Rice Wars

Rice Wars – White or Brown? Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Executive Summary

It’s time to end the rice wars. Sure, you prefer one over the other (which beats the lesser-of-two-evil choice we sometimes face). You may believe that one will be better for you in the long run but you’re just not motivated to make that choice.

While on first blush your decision as it relates to the rice wars seems to be black and white (or brown as the case may be), there’s quite a bit of nuance in support of the gray area. Let’s figure out if there’s room for everyone at the table.

Rice Wars – The Adversaries

On one side we have brown rice. Some people just don’t like it. They know in the long term, it’s a better choice but they just can’t get on board. The short term satisfaction offered by white rice is just too appealing.

The funny thing is, like with many conflicts the two sides have a lot more in common than they care to acknowledge.

Rice is a type of grain. Like wheat, barley, rye, oats and corn, rice is the edible fruit of the grass family. Unprocessed grains have three major components, the fibrous bran, the nutrient-filled germ and the carbohydrate loaded endosperm. Together, these give unprocessed rice its brown color. White rice is a polished version (polished as in mechanically rubbed and not as in suave and debonair, obviously). The act of polishing removes the bran and germ.

Unprocessed grains have three major components, the fibrous bran, the nutrient-filled germ and the carbohydrate loaded endosperm. Together, these give unprocessed rice its brown color. White rice is a polished version (polished as in mechanically rubbed and not as in suave and debonair, obviously). The act of polishing removes the bran and germ.

But the key is, both have the same origin.

Rice Wars – Nutrition

It’s true. Brown rice is nutritionally superior to white rice. Here’s a comparison of one cooked cup.

Brown White
Calories 216 206
Total Fat 1.8 g 0.4 g
Saturated Fat 0.4 g 0.1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.6 g 0.1 g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.6 g 0.1 g
Sodium 10 mg 2 mg
Potassium 84 mg 55 mg
Total Carbohydrate 45 g 45 g
Dietary Fiber 3.5 g 0.6 g
Sugar 0.7 g 0.1 g
Protein 5 g 4.3 g
Calcium 2% 1%
Iron 4% 1%
Thiamin 12% 2%
Niacin 16% 4%
Vitamin B-6 15% 5%
Manganese 90% 48%
Magnesium 21% 4%
Phosphorous 16% 8%
Zinc 8% 6%

Nutritionally superior but are the differences that great? There is no doubt about it. Brown rice is a significantly better source of fiber and magnesium than white rice. This is especially noteworthy because the typical western diet doesn’t include enough of either of these.

In defense of white rice, there are many other sources for these nutrients. Eat your white rice with plenty of beans and vegetables and you’ll be covered. The same holds true for the other nutrients in which white rice falls short, but if you’ll notice, brown rice isn’t exactly over performing.

Rice Wars – Health Benefits

There is tons of evidence (like this study!) that the fiber and magnesium in brown rice help control blood sugar and decrease the chances of type 2 diabetes. As with all whole grains, brown rice also can be heart healthy and control obesity.

But brown rice has a dark side too (literally and figuratively). First of all, rice loves to absorb arsenic from its soil. Arsenic is a natural component of soil but we humans tend to indiscriminately throw in extra because we hate when that stuff collects in the house. Arsenic is a poison that accumulates in the body over time. Most of this arsenic is removed from white rice when it’s processed. Brown rice ain’t so lucky.

This is something to be aware of but not something to obsess over. If you’re eating a varied diet that is not wholly dependent on brown rice, you should be fine.

Brown rice also has phytic acid. Phytic acid is an antinutrient (I prefer calling it a bizarro nutrient) that inhibits the absorption of iron and zinc in the body. Brown rice isn’t a super source of these nutrients so you may be thinking, “no big deal.” But, when you eat brown rice with other iron and zinc containing foods, the phytic acid does its magic on them as well.

One other subtle thing to note about brown rice. When you review the table above, you see that brown rice has more fat than white rice. It’s a small amount but it’s enough to introduce a health issue. No, I’m not going to undo hundreds of Karma Sense Wellness blog posts, podcasts and social media links and suddenly claim that fat is bad. I am however going to remind you that fat has a shelf life. The fat in brown rice can go rancid after a few months. Rancid fat can cause both acute and chronic illness.

The best way to ensure that your rice doesn’t go bad is to store it in the refrigerator or freezer. Brown rice can survive in your pantry for about 6 months, in your refrigerator for a year and in your freezer for eighteen months.

But Davey H, You Said Nothing About the Dreaded Glycemic Index

That’s because the Glycemic Index (GI) is irrelevant for most people.

For those who don’t know, GI is a way of normalizing the effect different foods have on your blood sugar levels. But, unless you’ve been told by your physician to control your blood sugar, the GI is mostly bullcrap. Research shows that You Are Not “N” when it comes to glycemic response. Furthermore, some foods with high GIs also keep you from getting hungry. And again, if you don’t need to watch your blood sugar, even if you’re overweight, there are other factors that can keep you healthy besides monitoring GI.

But if you’re really worried AND you prefer white rice, let me introduce you to the beautiful discovery of resistant starch. Resistant starch acts like a beneficial fiber in your digestive system. It’s good for the critters that live in your gut and it’s good for your overall digestive and circulatory system. Furthermore, your body absorbs fewer calories from foods that are rich in resistant starch.

Well, here’s a hack for your white rice that brings out the resistant starch in rice and decreases the absorbable calorie count by 10% to 50%. What you do is cook your rice with a tablespoon or two (five to 10 ml) of healthy fat (e.g. coconut oil). As soon as it’s done move the rice to your refrigerator and then let it fully cool. Afterward, even if you reheat it, you’ll change the chemical composition of the rice to be chock full of beneficial resistant starch. To learn more, go to this link.

The World is a Rainbow

But there are so much more varieties of rice, what about them? Karma Sense Wellness has a big tent. There’s plenty of room for all types including:

  • Red – Red rice gets its color from anthocyanins. These are the same phytochemicals that give blue and purple foods their colors. It’s also what makes black soybeans black. Anthocyanins are known fighters of cancer and heart disease.
  • Black – Black rice is also loaded with anthocyanins but it’s further enhanced with another phytochemical called tocol, a precursor to vitamin E. These two antioxidants join together to give an extra cancer-fighting kick.
  • Golden – Golden rice is a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) that is fortified with vitamin A. Scientists created it to help fight problems with blindness in developing nations. It never caught on. Partially for political reasons but mostly because it doesn’t work.
  • Wild – Wild rice is not really a grain. It’s a seed. Like most seeds, it’s higher in protein and fiber than whole grains, 24 grams and 10 grams respectively.
  • Krispies – Rice Krispies go Snap, Krackle and Pop when combined with milk. They are part of a complete breakfast which means their greatest value comes from the toy included in the box and not from any presumed nutrition.

What Would Davey H Do

  • If you don’t like rice, never feel obligated to eat it.
  • If you follow a gluten-free diet, you can safely welcome rice to your plate.
  • If you follow a grain-free diet but love rice, try giving wild rice a chance. It’s not the same but it’s close.
  • If you like rice and have no preference, go with brown. Be sure to store brown rice in the fridge or freezer. Mix it up a little and try red, black and wild varieties.
  • If you only like white rice. Don’t sweat it. Eat it with lots of vegetables and foods containing healthy fats. Give the resistant starch hack from above a try.If you’re watching your weight or your blood sugar, don’t overindulge and be ready to compensate in other areas of your diet.

So now that you’re an expert in the full gamut of rice colors…

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