John loved Thai food. Most lunch breaks when he didn’t have to work through lunch, he’d head to the local Thai restaurant. Usually, he ordered a curry dish, which was always accompanied by white sticky rice. Today though, he didn’t get his usual waiter. So, instead of assuming he wanted white rice with the panang curry he ordered, the waiter asked if he would like to substitute brown rice for an extra $1.50. John hadn’t really thought about substituting brown rice before, but lately he had been trying to make healthier choices. The extra $1.50 charge made John wonder if brown rice was enough healthier than white rice to warrant the extra cost.
Why is brown rice healthier than white rice?
Brown rice is minimally processed, retaining most of its nutritional value while white rice does not. A whole grain of rice in its pure, natural state consists of many nutritious layers. In brown rice only the hull, which is the outermost layer, is removed. This allows the rice to maintain most of its nutritional composition. However, unlike brown rice, white rice is highly refined and layers, like the bran and most of the germ are removed. While that is bad enough, the processing doesn’t stop there. In order to get that nice white color that we have come to expect, the rice has to go through another phase, the polishing phase, which removes another layer (aleurone layer) of the grain, which contains healthy essential fats. Removing these healthy fats is done to promote longer shelf life because once these fats are exposed to air they become more susceptible to oxidation. As a result of all this processing, with white rice you end up with a grain that is mainly starch and is devoid of most of its original nutritional essence.
What extra health benefits does brown rice have?
Brown rice is loaded with essential nutrients, such as, manganese, selenium, magnesium, vitamin B’s, phosphorus, iron, dietary fiber and healthy fatty acids. However, when brown rice is converted to white rice and undergoes and aggressive milling and polishing process, a large percentage of these essential vitamins and minerals are destroyed. And even though in the United States white rice has to be enriched with vitamin B’s and iron, it is still devoid of at least 11 nutrients when compared to the original unprocessed grain.
Studies have shown that eating whole grains like brown rice are beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight, lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure, reducing risk of certain types of cancer (breast and colon), protecting against heart disease, reducing the risk of stroke, lowering type 2 diabetes risk and reducing the frequency of migraine headaches and the severity of asthma attacks.
The bottom line:
The next time you are approached about substituting brown rice for white rice, you don’t have to think twice. When it comes to nutritional value brown rice is clearly the overall winner. Because the difference is much deeper than the color. It’s what’s inside that counts!