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Rice- which one is the healthiest option?

Anastasia Loeffen
bowl of rice

We all eat it, but are some types better than others?

I don’t think I’ve ever gone a week without eating rice, in fact it’s a staple for more than half the world’s population.

I always had an idea that brown rice would be better than white but never really confirmed this or knew how much better it was.

Rice is a grain – the seed of a rice plant.  Each unpolished grain has a protective husk called the bran, and a germ, from which a young seedling grows.

Rice can be classified in several ways:

Wholegrain or polished: black or brown rice are whole grains with bran and germ intact, while white versions have these removed.  Because the bran and the germ are rich in nutrients; black, brown or wild rice are superior nutritionally to white rice, which is little more than pure starch. 

Grain shape: long, medium or short grain. 

Variety: basmati, jasmine and Arborio are common examples, each with unique characteristics.  Brown versions of these are best nutritionally but white basmati deserves a mention because it is much slower to digest than the other white rice varieties. Being less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar, it the best white rice for people with diabetes or those watching their weight. 

 

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Comparison of three commonly purchased varieties – white long grain, basmati and brown.

Brown Rice

A whole grain with bran and germ intact, it is richer nutritionally than white rice. Its fibre content means it is slow to digest, fills us for longer and maintains even blood sugar levels.

The nutty flavour and chewy texture make it popular with many, the only downside being the longer cooking time. It’s slightly more expensive than white long grain, but the significantly better nutrition is worth the additional cost.

Overall rating: Best – least processed, richest in nutrients and promotes even blood sugar.

Basmati Rice

Basmati has a distinct advantage when compared to other white rice varieties; it is slow to digest, similar to brown/black varieties. This is because it has proportionately more of a type of starch that is difficult to digest.

While lacking the B vitamins, minerals and fibre for brown/black rice, the better effect on blood sugar means it is the only white rice that people with diabetes or above a healthy weight should consider.

Overall rating: Second – not as rich in vitamins and minerals as brown, but slower digestion than other white varieties.

Long Grain White Rice

Little more than pure starch, this rice is quickly digested and absorbed. While it can be useful as a "filler" or sports recovery food for active people, it is not a good choice for people with diabetes or those above a healthy weight. This is because its speedy digestion and absorption can play havoc with blood sugar levels.

Overall rating: Third – little nutrient value, can promote blood sugar swings.

Bottom line: Choose brown or black rice most of the time. If using white rice, basmati is the best choice.