A Very Popular Grain!
Second only to maize in worldwide production (and this mainly for the purpose of animal feed), rice is the most widely eaten grain in the world. Indeed, it is a staple food for much of Asia.
Brown Rice vs White Rice
Provided it's consumed in its unaltered formulation, rice can be highly nourishing. Brown rice contains almost 4 times the fiber as white rice, and almost double or triple the RDA of B-complex vitamins (an important group of vitamins for energy, as well as red blood cell formation). Few people pay attention to minerals in their diet, but these micro-nutrients are essential to our health. Brown rice surpasses white rice in manganese, phosphorus and potassium, just to name a few, with over 100 mg. more phosphorus than white rice per serving.
The only knock on brown rice is that it takes a bit longer to cook.(1)
Once rice is polished, it becomes "white" and is devoid of the husk, bran and germ, depriving us of all the fiber and B vitamins these constituents provide. Indeed, cultures which subsisted on a diet of white rice frequently dealt with vitamin deficiencies, such as the neurological disorder beriberi (a deficiency of vitamin B-1, or thiamine). In the U.S., white rice must be enriched (or have these lost vitamins sprayed on) by law.
A little known fact is that, in 2010, Type 2 diabetes was declared the "National Disease" of Japan. This unfortunate epidemic was attributed to the over-consumption of white rice, which, it was suggested, contributed to increased risk of the disease because it is a simple carbohydrate.(2)
Don't hesitate to request brown rice when you're in a restaurant. Most Chinese and Japanese restaurants make brown rice available these days, although Indian and Mexican restaurants lag behind the times. If their clients ask enough, they will come around! When you cook your favorite cultural dishes at home, however, there's no reason not to use brown rice, as unpolished varietals are widely available.
But things go much deeper than the brown vs. white issue.
(Click Read More for: The Question of Arsenic and Should You Buy Organic Rice?)
Of the many food-related questions I am asked, one of the most frequent is about arsenic in rice. Though unfortunately this is true, there's no reason to stop eating this nutrient-rich grain. What are the facts?
Organic arsenic occurs naturally in soil and water, and all plants take some in. This is especially true for rice, as it grows in water-flooded conditions.
The more dangerous arsenic is the inorganic type, which was the predominant form found by the FDA and Consumers' Reports during widespread testing done in 2012. Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogenic, and is the result of residue of toxic pesticides in the soil and the water, now taken up by the rice plants. The pieces of this puzzle fit together neatly, as the majority of rice produced in the U.S. -- and that which showed the highest concentrations of inorganic arsenic -- emanated from the southern-central region, where cotton farming was done. Cotton farmers long used arsenic-laden pesticides to fight the boll weevil beetle. Thus, the residue lingers in the environment.(3)
You may have heard that there are lower levels of arsenic in white rice, and this is absolutely true. This is because a portion of the rice is removed during polishing. It still makes sense to eat brown rice instead of white and there are ways to reduce your exposure to arsenic without forgoing this nutritious grain.
1 - Vary your type of grain consumption. Mixing it up in your diet with other types of whole grains will ensure you get a wide range of nutrients as well!
2 - Buy rice grown in California. The central-southern regions of the United States have the higher levels of arsenic in their rice. States that had a history of producing cotton as a crop used arsenic-laden pesticides which have tainted the soil.
3 - Rinse your rice! Not once, not twice, but 3 or 4 times!
Here in the U.S. we've grown accustomed to cooking our rice without rinsing it first. The directions told us to do this because the rice was enriched with vitamins -- they were sprayed on, really -- and as the rice cooked, those vitamins, now in the water, absorbed back into the grain.
Time to learn a new way of cooking! By rinsing your rice -- three or four times, in clear water, and then disposing of the water -- you can reduce the amount of inorganic arsenic content by as much as 30%. It's worth the extra two minutes!
4 - Experiment with new varieties of rice. Different varietals, such as basmati rice from India or jasmine rice from Thailand, tend to have much lower levels of arsenic. This can be significant -- about one-half to one-third the amount -- due to the lower levels of pesticides used in these countries. However don't assume that just because the rice isn't grown in the U.S. makes it safer to eat! Rice imported from China is genetically modified; thankfully something we aren't dealing with here...yet.
Should You Buy Organic Rice?
If your budget allows it, yes! Anything that grows in the ground should be bought organic. That way you know it hasn't been sprayed with harmful toxins, such as herbicides and insecticides. It also ensures that the crop has been raised in an eco-friendly manner. That said, in today's economic climate, we each have to make our choices about what to spend our pennies on. Concentrate on buying more healthful, whole-grain, brown rice first; make certain to use good cooking practices -- such as rinsing -- second; and if you can afford to, buy organic or eco-friendly products.
(1) - For this I highly recommend a rice cooker, such as the Imusa. It's easy to clean, affordable and you can serve the rice (or any other grain) right in the cooker.
(2) - Jacobson, M. Just Because You're An American Doesn't Mean You Have To Eat Like One! 2011.
(3) - http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm
Copyright © 2012 Michele Jacobson, CNN. All rights reserved.