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The Rice Debate: What is the Best Choice for Your Health?

The Rice Debate: What is the Best Choice for Your Health?

By Niti Shah

Thousands of rice varieties are enjoyed as part of the staple diet by millions of people across the world. But which is the healthiest? And, how do you avoid arsenic in rice?

What is the Best Rice Choice for Your Health?

Learn the pros and cons of white, brown and parboiled rice, so you can make a healthy choice.

What is Brown Rice and How is it Made?

Brown rice or un-milled rice is whole grain rice. When only the outermost layer of a grain of rice (the husk or hull) is removed, brown rice is produced. It has a mild, nutty flavor and is chewier and more nutritious than white rice. One cup of cooked brown rice contains 84 mg of magnesium compared to 19 mg in white rice.

How is White Rice Made?

White rice is produced when the next layers underneath the husk — the bran and the germ are removed leaving mostly the starchy endosperm.

Several vitamins and dietary minerals are lost in this polishing process like when making long grain Basmati rice. Hence, many manufacturers fortify it with vitamins and minerals to make up for the lost ones. Although one mineral that is not added back to white rice is magnesium.

After reading this you might say, “I am switching to brown rice today”. But, wait there is more to learn before you switch.

Ever heard of parboiled rice? It may be the perfect rice for you.

What Exactly is Parboiled Rice and How is it Made?

Parboiled rice is also known as converted rice and is steamed under pressure or partially boiled before removing the hull and bran. The four steps of parboiling include soaking, steaming, and drying, and then removing the rice husk. This process enhances the nutrition density by driving nutrients from the bran into the endosperm, making it about 80% nutritionally similar to brown rice.

Parboiled rice is a better source of fiber, B vitamins, and magnesium than regular white rice. Parboiled rice might sound like it’s pre-cooked, but it is not. It’s just processed differently from other types of rice.

Have You Heard About Arsenic in Rice?

Arsenic is an element found in nature, but is a cause of concern these days because the levels of arsenic found in our soil and water is increasing. Arsenic has been released into the environment through the use of excess pesticides. And, rice tends to absorb arsenic more readily than other plants.

Arsenic accumulates in the grains outer layers so brown rice tends to have more arsenic in it. Brown rice has 80% more arsenic on average than white rice of the same type. Brown rice has more nutrients though, so you shouldn’t switch entirely to white rice.

All types of rice made in the U.S. particularly in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas tested high in arsenic in a study conducted by Consumer Reports. White Basmati rice from California and India had on average half the amount of arsenic.

Tip to Reduce Arsenic in Rice

You can cut the exposure to arsenic in any type of rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking using a ratio of six cups of water to one cup of rice. Drain excess water afterward.

For more information on arsenic in your rice, check out these links – Consumer Reports: Arsenic in Rice and EWG report.

Pros & Cons of Brown, White & Parboiled Rice

Brown Rice

Pros: Highly nutritious

Cons: Comes with the risk of high arsenic depending on where it was grown. You have to develop a taste for it.

White Rice

Pros: Low risk of arsenic because the outer layers are removed in manufacturing.

Cons: Low nutrient content similar to white flour. High in starch/high glycemic score.

Parboiled Rice

Pros: Nutritious. Double the fiber compared to white rice. Excellent source of niacin, thiamine, and magnesium, and a moderate source of protein, iron, and zinc.

Low glycemic score of 38, even lower than brown rice at 47 and white rice at 89 (source: Harvard Health Publications). A low glycemic score indicates that the carbohydrates in parboiled rice do not cause a large spike in blood sugar.

More resistant starch which helps lower blood glucose levels. Improves insulin sensitivity.

Less arsenic compared to brown rice.

Cons: 20% less nutritious compared to brown rice.

After learning the pros and cons of brown, white and parboiled, I selected the middle ground with healthy parboiled rice. The nutritional value, low glycemic value and lower risk of arsenic convinced me.

Where to Buy Parboiled Rice

Given rice grown in India has lower amounts of arsenic compared to the rice grown in the southern U.S., I prefer to buy my parboiled rice from an Indian grocery store. My favorite brand is Laxmi. If you prefer long grain rice, buy the parboiled Basmati by Laxmi. Otherwise, opt for the smaller grain ponni boiled. Ponni boiled is similar in processing to parboiled but with smaller grain. If your local store doesn’t carry it, try Amazon.

Healthy Tip – Add Protein to Your Carbs Using this Simple Tip

To add protein to your daily carbs, mix 1/3 cup of quinoa to one cup of rice. Rinse thoroughly and soak for 30 minutes before cooking. Adding quinoa does not change the taste and works like a charm even with picky eaters! 

About the Author:

Niti Shah is a Physical Therapist turned into a Wellness Blogger/Writer with a keen interest in her family’s health. Her blog is her shot at creating awareness for common diet and lifestyle inaccuracies that get missed in the daily hustle. Her hope is that you apply these functional and practical recommendations that she learned the hard way for superior health! Check out her blog at Family Health SOS and follow her on Facebook