Have you noticed that the only thing that is definitive in nutrition is that nothing is definitive? In other words, we are often told that something is good for us, then it turns out to be bad for us. Or we are told that something is bad for us and then we are told that it is good for us.
The most glaring example of this would be all of the warnings about eating fats. “Fats make you fat” resulted in a boom of high carbohydrate foods and sky-rocketing obesity and diabetes rates. (If this is news to you, see “Are You Making These Nutrition Mistakes?”)
Today, let’s talk about rice. This simple dietary staple is a great example of nutritional science total confusion. As you read on, you will see what I mean…
You have probably heard that brown rice is healthier than white rice because it is a “whole grain.” This means that its outer hull is intact – where most of the grain’s nutrition resides – fiber, vitamins and minerals. Brown rice is often recommended due to the fact that it has a low glycemic index, meaning that it does not cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. This has led to some evidence that eating brown rice can lower your risk for diabetes.
Sounds good, right? However, there is a whole other health risk to consider – arsenic. All rice contains arsenic, but brown rice contains significantly higher levels than white rice. Processed foods made with brown rice, such as brown rice crackers, also contain increased levels of arsenic. And arsenic is as bad as it sounds – it increases our cancer risk, along with other health problems.
When you add arsenic into the equation, white rice does look like the healthier choice. White rice also poses the advantage of being easily digested. Without the bran, white rice can be less irritating to a sensitive gut.
The downside to white rice though is does offer the potential for raising blood sugar levels and causing insulin spikes. Foods that do this are associated with weight gain, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
How to Make Sense of It All
Here is the bottom line – whether you choose to eat white rice or brown, you are at least eating real, whole food. In other words, they are a better choice than deep-fried French fries!
1. If you choose to eat white rice, make sure that you pair it with some healthy fats and protein. This will help to slow down the rise in blood sugar levels.
2. Whichever rice you choose, you can lower the arsenic levels by thoroughly rinsing the rice before cooking. Another tip for lowering arsenic levels is to cook the rice with lots of extra water, which you will drain off before eating.
3. Skip the rice altogether. (A recommendation you will hear from the Paleo and other grain-free people.) Cauliflower rice makes a very nice substitute as long as you are not reactive to the FODMAP mannitol. It is super easy – just grate the cauliflower or chop it in a food processor until it is the consistency of rice. Heat up a little olive oil in a flat pan and saute the “rice” for approximately five minutes.
What Do I Do?
Bearing in mind that every body is different, I have learned to eat all my rice-favorite meals without the rice. The only exception is if I am out socially and my food options are limited – in other words, when there are not a lot of gluten-free items to be had. I can tolerate cauliflower, so in the cooler months I will enjoy cauliflower rice. What does my husband do? He runs to the Chinese restaurant and picks himself up some rice!