Following common wisdom, we transitioned from white rice to the “healthier” brown variety, and patted ourselves on the back for doing so. But is rice really so bad? Or have we all been brain washed into thinking it will make us gain 5 lbs per bowl?
Lets start with some basics...
There are dozens of varieties of rice, but the stuff most of us eat belongs to two cultivated species: Sativa (Asian rice) and Glaberrima (African rice). Rice is likely the oldest domesticated grain and remains the staple food for over two-and-a-half billion people -- mostly in Asia and the Middle East. In Asia, it accounts for a whopping 50 to 80 percent of people’s daily intake. It’s pretty damn popular elsewhere too, accounting for 20 percent of the calories consumed by humans worldwide. It's the second-most cultivated plant in the world, after corn (or course).
But if the milling continues, removing the inner husk and the germ (a.k.a., the husk), we end up with white rice. White rice can also be: (1) “buffed with glucose or talc powder” to create “polished” rice; (2) par-boiled, and (3) enriched with nutrients lost in the milling process (e.g., thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, iron) .
After the seeds of the rice plant are harvested, they’re milled using a rice huller to remove the outer husks of the grain. The result: Brown rice.
What's Wrong With Rice?
Will eating rice wreck you just as much as eating wheat bread?
The short answer: Nope.
Rice doesn’t contain gluten, for one. And while it does contain anti-nutrients, most of them are located in the hull and bran of the rice seed, and can be lost or neutralized through milling and cooking processes.
So Should We Eat It Or Avoid It?
Knowing what we now know, should we swear off rice forever?
Not necessarily. As discussed above, if you stick with white rice and you cook it properly, you don’t have much to worry about. (Yes, that’s right: Brown rice is worse for you than white rice. Read more about it here.) The biggest issue with brown rice is it is loaded with anti-nutrients.
Just because white rice won’t destroy you doesn’t mean that it’s some kind of super-food. White, milled, polished rice is basically pure starch… It is essentially a blank slate, nothing all that bad about it, but nothing all that great, either. Rice can be tasty, but it’s really nothing more than empty, starchy calories.
Here’s the deal:
- If you’re insulin resistant or looking to lose some bodyfat, rice isn't for you. For all the reasons stated here, you’ll do better with diet that’s more nutrient-dense and lower in carbohydrate content.
- On the other hand, it you’re insulin sensitive, lean and regularly engaging in physical activity, go ahead and eat some carbs – especially post-workout. Personally, I’d go with a starch that’s more nutrient dense than white rice (think sweet potatoes), but white rice definitely beats carbo-loading on whole wheat pasta. Unless you have a rice allergy, it won’t wreck you like a wheat bagel would.