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  • Writer's pictureTara Wilson

Healthy Swaps: September

White rice tends to have a bad rep when it comes to eating healthy and staying lean. However, is it really as bad as most diets make it out to be, and is brown rice actually healthier? Let's dive into some different types of rice (and its alternatives) so you can make the healthiest choice for you and your family!

***Full disclosure: this blog post contains affiliate links that may be commissionable.

"Grain," "starch" and "refined" - three categories of food that always had a negative health connotation to me, especially when it came to weight gain. White rice happens to fall into all three of those categories, so I of course avoided it like the plague for years in my 20s in order to stay lean. There is some truth to the correlation between diets high in white rice and consequential weight gain [3, 4], however, after doing some research, I've found that some types of white rice may not be as bad as I once thought, and are actually a better choice for me than brown rice.


Navigating this Blog Post:

Cons for White Rice


First, let's dive into why white rice has been vilified by so many. White rice has a bad rep for several reasons:

  • It's refined & processed: most of the nutrients in rice (fiber, protein, B vitamins, magnesium and selenium, to name a few) are found in the bran and germ of a rice grain. In order to make white rice out of brown rice, the bran and germ are removed in a milling process, along with the majority of the rice's nutritional value. This milling process also makes white rice more shelf-stable.

  • May spike blood sugar & insulin levels: with the bran & germ removed from the rice, you're mostly left with a starch that is high on the Glycemic Index, which can spike blood sugar [8]. Some studies have also shown that consuming white rice can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes [2].

  • Artificially "Enriched": since most of the nutrients in white rice are stripped during the milling process, in order for it to not be an "empty carb," companies will artificially insert B vitamins, iron, etc into white rice (like they do with "enriched" white bread) so it can appear to have more nutritional value [7].

  • Contains arsenic: arsenic naturally occurs in the soil, which can then lead to arsenic contaminating water, air, and other food through wind blowing up the soil, etc. Unfortunately, arsenic is a known human carcinogen, and rice tends to absorb more arsenic from contaminated dirt & water than most other crops.

Okay, so definitely some valid points on avoiding white rice....right? Not necessarily. The advertised healthier option to white rice is usually brown rice, so let's quickly compare the two and see if it can outweigh the cons to white rice.


Pros and Cons of Brown Rice


Pros:
  • Less Processed: since the outer layers of the rice are left on the rice grains, brown rice does not go through the same milling process as white rice

  • Lower Glycemic Index: when boiled, brown rice has a GI of 68, making it a better option for diabetics than white rice, which has a GI of 73 when boiled [9]

  • More Nutritious: because the outer layers are still left on the rice grains, there is a lot more fiber and other nutrients left in the rice that you wouldn't otherwise get from white rice, which also means it won't need to be artificially enriched

Cons:
  • Difficult to Digest: Unfortunately, the nutritious layers that remain on brown rice grains are actually really hard for our bodies to break down. This can be difficult on the gastrointestinal tract, make leaky-gut symptoms worse, and contribute to bloating & inflammation in the gut [1]. Since white rice has these outer layers removed, it's a lot easier on your gut and easier to digest than brown rice.

  • Phytic Acid: Though brown rice technically has a high nutritional profile, our bodies aren't getting to absorb and reap most of the benefits of it. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that is in the bran of brown rice, and it binds to those nutritious minerals. Phytase is what breaks down phytic acid and can unbind those minerals so the body can absorb them - some animals, like rats, produce phytase. Humans, however, do not, so a lot of those extra nutrients in brown rice aren't getting absorbed [1,10].

  • Higher Levels of Arsenic: though rice tends to absorb more arsenic than other crops, most of the arsenic is in the bran of the rice grains, which means brown rice will have higher levels of arsenic than white rice [1].

Why I Choose to Eat These Two Types of White Rice


Yes, there are definitely some cons when it comes to eating rice in general, however, after weighing the pros and cons between white and brown rice, I personally choose to eat white rice. Yes, brown rice technically has more nutrients, but since my body won't get most of them anyway, I'd rather choose the rice that's going to be easier on my gut and easier to digest. White rice also has lower levels of arsenic than brown rice, and according to this article, you can lower the levels of arsenic in white rice even further by rinsing it with water before you cook it!


Also, did you know you could lower the Glycemic Index of white rice? Like potatoes, cooling cooked white rice will form resistant starch. Resistant starch acts similar to soluble fiber and can have positive health benefits, including lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity [12]. According to this article by The Diabetes Council, after cooling and reheating, cooked white rice will have a GI of 53!


So what kinds of white rice can be beneficial to your health?

For this month's Healthy Swap, try swapping out your plain, non-organic, non-GMO white rice (and your brown rice if you're experiencing a lot of bloating) for these two healthier alternatives!


Organic Jasmine Rice


Some health benefits of organic white jasmine rice:

  • Contains antioxidants: we love our antioxidants! They fight those pesky free radicals in our body that can damage our cells (which causes our skin to age rapidly, among other things), and jasmine rice is particularly high in one called manganese

  • Great source of Iron [15]

  • May help improve overall heart health [15]

  • May help decrease risk of developing cancer [15]

  • Contains folate: folate (vitamin B9) is important during pregnancy, as it supports the healthy development & growth of your baby [15]


Basmati Rice


Some health benefits of organic white basmati rice:

  • Great source of fiber: a diet high in fiber can greatly benefit your health, including decreasing your risk of developing certain types of cancer as well type 2 diabetes [16]

  • Lower glycemic index: basmati rice has a GI between 50 - 58, according to WebMD, making it a better option for diabetics when compared to most other white rice

  • High in magnesium: magnesium can help regulate blood sugar, and having the proper amount of magnesium in your diet may help people that are prediabetic [17]


Since white rice in general can be high in carbs and calories, I usually limit my intake to a maximum of 1-2x a week, and it will always be one of these two types of organic white rice.


