Lost in the Grain
Ohhh food what an interesting and complex topic you are! The more we learn about food the more we begin to realize how older ideas are no longer proving to be true. When I first started taking an active approach in cleaning up my diet, I, like most, went for only the brown rice options, the whole grain options, and the reduced fat options. The other day I was discussing dinner plans amongst a group friends, when Friend A said that she was going to cook brown rice that night as part of her meal. Friend B chimed in that they don’t like brown rice as much as white rice, which Friend A agreed with, but followed up by saying she eats brown rice anyway because it is healthier. Friend B stated that she read that there’s no real difference between the two, and I was then asked what my thoughts were. So! I thought, why not blog about it!! As I say over and over, “What’s right for one, may not be right for some”, therefore in this post I will address the nutrition facts of white versus brown rice (that can be applied to many other carbs as well) to help you to make a more educated decision when making your choice next time you find yourself lost in the grain isle.
To begin, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a rice grain. A fully grown rice grain is made up of three parts:
1. The Germ; containing B vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants
2. The Endosperm; which mainly consists of protein and carbs
3. The Bran; which is the outermost layer containing the bulk of the minerals found in rice, as well as the bulk of the fiber, and contains phytochemicals and vitamins as well
However, when being prepared for consumption, white rice is striped of the outer layer (containing the germ and the bran) which in turn cuts out much of the vitamins, fiber, and mineral which was initially in the grain. If you look at the nutrition label to your left, you can see that if we are looking at nutrients alone, brown rice contains more fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals than white rice. But, if we take a closer look we may note that it’s not by too much.
Brown rice, on average, contains 1-1.4 grams more fiber than white rice, however, one medium sized apple contains 5 grams of fiber alone. We see the same trend in the case of protein, there is usually a 1-2 gram increase in protein found in brown rice versus white rice. If we recognize that there is between 20-30 grams of protein in your average protein powder, we once again realize the protein difference between the two is not large enough to base our decision off of. Another interesting comparison worth noting is that brown rice is actually higher in fat as well as carbs. To individuals looking to increase their fat or carb intake, this may be seen as a positive, however in many cases people opting to buy brown rice are choosing this because it is believed to be the more healthy option and therefore these individuals generally want to reduce their fat and carb content.
Often viewed as a positive, brown rice also has a lower glycemic index meaning it is broken down slower by your body. This means you will stay more full longer meaning less snacking throughout the day which can often benefit those who are trying to loose weight. However in the case of bodybuilders, or people who are highly active (who may be eating upwards of six times day) a white rice which is more quickly assimilated by the body is much more desirable since it will reach their muscles and other organs more quickly and will be digested quicker allowing them to feel more hungry by their next meal. However, because white rice is known to have a higher glycemic index, it is responsible for spikes in blood sugar so is often linked to type II diabetes, as well as high blood pressure.
In more recent news brown rice was found to contain something called Phytate, which is an anti-nutrient and minimizes the bodies ability to absorb certain nutrients. Phytate is found in the outermost layer of rice which is removed in white rice, meaning white rice does not have the anti nutrient which brown rice does. Many of us have also heard about arsenic being found in our foods. Arsenic is a metalloid not meant to be consumed, but is often found in certain foods due to Arsenic being in the soil where the plants were harvested. Once again, due to the removal of the outermost layer 80% more arsenic is found in brown rice versus white rice.
Whew! All of that complex information probably has you at the edge of your seat wondering at the end of the day, should you be choosing brown or white rice?! Well, in my opinion you should choose the one you prefer to eat and cook with! The nutrition differences are minuscule, which I believe is a fact many people are still not aware of. The fact that brown rice contains Arsenic and Phytate may be alarming to some, but in reality most people aren't eating enough rice for that to be a real factor, (and if you are, opt for getting your carbs from more fruits and vegetables). This same information can be linked when talking about various breads, cereals, and pastas as well. So, next time you find yourself choosing foods strictly because they seem "healthier" take a look at the nutrition label, you just might surprise yourself.