With the increase in popularity of low-carb diets, rice is getting a bad rep. It has been vilified and associated with causing type-2 diabetes. But is rice really bad for your health? In this article, I want to show how you can improve your health while eating rice.
Rice is a global food. It’s the primary dietary staple for more than half the global population. A whopping 6 out of 10 people in the world eat rice every day!
And with more than 40’000 (yep, 40k!) rice varieties and its prominence in almost all world cuisines, there’s hardly any other food that can match the variety and the taste of rice.
Yet, it’s also one of the most vilified foods among low-carb dieters.
Is this vilification justified? What’s the truth behind the accusation? And can we eat rice and also improve our health?
Time to uncover the facts.
Sifting Through Classical Texts: Rice as Medicine
The Yellow Emperor’s Classic is the oldest medical text in the world. This 3’000 year old book is the fundamental Chinese medical guide.
This classic text holds that food therapy is key to treating any disease and it prescribes a ten-day rice gruel fast as the first remedy for disease.
Wait, before you run to the supermarket to buy bags of rice to use it as medicine, you first need to know what type of rice they used as medicine. It wasn’t the low quality, nutrient-poor, low fibre white rice you eat. Rather, the rice they used in medicine was indigenous, whole-grain, and unpolished brown (and red) rice.
And that’s may be the best place to start our conversation.
White Rice vs. Brown (or any other colour) Rice
Now, is all rice created equal? Nope. That’s because the processing of rice plays a major role in defining its healthfulness.
When the outermost layer, called hull, of a whole grain of rice is removed, you get beneficial brown (or red) rice.
The white rice you get in the marker is a result of further processing this brown rice. Two of the most important parts of whole grains are removed through processing:
- The bran of the grain is removed, where most of the fibre, minerals and vitamin B are found
- The germ is removed, where healthy fats and other vitamins and minerals are found
So the white rice you eat is high in starchy carb, but low in quality, nutrients and fibre.
But the story doesn’t end with the lack of fibre and nutrients in white rice. When you eat this highly processed white rice, it’s digested and absorbed quickly, causing your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly and to spike your insulin level. And that in return leads to hunger spikes and could put you at risk of weight gain as well.
So, it’s not surprising why higher intake of white rice is associated with increased type-2 diabetes. In this meta-analysis, researchers found that “higher white rice intake is associated with a significantly elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, especially among Asian populations”.
And on the other hand, researchers found in an observational study that “replacing white rice and other refined grains with whole grains, including brown rice, would help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.”
And this makes sense. In His Ultimate Wisdom, Allah subuhanawuta’la created whole grains with lots of fibre, because fibre does work as an antidote to simple starchy carbs. While starchy carbs increase your insulin level rapidly, it’s the fibre in the whole grain that lessons the insulin response. (As a general rule, too often, too long excess insulin secretion could lead to obesity)
Apart from fibre, brown rice is rich in nutrients and minerals your body needs. Check this short comparison between these two rice varieties and see why brown rice (or any other whole grain rice) is superior:
How to Make Eating Rice Healthy for You
Now, does it mean, you should abandon white rice for the rest of your life? No, not at all.
White Rice, with all its variety and taste, isn’t inherently bad for you. It all depends on your health goal (e.g. lose weight and gaining weight), the serving size and your lifestyle.
- If you are in the process of getting bigger (and building more muscle), white rice can be helpful.
- On the other hand, if you are trying to lose weight, eating too much of it will hamper your progress of getting lean.
- So, if most of your calories come solely from white rice, then eating this type of rice is a health problem.
- And, if you are pre-diabetic or diabetic patient, then white rice isn’t ideal food for you.
So most foods aren’t good or bad; it all depends on what your goal and lifestyle is.
Here are some steps, from easiest to most challenging, that you can take to modify your rice intake.
Step 2: Drink 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in 4 tablespoons of water, 5 minutes before your rice (or any other starchy carb-rich) meal. As mentioned in this article, vinegar helps to lower blood sugar level up to 34%.
Step 3: Eat white rice in moderation. That’s around ½ to 1 cup (i.e. 250 ml cup) of cooked rice. Again, it all depends on the body size, gender, your health goal and your lifestyle.
Step 4: Eat your rice (white or whole grain) with protein, some healthy fats and lots of vegetables. This will blunt the blood sugar response much better than if you sat down to a lonely, huge plate of rice.
Step 5: Eat rice and any other starchy carbs only in the hour or two after intense exercise. Even this small shift in your diet will help you lose some fat and gain some muscle.
Step 6: Eliminate rice and starchy carbs entirely, especially if you are obese and have a dangerous level of belly fat. Instead, replace rice and starchy carbs with lots of vegetables, and make sure you have a good intake of lean protein and healthy fats.
If you are already in step 1, work towards step 2 and if you are already practising step 2, work towards step 3. It’s about bringing small lifestyle changes one step at a time.
Small Steps Lead to Major Changes
Attempting to overhaul your life all at once will only lead you to throw in the towel and worsen your health. So, start strong by slowly incorporating these steps into your lifestyle.