Should We Eat Rice? Get the Facts About Rice
Is rice a healthy food? Does it have too many carbs? Is is loaded with arsenic?
Short Answers: Rice is high in carbs, but is a healthy food for most of us. Arsenic contamination is a problem, and even organic rice is affected.
Is Rice a Healthy Food?
Yes, rice is a healthy food, for many people. One big advantage of rice these days is that it’s gluten free. Plus it’s versatile, with so many uses in cooking besides just as a grain. Rice is a staple food all over the world.
Most people eat white rice, which has been refined to remove the outer covering (the bran) and the germ, which contain most of the vitamins and minerals and fiber, leaving behind white rice. Brown rice has all the fiber, vitamins and minerals that it came with.
Brown rice is also chewier and more substantial (some would say heavier or denser) than white rice. You don’t need to eat as much of it to be satisfied. It also doesn’t need endless rinses to get rid of the loose starch which makes white rice gummy, because all the starch is still inside the outer covering of the brown rice. That’s the upside.
The downside to brown rice is that because that outer covering is intact, it takes a long time to cook – 45 minutes! Which is way too long for most people, and that’s a big reason why white rice is far more popular. I use a pressure cooker, which cuts the cooking time in half, but I still have to wait 10 minutes for the pressure to come down (the rice continues to cook while that happens).
Nutrition Data 1/2 Cup Serving Brown Rice (with salt): 108 calories, 22g carbohydrate, 0g fat, 148mg sodium, 2g dietary fiber, 3g protein, Very low in saturated fat & cholesterol, good source Selenium, very good source Manganese. Estimated glycemic load 11.
Nutrition Data 1/2 Cup Serving White Rice (with salt): 102 calories, 18g carbohydrate, 0g fat, 147mg sodium, 0g dietary fiber, 2g protein. Very low in saturated fat & cholesterol, very good source Manganese. Estimated glycemic load 14.
Brown rice is about the same in calories and carbs as white rice and only has one gram more protein. But it has many more vitamins and minerals and a lot more of them. Enriching white rice adds in a few of the missing ingredients, but can’t replace the complete holistic nutrient package that comes with brown rice.
Does Rice Have Too Many Carbs?
Carbs are not bad. Overeating is bad. In theory there’s no such thing as too many carbs, but some individuals may need to watch how much of various foods they eat, including rice.
Rice is high in carbs, that’s why people all over the world eat so much of it, for energy. The body burns carbs to produce energy just like a car burns gas so the engine runs and the wheels turn. We all need a certain amount of carbs, depending on our metabolism and our physical activity.
North American nutrition experts all seem to agree that 1/2 cup of rice is a serving. People in countries like China and India where rice is a staple of the daily diet might scoff at that.
Is Rice Loaded with Arsenic?
Arsenic contamination can be a problem with rice. Consumer reports tells the story. Apparently, rice is more likely to be contaminated with arsenic because rice fields are flooded with water, which takes up greater than usual amounts of arsenic from the soil, such that rice ends up with a higher concentration of arsenic than crops grown on dry land.
I’m sure that this problem has been going on for a long time, but we’ve only just been told about it.
Here’s a quote from the article about arsenic: ” Inorganic arsenic, the predominant form of arsenic in most of the 65 rice products we analyzed, is ranked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as one of more than 100 substances that are Group 1 carcinogens. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers.” Scary stuff!
Looking at the chart at the bottom of the Consumer Reports article on arsenic contamination, you can easily see that most brands of brown rice are in the danger zone. And that white rice is less contaminated. That’s because refining rice removes the outer covering where most of the arsenic is found.
Organic rice comes out better than non-organic rice, because the soils it’s grown in are less contaminated with arsenic. But it’s still a problem because arsenic is a heavy metal which tends to stay where it is forever.
What to do? Brown rice is much more nutritious, but it has higher levels of arsenic. Our solution is to eat mostly organic Indian basmati rice, or Lundberg organic California basmati rice, which have the lowest arsenic contamination. And we eat less rice, favoring whole grains like quinoa, millet, barley, corn, and buckwheat.