May 2020 Is Rice Good for You?
By Tae Park
There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice, and it is a staple ingredient in more than 100 countries. Many countries have their own rice dish that highlights local cuisine and culture: paella in Spain, risotto in Italy, arroz rojo in Mexico, bibimbap in Korea, sushi in Japan, and so on. Rice is a mainstay for many worldwide, yet popular diets like Keto, Whole 30, Paleolithic, and other low-carb plans ban this carb. Is rice actually healthy, or should it be avoided?
First…Rice to meet you!
Brown rice is not a specific variety of rice; it describes many varieties of rice in their natural, whole-grain form. Because brown rice still has its fibrous bran layer, it takes longer to cook (and digest) and has a chewier and nuttier flavor than its refined, white rice counterpart.
White rice is refined brown rice. It has been milled and polished to remove the outer brown bran layer. This process alters the flavor and texture of the rice and extends its storage life.
Rice varieties are classified as short, medium, or long grain—this refers to the length and width ratio of the rice grain when cooked. The most notable difference between different grains is their starch profile.
Long-grain rice has a firm, dry texture, and stays separate after cooking. Basmati and Jasmine rice are common varieties of long-grain rice.
Medium-grain rice has a tender, moist texture, and grains stick to each other when cooked. Valencia rice is a common variety of medium-grain rice.
Short-grain rice has a tender, soft texture, and it is stickier than medium-grain rice. Arborio and sushi rice (short grain rice originated from Japan) are common varieties of short-grain rice.
Is rice nutritious?
Rice is a rich source of carbohydrates, the body’s main fuel source. Carbohydrates can keep you energized and satisfied, and are important for fueling exercise. Brown rice, especially, is an excellent source of many nutrients, including fiber, manganese, selenium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Dietary Guidelines suggest that at least half of your grains be from whole grains, and brown rice is considered a whole grain. But even white rice has nutrients. It is considered a good source of folate. In short, YES, rice is a healthy staple that offers many nutrients.
But I’ve heard that rice is bad for you…
Rice has been vilified for decades as a food that “causes weight gain” and “negatively impacts health”. There is a lot of misinformation about rice. Here are some common concerns heard at the KRNC:
Should I be concerned about the arsenic in rice? Rice tends to absorb arsenic more readily than other crops due to its growing environment. However, rice can be safely consumed as part of a well-balanced diet. Published studies, including research by the FDA, show that cooking rice can reduce up to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content, depending on the type of rice.
Is white rice a “bad carb”? Many people consider white rice an “empty” or “bad” carb since it loses nutrients when the bran and germ are removed. However, white rice is typically enriched with added nutrients such as iron and B vitamins. So while brown rice does have more nutrients than white rice, white rice is still considered nutritious.
Will rice make me gain weight? While many studies have shown a connection between refined grains and weight gain, research is inconsistent when it comes to white rice. It appears to be neither detrimental nor favorable for weight loss. White rice—in and of itself—does not have a unique ability to promote weight gain. That being said, an excess of calories from any food—rice included—will lead to weight gain. Diets high in whole grains (think brown rice) have shown to aid weight loss and help maintain a healthy body weight.
Common Types of Rice
Jasmine rice: Jasmine rice is originally from Thailand. It has a delicate floral aroma and soft, sticky texture. Traditionally, Jasmine rice is steam cooked. Coconut rice is a great recipe to try with Jasmine rice.
Basmati rice: Basmati rice is hill rice originated from the Himalayan hills and has a flakier, drier texture than Jasmine rice. Basmati rice is typically boiled. Basmati rice is great for pilaf, biriyani, and fried rice recipes.
Arborio rice: Arborio rice has a soft texture and is a popular option for making risotto because its starch creates a creamy finish.
Wild rice: Wild rice is not related to the rice family, Oryza sativa; it is a seed from an aquatic grass species, genus Zizania. Despite its name, most wild rice is cultivated in farms, not grown in the wild. Wild rice salad or chicken wild rice soup are a favorite ways to enjoy wild rice.
Rice is a staple food in many countries around the world for good reason. It is an important and nutritious cereal crop that feeds more than half of the world’s population. Rice should be an accepted and celebrated component of a balanced diet.
Get to know our author:
Park is a senior studying Nutrition and Food Science with a Dietetics and Nutrition Management concentration. He is interested in pursuing clinical nutrition. Some fun facts about Park are that he has lived in four different countries and a ship, was a Hospital Corpsman in the U.S. Navy, and his hobbies include travel, photography, experimental cooking.
For additional resources to healthy eating, check out these programs from our registered dietitian nutritionists. Find delicious and healthy recipes on our Recipes page! More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the KRNC monthly newsletter!