THE PLANET practically lives on rice.
“Rice is a grain that is eaten all over the world—in Asia, in several African countries and European countries, and in central and South American countries.” says Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and assistant professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “It’s a staple around the world.”
And you shouldn’t avoid rice because of what you may have heard from some so-called nutrition “expert.”
“It is not a food we ought to be afraid of or made into a villain,” says Ellis Hunnes.
Yes, rice is a high-carbohydrate food. But carbs aren’t bad. Really.
Your brain and muscles thrive on carbohydrates (or glucose), and use the nutrient as a main energy source.
“Our brains use five grams of glucose every hour to function,” says Ellis Hunnes. That’s 120 grams of glucose per day. One-third cup of cooked rice has 15 grams of carbohydrate, thereby showing it can be part of a healthy diet,” she says.
“Depending on your meal or food/cultural preferences, you can eat rice with beans, rice in sushi, rice as a side with Asian dishes. Rice can be the main part of the dish, as in risotto, or as part of the dish as in paella,” she says.
Not all rice, however, is created equal. Brown rice is often considered to be preferable to white rice, but the grains actually come from the same plant.
“Rice is the seeds of grains or grass plants that grow in water-submerged fields,” says Annelie Vogt von Heselholt, R.D., founder of DietitianDoc. “During harvesting and processing, when only the outer hull layer is removed, you get brown rice, which is considered a whole grain. Further removal of the hull and bran layers leaves what we know as white rice,” she says.
“Rice—especially brown rice—is also rich in fiber, manganese, selenium, iron, magnesium, copper, and B vitamins. Fiber, in particular, can help the digestion of food, improve cholesterol levels, and help you feel full longer, which is important in weight management,” she says, adding that the other nutrients in rice help support the immune system.
What is the nutrition of rice?
It depends on the variety of rice.
As we discussed above, brown rice is the star of the rice-a-verse, but there’s no need to knock white rice.
“All rice consists of carbohydrates with a small amount of protein and minimal fat. Brown rice is a whole grain. Meaning that it contains all the parts of the grain—the fibrous bran, nutritious germ, and carb-rich endosperm. White rice only contains the endosperm; the bran and germ are removed,” explains Johna Burdeos, R.D.. “Brown rice has more fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants than white rice but not a significant amount.”
Texture-wise, brown rice is often chewier and takes longer to cook, thanks to the bran and germ remaining intact. Regardless of the differences, Burdeos says both brown and white rice can be eaten as often as you like (in appropriate portions) as part of a healthy diet.
Burdeos breaks down the macronutrients of a cup: “For one cup of cooked rice, brown and white rice are both around 200 calories. Both contain about 44 grams of carbohydrates. Brown rice has five grams of protein and white rice has four grams. White rice has less than one gram of fiber and brown rice has three to four grams of fiber. Fat is minimal in both: White rice has 0.4 grams of fat and brown rice has 1.7 grams of fat.”
But back to brown rice vs. white rice: One key takeaway, says Vogt von Heselholt, is to choose brown rice over the more processed white rice at least 50 percent of the time due to brown rice’s nutrition profile. Do your best to stick to about a half-cup serving size.
Beyond white rice and brown rice, there are other types of rice with positive health attributes, too.
“Indonesian and Thai black rice has the highest antioxidant values of all varieties of rice. It’s particularly high in anthocyanins, or plant flavonoids, that are anti-inflammatory and help fight cancer. Himalayan and Thai red rice varieties are high in fiber and other types of antioxidants called quercetins that help fight chronic disease and cancer,” says Vogt von Heselholt. “Wild rice, although a grass and not a grain, is commonly used as a grain. It provides three times the fiber compared to white rice and may be anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-hypertensive, and important for the immune system.”
“A serving of cooked rice is equivalent to ½ cup because it’s such a concentrated source of energy. Men should limit it to about eight or so total grain servings per day, depending on age and activity level,” shares Vogt von Heselholt.
Some of her go-to ways to enjoy rice? “Rice can be mixed with broccoli, garlic, and olive oil for a healthy anti-inflammatory side dish, added to a paella with saffron for some added pizzazz, or mixed in a bowl with cauliflower and coriander for a lower-calorie dish.”
Burdeos, on the other hand, is an advocate of the Buddha bowl. “A Buddha bowl is a great example of variety where you can build a meal around rice. You basically just add fresh and/or cooked vegetables and a protein to the bowl along with rice and top with a sauce or dressing. Try adding grilled vegetables like mushrooms and squash, cooked chicken or beans, and a creamy tahini dressing,” she says.
“Or try a deconstructed style taco bowl with rice, spicy seasoned ground beef, black beans, corn, chopped tomatoes, lettuce or greens, chopped fresh cilantro, avocado, a squeeze of lime, and a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream. If you want to try rice with a plant-based meal, do the above bowls with beans, chickpeas, or tofu for your protein.”
Burdeos adds that you can also boost the heartiness in a bean or lentil soup by adding rice.
Is rice good for weight loss?
“Although rice is high in carbohydrates, brown rice, in particular, can be beneficial for weight loss. Because the outer bran layers are left intact on brown rice, it’s high in fiber. Fiber can help the digestion of food, slow the emptying of the stomach, and help you feel full longer, all of which are important for weight management,” says Vogt von Heselholt, noting that brown rice also requires more chewing which naturally lends itself to you eating smaller portions.
But there are some caveats to note when upping your rice consumption: “Some studies have linked large amounts of white rice consumption with metabolic syndrome or risk factors that may put you at higher risk for developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes,” says Burdeos.
Still, as she points out, other studies have found no correlation between white rice and obesity. As always, any food is best in moderation.
Ellis Hunnes stresses that rice can be good for weight loss in conjunction with an overall healthy diet. “Rice is not particularly high in calories, though it is higher than some foods of course. The thing about rice is that it expands to 3x its original volume, so it can be quite filling and, depending on variety, relatively high in fiber,” she says. “Brown and black rice will be healthier than white rice because of their extra fiber and extra antioxidants, especially black rice.”
Is rice healthy?
“Rice, and especially brown rice, is rich in fiber, antioxidants, manganese, selenium, iron, magnesium, copper, and B vitamins,” says Vogt von Heselholt. “Fiber, in particular, can help the digestion of food, improve cholesterol levels, and help you feel full longer, which is important for heart health, weight and diabetes management, and cancer prevention. The other nutrients are important for the immune system and also help prevent chronic diseases and cancer.”
When you are shopping for rice, Vogt von Heselholt suggests seeking out whole grain brown rice so you get all of the health benefits described above.
“This is because the nutrients are embedded in the bran layers on brown rice, while they’re removed when making white rice. Choosing black, red, or wild rice are good options that all have disease-fighting properties and nutrients,” she says, adding that you should skip flavored packaged rice blends as they can be high in calories, sodium, and other ingredients. Ellis Hunnes also suggests looking for rice grown in the U.S., which tends to be low in arsenic.
Follow these tips for cooking the best rice and get busy in the kitchen.
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