Rice is the main food staple of more than half of the world's population. Here in the US, we predominantly consume white rice. White rice is what is left of the rice grain after milling and polishing. First the inedible chaff is removed, leaving a brown grain that we call brown rice. Then the bran and inner bran residue is polished off leaving only the starchy white endosperm. This is what we call white rice.
Because rice has been cultivated for so long and in so many different parts of the world, there are many different varieties. Long grain rice varieties like Jasmine are less sticky and result in a fluffy final product. Much of the rice from the orient such as Japanese mochi rice and Chinese sticky rice are short grain varieties and are more suited to eating with chop sticks because the grains stick together. There are also long and short grain cultivars from India that have aromatic qualities such as Basmati with a mild popcorn-like aroma and Ambemohar which has a characteristic fragrance of Mango blossom. A variety popularized in Italian cuisine is Arborio and is known for its smooth buttery consistency. A recent trend is the importation of black rice from Thailand. This whole grain rice still has the bran layer like our brown rice and contributes a rich dark color when combined with colorful fruits like pineapple or mango.
Interestingly, most people consume the least nutritious variety of rice. Remember that bran layer that is removed in processing? Well, within that layer are many different vitamins and minerals that are lost in the milling to make white rice. Some of those nutrients are added back to the white grain in the process known as enrichment. Now let me get this straight. We remove the nutrient rich bran layer to make an attractive white rice that we then have to enrich in order to put back some (but not all) of what we took out. What is wrong with this picture?
In fairness, white rice does take less time to cook, 14 minutes instead of 45 for brown. And white rice does have a longer shelf life meaning that it stays fresh for about 12 months in your pantry while brown rice will last six months. But the nutrition benefits of brown rice outweigh the convenience of white rice.
Brown rice contains all of the original vitamins and minerals and does not need “enrichment.” As many as eleven nutrients are not replaced by enrichment. Brown rice has been shown to lower cholesterol thereby reducing our risk of heart disease. As a whole grain, with three times the fiber of white rice, brown rice helps to control appetite and therefore helps us maintain a healthy weight. Brown rice improves glycemic response meaning that it helps control blood sugar and can reduce our risk of diabetes.
The next time you are on the rice and bean aisle, consider trying brown rice. In addition to the health benefits, you might be surprised at the pleasant nutty flavor of this very nutritious and versatile food.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian and Director of Clinical Nutrition and the HC Polk Education Center at Memorial Health System in Lufkin. The Polk Center provides individual and group education on diabetes, weight loss and heart disease; monthly classes on healthy cooking; and monthly support groups in Lufkin and Livingston. In cooperation with Sodexo Food Service and the City of Lufkin, the Polk Center produces the nationally viewed TV series Memorial Cooking Innovations where dietitian Tim Scallon teams up with Chef Mani Marini to demonstrate that healthy eating can taste great. The show can be seen on cable in 46 cities and on the Memorial web site at http://www.memorialhealth.org.