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Rice: More Than Just White Versus Brown!

Itrice used to be accepted in the fitness world that brown rice was the healthier option and the best rice to include in your diet when body fat levels are a concern.  But recently opinion has become divided as to which is the better choice, so it’s not surprising that one of the most common questions I am asked is: 

“Is it better to include brown rice in my diet as opposed to white?”

But as you will see, perhaps the better question to ask would be:

“Is it better to include long grain rice in my diet as opposed to short grain?”

Let us also consider the term “better” because in this industry, what is better for fat loss may not always be better from a nutritional and health standpoint.  

In this article I am going to take a closer look at the different types of rice and attempt to give you information which you can use to make an informed decision as to what types of rice to include in your own diet. 

The difference between white rice and brown rice is simply that whilst the hull is removed in both types, when producing brown rice the bran is preserved, but it is removed when producing white rice. 

The bran is what provides the fibre content of the rice as well as a large portion of the micronutrient content.  It is the fiber content of brown rice that, all other factors being equal, lowers the GI value of the rice.  This lower GI is the reason it has often been cited as the better choice when body fat is a concern, although it is important to remember that when the rice is consumed with protein and/or fats the GI value of a food becomes far less relevant as digestion speed is affected by the foods it is consumed with. 

I would not say that consumption with protein and fats makes the GI completely irrelevant though, but it will affect the digestion speed, making it less so.  Also, adding a small serving of a green vegetable such as broccoli to white rice can cancel out the difference in fiber and further render the GI difference between the two types of rice less important.

Also, there are different types of white rice and brown rice!  Even when using GI as a marker for the type of rice you choose to include in your diet, what is even more important than the color is whether the rice is long grain or short grain.  Short grain rices have a much higher GI than long grain rices IRRESPECTIVE of the color of the rice! 

Yes, there are still more factors to consider – the way the rice is processed and cooked, etc., will also affect it’s GI rating, but generally a brown short grain rice will have a much higher GI than white long grain rice. In fact, there is little difference in the GI rating between brown long grain rice and white long grain rice. In my opinion, if you are looking for the slowest digestion speed you can get from your rice, look to include brown long grain rice with additional vegetables to further increase the fiber.   

At the other end of the scale, aromatic white rices such as Jasmine rice register very high on the GI scale and therefore, these may make a great choice to include post-workout and, presuming you are including a lean protein source anyway with your post-workout meal, avoid additional fats and fiber if you are looking for that rapidly-absorbed carbohydrate source, insulin spike and speedy glycogen replenishment.

I mentioned how the vast majority of micronutrients found in rice are found in the bran which is only preserved in brown rice, well the downside of this is that the bran also includes many anti-nutrients that will inhibit the absorption of other nutrients.  Phytic acid, for example, binds with magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium preventing their absorption in the gut. 

Phytic acid may offer some benefits to the body, though, as it contains anti-oxidant properties and may aid in blood sugar regulation so as long as those nutrients are being consumed in adequate amounts from other sources and meals where they will be absorbed. If that’s the case, then including some phytic acid in the diet may not be a bad idea.  But all things considered, the micro-nutrient content of brown rice should not form the basis of your decision to include it as the preferred choice in your diet.

Brown rice does tend to be harder to consume in large quantities and due to the speed of digestion may keep you feeling fuller for longer.  For this reason, coupled with years of experience of using different varieties, I personally like to use brown long grain rice with many clients when dieting.  But, the anti-nutrient content may cause some adverse effects – some people may experience digestive issues and bloating when consuming brown rice and may not simply feel as good with it as a staple in their diet.  In these cases, or even if you are just not a fan of the taste of brown long grain rice, white long grain or basmati rice with a serving of vegetables as needed may serve as better options.

 

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