Healthy Rice Choices
After my recent post on the 8 healthiest cuisines in the world I was struck by how many of these cuisines have rice as a common staple ingredient. This certainly got me looking at how much and what kind of rice I consume in my own quest for healthier eating. I’ve typically been a big believer in brown rice (preferring long grain to medium grain), while Penny has more recently been leaning towards basmati rice. She is fond of saying that over the years I would eat cardboard (with a good seasoning blend of course) if I thought it was healthier or would give me a boost in my training. I certainly agree with her that basmati rice tastes better, but I wanted to find out if what I thought was healthier was correct… or wasn’t. When striving for healthier eating there are always choices. So, to make the most informed decisions regarding the various types of rice, there are some rice 101 basics you have to understand.
The Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index, also known as GI, is a ranking of carbohydrate-rich foods on a scale of 0 to 100 according to the extent they raise blood sugar levels after they are eaten. Lower GI foods take longer to digest, causing a more gradual rise in blood glucose. High GI foods are rapidly digested, which cause a quick spike in blood glucose levels. According to a recent “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” study, high GI foods promote fat storage thus contributing to higher body fat. Another study out of New Zealand theorizes that high GI foods are more prone to an addiction like behavior; creating increased and repeated consumption.
The GI database defines high GI foods as having a score of 70 or greater while low GI foods are scored 55 or lower. Rice varieties range from low to high on the Glycemix Index depending on the type, degree of processing and how the rice is cooked. Other foods eaten in combination with rice also influence its glycemic index score. Keep in mind when looking at the foods you consume, as it relates to their GI score, that the amount of a particular carbohydrate eaten is at least as important, if not more important, than the glycemic index score itself.
Types of Rice
There are 4 primary types of rice which include Long grain, Medium grain, Short grain and Sticky sweet rice (this is typically found in Asian restaurants and when cooked loses its shape and becomes very sticky). Long grain rice is healthier than short grain rice, as short grain ranks higher on the glycemic index than long grain does. Brown rice is also considered healthier than white rice, as during processing of white rice some of the most important nutrients are removed.
When brown rice is processed only the hull, or outermost layer, of the rice kernel is removed and this keeps the majority of the nutritional value in tack. When white rice is converted from brown rice, many of the nutrients are stripped away – 90% of Vitamin B6, 80% of B1, 67% of B3, 60% of Iron, 50% of Manganese, 50% of Phosphorus and all of the essential fatty acids and dietary fiber. This is why you’ll find that the packaging on white rice shows that it has been “enriched" with vitamins B1, B3 and iron.
The most common processed types of rice are:
Brown medium grain rice which has a GI ranking of 50
Basmati long grain rice which has a GI ranking of 57
Arborio medium grain rice (sometimes called risotto rice) which has a GI ranking of 69
White short grain rice which has a GI of 72
Sticky or sweet rice is a short grain white rice that has a GI ranking of 87
Jasmine rice (also called fragrant rice) has the highest GI ranking of 89
How it's Cooked Matters
The GI rating also varies depending on how the rice is cooked (so many choices to be aware of).
For example medium grain brown rice:
When steamed has a GI of 50
Microwaved has a GI of 59
Boiled has a GI of 72
Now this information is meant to be used as a general guide to make healthier choices as none of these various numbers is etched in concrete and there isn’t a really significant difference between a GI ranking of 55 and 57. Numerous studies have also shown slight variations in GI rankings between the various types of rice (i.e. several different brands of medium grain brown rice).
Now, going back to Penny’s Basmati rice – in addition to the wonderful aroma, the delicate flavor and the relatively low GI there are several other distinguishing benefits. The grains don’t stick together during the cooking process or during serving. While Basmati is considered a long grain rice, the grains are even longer than the other types of long grain rice. This makes Basmati rice the perfect rice for us – Penny loves the flavor and I love the nutritional benefits (and best of all it tastes so much better than cardboard).
She’s right again (just don’t tell her I said so). Now if I can just find some brown basmati rice…
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