balanced and varied diet.
Rice may carry heaps of healthy grains in their sacks, but they aren’t the complete set. Repetition may be a good thing in well-proven business strategies and education, but it’s never a good thing in diets. Consuming just rice day after day means you’ll miss out on an array of essential nutrients that one would normally get from other carb options, such as pasta, sweet potatoes, cassava, and even bread.
Revelling in a balanced diet is the foundational bedrock of a healthy life. A substantial portion of your daily rations come from carbohydrates, and so naturally, incorporating different carbohydrate sources in your meals is essential to get the best out of all your provisions.