Simply for the convenience of it, my boyfriend and I always buy this brand of jasmine rice at Whole Foods. It's organic, already cooked (so no need to rinse!), and according to its label, this brand ethically sources all of its grains "from farmers who are guaranteed a fair living wage." However, we always reheat it on the stove top, and never microwave it in the plastic bag it comes in.


When reheating it on the stove top, there's this simple & awesome hack by Dave Asprey you can try - it can make your white rice even better for your health, just by adding this one ingredient to the cooking process!


Cauliflower Rice


If you're looking to stay low-carb, a popular option you may have heard of is cauliflower rice. Cauliflower rice is of course not actual rice, but cauliflower that has been diced into small pieces to have a similar consistency to rice. I personally don't ever eat cauliflower rice, because of the bloating, gas, and overall gastrointestinal discomfort it causes (you can read more on why cauliflower causes this here), however, there are a ton of health benefits of cauliflower and for the sake of adding a low-carb healthy swap for rice, here are some of its health benefits:

  • Contains several cancer-fighting properties: cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and these types of veggies have properties that can stop cancer from developing [19]

  • Great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals: which can help fight inflammation, lower the risk for both brain & heart disorders, and decrease the risk for conditions that weaken bones [19]

  • Helps to keep hormones balanced: by lowering high levels of estrogen [19]

  • Contains compounds that support liver health and detoxification [19]

  • May help weight loss: cauliflower is extremely low in calories, fat, carbs, & sugar


As you can see, there are a lot of awesome benefits to adding cruciferous veggies to your diet, which makes cauliflower rice a great, low-carb healthy swap. When it comes to a carb side dish though, I still prefer to eat organic jasmine or basmati white rice and add cooked cruciferous veggies to my meal as opposed to nixing the rice altogether and only eating riced cauliflower.

Before I end this post...


Though this month's swap is mainly focused on the two types of organic white rice to try and why, I think Korean purple rice (black rice) definitely deserves an honorable mention. It's probably regarded as one of the healthiest types of rice you can eat among nutrition experts, and tastes great too! It does have the outer layers on the grain, just like brown rice, however, its health benefits far outweigh the cons in my opinion. I don't eat it often, but I'm always happy to eat it when my mom is cooking! To read up on some of its health benefits, check out these two articles:



-Is Purple Rice Good For You? Karthik Kumar, MBBS


What are some of your favorite types of rice to eat? I'd love to know in the comments! Hope you found this article helpful, and see you next month for October's Healthy Swap!



Links to Cited Articles

Here are the articles that I used for research to write this blog post.

  1. Is White Rice a Better Choice Than Brown? Shannon Doleac - Primal Peak

  2. White Rice Nutrition: Is it Healthy or Bad for You? Rachael Link - Dr. Axe

  3. Relationship Between Rice Consumption and Body Weight Gain in Japanese Workers: White vs. Brown/Multigrain Rice, Kimi Sawada, Yukari Takemi, Nobuko Murayama, Hiromi Ishida - Pub Med

  4. Why Refined Carbs are Bad For You, Adda Bjarnadottir - Healthline

  5. My Perspective on "Safe Starches," Dave Asprey - Bulletproof

  6. Is White Rice Healthy? Katie Wells - Wellness Mama

  7. Is Rice Good For You? Tae Park - Kendall Reagan Nutrition Center

  8. Rice, The Nutrition Source - Harvard School of Public Health

  9. Glycemic Index for 60+ Foods - Harvard Health Publishing

  10. How Bad is Rice, Really? Mark Sisson - Mark's Daily Apple

  11. White Rice vs. Brown Rice Glycemic Index, John Coleman - The Diabetes Council

  12. Resistant Starch 101-Everything You Need to Know, Kris Gunnars - Healthline

  13. Arsenic, North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services

  14. Manganese Information, Mount Sinai

  15. Is Jasmine Rice Nutrition Healthy? Facts, Benefits, Recipes, Rachael Link - Dr. Axe

  16. Health Benefits of Basmati Rice, WebMD

  17. What Kinds of Rice are Best for Diabetics? Sarah Schenker - Bottom Line Inc

  18. One Major Side Effect of Eating Cauliflower, Says Science, Cheyenne Buckingham - Eat This, Not That

 

Why I Started "Healthy Swaps" for 2022


I've always found when wanting to make a major health or lifestyle change, it's easier to take it in little steps than to try and make a massive change on the spot. Mastering little steps has always been more successful in making the change a lasting habit for me, as opposed to a temporary phase. I've had friends ask me about my diet & eating habits, and as soon as I tell them, they come back with different variations of "Oh that's too hard," "That's so much work," and "I could never do that!"

Believe me, when I started down this path to a healthier lifestyle, I felt the same way! When I have food or beauty/household products that I love, I never want to give them up. However, slowly but surely, I made little changes here & there and now, it's a lifestyle I'm happy to embrace. Sure, it's still very hard some days to make the healthier choice, even with the research I'm learning on why [insert food/product] is bad for you, but it's definitely not as hard as it used to be and I'm still striving to improve every day.


So this year I decided to create the Healthy Swaps series! Every month, I will post a new blog post with a simple swap to make, and with these small changes made every month, we can be living a healthier lifestyle by the end of the year!



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