Rice? Why are we talking rice?
For those of you who are frequent readers of this blog, you may notice that from time to time I mention white rice as an optional addition to Primal Peak recipes, I show pictures of our meals with a touch of white rice, or I may recommend it as an addition to a healthful diet for certain groups of people. Extremely low-carb diets are trendy, but keto for kids and most adults is not ideal.
But, you may be thinking, “isn’t rice a grain?” and “haven’t we been told that brown rice has more nutrition than white?”
In this post we will tackle the pros and cons of white rice, how it compares to brown, who it may be suitable for, and how to make it a healthier choice.
It’s true: white rice has little nutritional value! Most of the nutrition in rice is located in the outer layers of the grain (the bran), which is what is removed to make brown rice white. When the bran is removed we are more or less left with a starch – or glucose – that’s it.
However, along with the vitamins and minerals in the bran of brown rice come ANTI-nutrients, or phytic acid. This phytic acid can be bound to important micronutrients such as magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc and prevent their absorption into our body. So, while “good” nutrition is potentially present in brown rice, it isn’t very bioavailable to the body – we don’t reap the benefits.
Because of white rice’s simplicity, it is easy to digest. With the bran and hull of brown rice still intact, it is harder for our body to break down (we lack specific enzymes to help with this) and it can actually be tough on our gastrointestinal tract (GI). The lectins present in brown rice may contribute to leaky gut (hyper-permeability of the GI) and those who are sensitive to wheat may also have sensitivities to brown rice (especially over time).
Arsenic in rice has recently received attention in the media. And for good reason – arsenic (particularly inorganic) is a known carcinogen. Arsenic is naturally found in air, water, soil and food, but like many things keeping levels in check in our body is important. Rice tends to have a high level of arsenic compared to some other foods because of how it grows and absorbs minerals from water and soil. The good news: most of the arsenic is located in the bran (or outer husk) of the rice, leaving white rice with much lower levels.
And don’t forget: we are also talking about rice products when considering arsenic (rice crackers, rice pasta, rice flour, and rice syrups/sweeteners for example)! It has been suggested that Lundberg brand of white rices are lower in arsenic. I also like how this company Alter Eco (heirloom rices) has mentioned arsenic on their site and reported the levels found in their different varieties.
One way to further reduce the amount of arsenic in your white rice is to thoroughly rinse it under running water until the water runs clear (before cooking).
Who may benefit from white rice?
• Athletes with performance goals. White rice is a decent post-workout/post-training form of glucose to help replenish muscle glycogen with. If you need carbohydrates to fuel long-duration workouts, rice is a good addition to eat before a soccer game, for example.
• Hard-gainers (those struggling to gain or maintain weight on a real food plan).
• Active children. My kids are more likely to load up on the veggies and healthful fats in a meal if there is a little rice involved. And I would rather them eat white rice once in awhile as part of a nutritious meal than other grains!
• Those with adrenal fatigue or cortisol imbalance. Sometimes an very-low-carb nutrition plan can stress the adrenals. White rice is low-risk safe starch that can help support hormone levels.
Who may NOT benefit from white rice?
• Those with metabolic syndrome or diabetes. An emphasis on moderate quality proteins, natural fats and colorful fibrous vegetables is ideal for someone with blood sugar disregulation.
• Those with leaky gut. Any grain can be tough on an unhealthy gut. It’s important to focus on gut healing foods before introducing grain.
• Those with autoimmune conditions.
Making white rice healthier:
Beyond the possible benefit of providing a safe starch to my family, I like to think of the occasional addition of white rice as a vehicle for other healthful foods. 95% of the time I cook our rice in bone broth instead of water. This adds awesome nutrition, and enhances flavor. I also put in a chunk of grass-fed butter or ghee when cooking for healthful fats, to decrease any spike in blood sugar, and to add even more flavor. The rice is also just one component of an otherwise nutrient dense meal with quality meat, and lots of colorful vegetables.
This article is not a gold pass to put white rice on your plate at each meal. It is food for thought when considering your individual needs or the needs of your family. In fact, I went years without white rice, but in my recent pursuit of healing/managing SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth) I discovered that white jasmine rice is better tolerated than sweet potato for me. Your current health status, activity level, white rice sourcing and nutrient timing are important considerations when striving for overall well-being.