“Brown rice is healthier than white rice”.
I’m sure we have all read and heard this statement from at least one person in our time. But why is it? I know a lot of people just agree with the latest fad and fall for some ‘facts’ someone may have told them. But where is this information coming from?!
This is where it gets to me and makes me want to find out the truth, hence why I search and read through articles upon articles to find out is this true? And if so, why??
We know brown rice is less processed than white rice, and maybe this is one reason a lot of people go for it. It’s true, brown rice still contains the husk as well as the bran unlike white rice. Leading people to preach how brown rice contains more fibre than white. But is it such a huge difference? Not really.
1 cup of cooked brown rice has around 3g fibre in comparison to the 0.5g fibre in the same quantity of cooked white rice. Add some green veggies to your white rice and there you have it, extra fibre. Easy. So don’t worry about choosing brown over white for fibre, just add some veg and you won’t be missing out. Choose whichever you feel like based on the flavour!
Surely this can’t be the only reason to choose brown over white. Some of you will have heard about the Glycemic Index (GI) of foods. For those of you who haven’t I’ll try to explain it simply.
Basically, every food has a glycemic index value which basically tells us how high and how quickly that food raises our blood sugar levels. The higher the value, the faster it will be digested aka raising blood sugar fast. And the opposite for foods with low values. The slower it is digested & the slower it increases blood sugar levels.
White rice has a higher GI value to brown rice, hence the hype around this topic & why some people think brown rice is better. The type of rice comes into account here whether it be long grain, short grain, basmati, jasmine etc., but yes, white rice does have a higher GI value on paper, so brown rice would seem the better option no doubt with regards to GI.
But should we rely on the GI of a food, should we be paying close attention to it and choosing our foods around it? Not really. Why? Well the GI values given to each food is based on a person consuming that food in a fasted state, and eating that food on its own; this is how it affects your blood sugar levels. Pretty sure no one eats a plate of plain rice for breakfast, but anyway! This is where we see the GI becoming cr*p, for want of a better word, in deciding whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Realistically when you eat rice it isn’t first thing in the morning on it’s own; it’s after you’ve already consumed other food throughout the day, now that food is being digested in your body, therefore the GI of rice isn’t going to matter here anymore as digestion of the rice is already going to be slowed down due to the other food being digested before it.
The rice has less of an effect on your blood sugar now as it’s slowly being digested, no matter what the GI states.
When you eat a bowl of plain rice for breakfast, then you can go by the Glycemic Index; but when you’re having some rice accompanied by chicken, cooked in some oil, with some veggies on the side, then GI is now related to the meal as a whole, not just the rice, therefore it becomes less about the type of rice you consume as the meal itself slows down the GI/ speed of digestion.
Confused yet? To put it simply, once you have a plate of food including brown rice, some protein, fats and fibre VS a plate of food including white rice and the same protein, fats and fibre, the GI is no longer much use. Both meals will digest at around the same speed and in the same way.
Glycemic Index 0 – 1 Brown AND White Rice
Brown rice has been found to contain higher amounts of arsenic compared to white rice, due to the outer layer not being removed, you know that part that everyone says makes it ‘healthier’, yes, that!
Arsenic is found in lots of foods and water but is particularly higher in rice. Especially brown rice. But is it something to worry about? It’s hard to tell as not enough information is out there. But it may be a reason to choose white over brown rice if you eat a lot if rice in your diet, just incase.
What’s next? What other reasons do we have for choosing brown over white??
Well, brown rice contains more micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) than white rice doesn’t it?! Surely that’s a good enough reason to choose it!
This study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9302338 looked at the nutritional content of brown rice vs that of white rice & found that although brown rice does indeed come out on top on paper with regards to vitamins and minerals present; it didn’t actually prove that choosing brown rice in the diet over white was advantageous. This may be due to the anti-nutritional factors in brown rice (fibre and phytate content) that reduces the extent to which the nutrients can be used by the body. White rice has just as good, if not better, nutritional availability than brown rice as well as helping retain nitrogen (found in protein) better than brown rice also.
A reason you may actually choose WHITE rice over brown and not feel bad! Woohoo! So if you were relying on the macro/micronutrient content of brown over white rice as a valid argument that brown is healthier, I suppose you should reconsider.
White rice comes out on top when we think about the ability our body has to digest the food. It is less likely to cause bloating, gas, cramps, constipation etc. in comparison to brown rice. Of course, not everyone suffers from these effects so choose your rice based on personal preference! But if you do find you have some of these symptoms after eating brown rice or grains in general, try staying away from them for a week or 2 and see if there’s any difference.
SO, to wrap things up and maybe sum things up for anyone who skipped to the end, haha; in the grand scheme of things it really does not matter which rice you choose, the differences in macronutrient and micronutrient content are minor and the GI of both doesn’t come into account due to the foods that you would eat alongside the rice and the time at which you eat it (unless you eat the rice plain and first thing in the morning after sleeping aka in a fasted state). The digestibility of the rice is individual to each person but it has been found that white rice is easier digested than brown. Brown rice has a higher arsenic content than white which may be a reason to choose white over brown. But lastly, I would say to eat whichever rice you find suits you best, in both digestibility and taste especially! There’s no point eating a food you don’t like for such a minimal benefit, if any.
Eat healthy foods that you LIKE and are sustainable in your diet!