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Like many baby boomers, I grew up on white rice — at home, in restaurants, at the school cafeteria. And since I saw it as a backdrop to whatever was ladled on top, I never thought twice about its nutritional value, besides being starchy and filling.
These days, I always consider what I consume, which is why, when it comes to rice, I only eat the whole-grain version: brown rice.
While white rice certainly has some nutritional merit — as it’s enriched with some of the nutrients it loses in the milling process, like thiamine, folate, and iron — it pales in comparison to its tawny cousin.
Brown rice, which hasn’t been stripped of its husk, bran and germ, is a good source of fiber, providing about 3.5 grams of fiber per cup (comparable to oatmeal).
Current research shows fewer incidents of heart disease, diabetes and cancer in people who eat diets high in fiber. What’s more, people who eat more high-fiber foods tend to be thinner than those who don’t and also have lower blood pressure and cholesterol counts.
Health-promoting antioxidants, which abound in the bran portion of a whole grain and help thwart the damage caused by free radicals, reign supreme in brown rice.
According to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, abundant evidence suggests that eating whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — all rich in antioxidants — provides protection against cell-damaging free radicals that contribute to many chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and vision loss.
Brown rice is an outstanding source of manganese, an essential mineral that plays an important role in bone health, energy production, nutrient absorption and blood-sugar regulation. A powerhouse antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, manganese is a widely known remedy for the treatment of sprains and arthritic symptoms, despite no reliable evidence as yet to indicate that it actually helps.
Can you eat rice if you’re watching your carbs or have diabetes? Although no rice can really be considered a low-carb food (one cup of cooked brown rice has about 45 grams), whole-grain brown rice is healthier than refined white rice. Thanks to its fiber and protein, which both slow the absorption of glucose into the blood, brown rice contributes to more stable blood sugar levels. Switching to brown rice may also lower your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study.
All rice is contaminated with inorganic arsenic (a carcinogen), whether brown, white, organic or conventional. Brown rice has the most, however, which is something to consider if arsenic concerns you. While the Food and Drug Administration has set a limit on the amount of inorganic arsenic allowed in infant rice cereal, they have not set a limit on the amount of rice adults should eat, recommending instead that adults maintain a diet that includes a variety of whole grains to minimize any health risk. Many experts agree that the levels of arsenic in rice are only a concern if you’re eating multiple servings of rice every day.
Brown Rice Salad with Crunchy Vegetables
Adapted from the Naked Food cookbook; serves 6
2 cups brown rice
4-5 scallions, thinly sliced, including light green parts
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1-2 carrots, shredded
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Crumbled feta (optional)
coarse black pepper and salt, to taste.
Place the rice into a sieve and rinse under cold running water; drain. Put rice and 4 cups of water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
For the dressing, put all the ingredients into a glass jar and shake well to combine.
Combine the cooled rice and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add the dressing and mix well. Let stand for at least 15 minutes for the rice to absorb all the flavors. Taste; adjust seasonings; add more oil, if needed.
Those concerned about arsenic levels should (1) first rinse their rice; (2) cook their rice in six times the normal amount of water, which reduces the arsenic level by about half, according to the FDA; and (3) buy brown basmati rice from California, India or Pakistan, according to Consumer Reports. Store uncooked brown rice in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container: brown rice should last 6 months in the fridge and up to 2 years in the freezer. Store cooked brown rice in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.