We all know that foods in their whole form are healthier than their stripped-down, processed counterparts. It should thus come as no surprise that brown rice is healthier than the white version. Brown rice is higher in fiber, B-vitamins and minerals and is better at stabilising blood-sugar levels. I’ve known these basic facts for a while now and have always tried to use brown rice when I felt it suited the recipe. Yet it wasn’t until I read a section on brown rice in Healing with whole foods that I started to understand how much health benefits brown rice really has over white rice. In this post I share what all the ins and outs on brown rice vs. white.
Brown rice has a coating, called rice bran, that is stripped away in the process of making white rice. This rice bran is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. It includes a rare form of vitamin E, known as tocotrienols, that offer strong antitumor protection and lowers excess cholesterol. The oil in rice bran also lowers cholesterol and inhibits excess blood fat (triglycerides). The lecithin in rice bran further promotes brain health, while the inositol hexaphosphate helps the metabolization of minerals and can help prevent kidney stones and cardiovascular diseases. But it doesn’t end there. Rice bran contains over 70 different types of antioxidants that make brown rice the nutrient powerhouse it is.
Antioxidants protect the body against ‘free radicals’. Free radicals are produced by cells to protect the body against invaders, but unfortunately also attack the DNA of cells, making us more prone to cancer and rapid aging. Antioxidants thus play an important role in keeping us healthy and don’t get their good reputation for nothing. Moreover, every antioxidant will have its own unique nutritional benefits. Alpha lipoid acid, for example, promotes liver restoration. Super oxide dismutase, treats many symptoms of premature aging, such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Gamma-oryzanol, restores hormonal balance, blood circulation and strengthens the musculature. All of these antioxidants can be found in rice bran and, in fact, gamma-oryzanol is only found in meaningful quantities in rice bran.
Many of the nutrients in rice bran will also act as a nerve calmer, including the B-vitamins that are known to have calming effects on anxious people. The abundant fiber in rice bran will regulate blood-sugar, which will further help regulate energy levels and mood swings. Although not a scientific argument at all, I also find that a bowl of brown rice much more comforting than a bowl of white rice. Knowing that brown rice helps my body in so many ways, surely must do some good to my soul as well.
Every now and again I see posts on why brown rice is unhealthy. Of course, there are the paleo people that believe grains and legumes, in general, are not ‘caveman enough’ to be healthy. For the sake of keeping this article short, let’s just agree to disagree with the paleo folk for now. That still leaves a group of people that claim brown rice upsets their stomachs much more than white rice does. I remember getting the odd tummy ache from brown rice myself in the past. One reason why brown rice may not sit well with you is the high fiber content. Although fiber is incredibly healthy, suddenly increasing your intake of high fiber foods can make your stomach unsettled. Introducing high fiber foods, such as brown rice, slowly to your diet can help alleviate some of these stomach issues.
If your stomach is still upset after eating small amounts of brown rice, it might be because you aren’t preparing it properly. Try soaking rice overnight to break down some of the hard to digest proteins and neutralize the phytates, which will improve the absorption of nutrients, such as iron and magnesium. Soaking rice is a common practice in Asian countries. Some have suggested that the grain intolerance in the West is because we have lost this ancient practice of soaking. To soak your rice (or any other grain), add 1.5 times the amount of water to your portion rice along with 2 tablespoons of some type of acid (lemon juice or vinegar will work fine). Soak the rice overnight or at least for 8 hours, if in a hurry. Drain before cooking and voilà, your meal should be easily digestible. An added bonus of soaking brown rice is that it significantly reduces cooking time.
It is no secret that unrefined foods are the healthiest. Yet it still came as a shock to me how much more nutrient dense brown rice is and what health benefits this offers. This doesn’t mean that white rice should always be pushed aside. Rather, it should be treated as an occasional treat instead of a dietary staple. Since learning about the abundant benefits or brown rice, I have not just swapped white rice for brown rice. I also try swapping rolled oats for oat groats and continue trying out the whole version of grains.