Rice is one of the most popular forms of carb in the world. In Asian countries, rice is a staple and the basis for a variety of dishes. In the United States, most people eat white rice, a form that’s not considered to be particularly nutritious – or good for your blood sugar. White rice has little fiber to moderate the rise in blood glucose you get when you eat it. Yet, you DO have other options. Let’s look at four other types of rice that have health benefits that white rice doesn’t.
Why White Rice Isn’t So Healthy
White rice is essentially brown rice stripped of its fiber and nutrients. Grains of rice have three parts – the germ, bran, and hull. The hull and bran are where most of the fiber and nutrients are hiding. These are also the portions removed from brown rice to make white rice. Feeling a little guilty about removing the healthiest and most nutritious part of the grain, manufacturers add nutrients back through a process called enrichment. While this does supplant some of the vitamins and minerals that were removed, it doesn’t replace the fiber in the hull and bran.
Because white rice is stripped of its fiber, it’s rapidly digested and absorbed by your digestive tract. As a result, it has a high glycemic index, meaning it raises your blood sugar quickly. In response, your insulin level also goes up more than when you eat something higher in fiber. Some experts believe eating a diet high in high-glycemic carbohydrates can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, and, ultimately, type 2 diabetes in those who are susceptible. Plus, white rice is naturally low in nutrients in the absence of enrichment.
Healthier Forms of Rice
You might be surprised to learn that there are thousands of types of rice out there. We’ll only look at a few of them, but all of the ones mentioned are a more nutritious option to white rice. So, don’t give up on rice just yet!
As discussed, brown rice retained the fiber and nutrients that are removed from white rice. Because the fiber is still intact, brown rice has less of an impact on your blood sugar. That’s why experts recommend that diabetics choose brown rice over white rice. Another advantage to eating brown rice – it’s more filling and satisfying. With 5 grams of fiber per cup cooked, you digest it slowly, unlike white rice that your digestive tract quickly breaks down.
Brown rice does have a drawback. Research shows brown rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a probable carcinogen, relative to white rice. For this reason, it’s probably not a good idea to eat it every day or make it your “go to” form of rice.
Black rice is sometimes referred to as “forbidden rice.” It’s aptly named since at one time, it was only served to emperors and other royalty in China. Black rice gets its deep color from compounds called anthocyanins, the same pigments that give blueberries, grapes, and elderberries their pigment and health benefits. Anthocyanins have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities that give black rice some advantages over other forms of rice.
Because black rice is unprocessed, it has more fiber than white rice and has roughly the same amount as brown rice. If you compare brown rice and black rice, the latter wins points for the anthocyanins you get. Plus, it has a rich, nutty flavor that’s slightly chewy. The drawback? It’s harder to find and more expensive.
It’s a stretch to call wild rice a grain. It’s technically a grass that produces a grain you can eat. What makes wild rice special is the nutrients it contains. When you enjoy a serving of wild rice, you get B-vitamins as well as additional fiber and protein. In addition to being a B vitamin powerhouse, wild rice contains more protein, almost twice as much. Plus, it has ample quantities of the mineral zinc relative to brown rice or white rice.
Wild rice is slightly lower in other minerals relative to brown rice. As a bonus, it’s slightly lower in calories and carbohydrates relative to brown or white rice and contains more antioxidants. Yet, from an antioxidant perspective, black rice still wins hands down. Many people enjoy the slightly nutty flavor that wild rice offers.
Sprouted grains, including rice, are growing in popularity. A study presented at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization symposium showed that soaking brown rice in warm water for 10 to 24 hours and allowing it to sprout improves its nutrient profile. In fact, sprouted rice has about three times more B-vitamins and magnesium as well as 6 times more of a compound called GABA. What is GABA? It’s a brain chemical that has a calming effect. Sounds like an added bonus, doesn’t it? The question is whether the GABA in sprouted rice can actually enter your brain and make you feel more sedate.
Sprouting also reduces compounds called phytates in the rice grains that block mineral absorption. So, by sprouting brown rice, your body may absorb and make better use of the minerals you eat. Sprouting also enhances the fiber content of grains like rice. You can sprout your own or buy bags of sprouted rice at natural food or Asian food stores, at a higher price, of course.
The Bottom Line
White rice doesn’t rank high on the nutrition scale but these four forms of rice have more fiber and retain more of their natural vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than white rice. You may discover you enjoy their richer flavor as well. Experiment with these “other” forms of rice and enjoy their added nutritional benefits.
Consumer Reports “Arsenic in Your Food”
Dr. Andrew Weil. “Arsenic in Rice?”
The Whole Grains Council. “Health Benefits of Rice”
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