Rice is piled high with health benefits

Environmental Nutrition NewsletterJanuary 28, 2014 

FOOD SUPERMARKET-HEROES 4 TB

Research examining the dietary patterns of U.S. rice eaters reveals they tend to make healthier choices than non-rice eaters.

BILL HOGAN — MCT

  • Beyond brown and white rice

    The USA Rice Federation says there are more than 120,000 varieties of rice, categorized by grain size – short, medium and long – as well as by color and aroma.

    Arborio: Named after the Italian town where it originated, this rice is traditionally used to make risotto. Arborio is typically a refined white rice that when cooked releases starch, yielding a creamy consistency. Its firm center imparts a characteristic chewy bite when eaten. Arborio rice itself is bland, but absorbs flavors exceptionally well.

    Jade or bamboo: Not a variety of rice, but rather a white rice that has been dyed green with bamboo juice, jade rice is short to medium grain and has a sticky texture. You may see it added to sushi rice for a splash of color. It has a subtle flavor of green tea.

    Basmati: Common in Indian cuisine, this long-grain variety is an aromatic rice, giving off a flavor and aroma reminiscent of popcorn or roasted nuts. The grains elongate with cooking and don’t cling together. Basmati can be found as a white or a whole-grain rice. It works well for pilaf, stuffing, salads or entrees.

    Jasmine: Another aromatic long-grain rice, jasmine rice hails from Thailand. Its tender, moist texture allows the grains to cling to one another. Jasmine rice, which is great for curries or as a side dish, has a mild flavor sometimes described as nutty or slightly sweet. Look for whole-grain (brown) jasmine rice.

    Black: There are many varieties of whole-grain black rice. The glutinous (see below) and aromatic black Japonica may be the most well recognized. The color comes from anthocyanin pigments found in the bran layer, which imparts a dark purple hue to the rice when cooked. Naturally sweet glutinous black rice is often used for desserts. Medium-grain black Japonica has a subtle spiciness, and it’s versatile as an ingredient in entrees, soups, rice bowls, salads and pilaf.

    Red: A little chewy with a savory nutty flavor, red rice is whole grain, acquiring its unique color from the anthocyanins in the outer bran layer. Not to be confused with red yeast rice, which is fermented white rice treated with a mold that results in a red color, the naturally red rice variety can be short, medium or long, making it a versatile culinary delight.

    Glutinous or sweet: Also referred to as “sticky rice,” the short grains of this variety are plump and almost round. Composed primarily of the starch component amylopectin, the rice gelatinizes, giving it a glue-like consistency after cooking. Glutinous rice can be purchased as refined white or intact as a whole grain. It is perfect for sushi or desserts, such as the Asian delicacy, mochi.

    Wild: Whole-grain wild rice is from a different plant species than all other rice varieties, but is still a grain. It has a hearty flavor with a chewy texture. Mix wild rice with brown or red varieties to make a colorful whole-grain dish. Add wild rice to soups and salads for a gourmet flair.

Rice is the most popular grain worldwide, feeding over half of the globe, according to the USA Rice Federation. In the U.S., consumption of this gluten-free grain has doubled over the past three decades, to more than 25 pounds per person per year. This is good news, as scientists report rice is tied to many health benefits.

Research examining the dietary patterns of U.S. rice (both white and brown) eaters reveals they tend to make healthier choices than non-rice eaters. A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that compared to non-rice eaters, rice eaters had higher intakes of vegetables, fiber, iron and potassium, with lower intakes of total fat and saturated fat.

Another analysis from the journal Nutrition Today in 2010 reported similar findings, and it found that rice fans chose more fruits and legumes and consumed fewer added sugars than non-rice eaters. Both studies identified rice eaters as those who consumed at least a quarter-cup of rice per day.

The results of these studies aren’t surprising to nutrition experts; you don’t usually eat rice all by itself.

“Rice eaters are more likely to pair rice with vegetables, such as in a stir-fry, or combining beans and rice,” says Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Brown rice advantages

Most rice eaters in the U.S. choose refined white rice, with a mere 1.3 percent opting for whole-grain brown rice, according to Julie Jones, professor emerita at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., and an international expert on grains. Brown rice is considered a healthier choice because the nutrient-rich germ and bran are intact. They are removed in the refinement of white rice. Enriched white rice offers essential B-vitamins and iron, but whole-grain rice contains more fiber, minerals and phytonutrients.

One such phytonutrient in whole-grain rice is oryzanol, which may lower cholesterol, according to Jones. Michio Shimabukuro, a professor at the University of Tokushima and co-author of a review on oryzanol and brown rice published this year in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, goes further, stating, “Oryzanol exerts a variety of biological effects, including cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-oxidant activities.”

Shimabukuro reports that brown rice and oryzanol could play a role in treating obesity. He co-authored research in mice, published in the journal Diabetes that showed oryzanol led to a significant shift in preference from fatty to healthier foods. Whether humans would respond in the same way and consequently eat fewer calories remains to be seen.

Brown rice does hold promise, as evidenced by Shimabukuro’s 2013 research in the British Journal of Nutrition. In this study, he reported weight loss and lower abdominal fat in subjects with metabolic syndrome who switched from white to brown rice.

There’s no need to wait for the research to play itself out before deciding to choose brown rice. It’s a nutrient-dense food and is counted toward your whole-grain intake by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, which recommend you make half your grains whole grains to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Enjoy brown rice with steamed or stir-fried vegetables, in soups and salads, or top with fruit and milk for a brown rice breakfast.

EnvironmentalNutrition.com

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