OPEX CCP Nutrition Instructor Sean McGovern Tackles an Age Old Question
Rice continues to be a staple carbohydrate around the world particularly of those chasing fitness and health goals. Though there are dozens of different varieties of this starch the most popular continues to be white and brown rice. However, brown rice has won universal acclaim as being the ‘healthiest’ option to use by numerous health experts due to its high nutrient content in comparison to white rice. So should we all stop eating white rice and make the switch to brown rice?
Brown rice and white rice are really the same grain—the only difference being that white rice has been processed more to remove everything but the white endosperm portion of the grain. What’s left on brown rice is the bran and germ in addition to the inner endosperm. This leaves the grain looking brown which in our culture generally implies that is a healthy option.
As stated earlier, brown rice has a massive advantage over white rice due to its nutrient content. Brown rice contains more fiber and antioxidants as well as a lot more important vitamins and minerals. White rice is considered by to be a source of ‘empty’ calories due to the presence of very few essential nutrients. 100 Grams (3.5 Ounces) of cooked brown rice provides 1.8 grams of fiber whereas white rice only provides 0.4 grams of fiber at the same cooked amount.(1)
Unfortunately, brown rice is significantly higher in phytic acid and arsenic than white rice, which can both be harmful to human health if consumed in large quantities. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that can prevent the body from absorbing iron and zinc from a normal diet if consumed in large quantities. Arsenic is a toxic heavy metal that when consumed can increase your risks of chronic disease like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Clearly in this case, white rice is a significantly better option.(1)
However, white rice has a higher glycemic index in comparison to brown rice. This means that white rice is absorbed rapidly by the body when eaten which increases your blood sugar levels and spikes your insulin levels very quickly. Over consumption of white rice can make your body insulin resistant and lead to Type 2 Diabetes. However, brown rice is the exact opposite of white rice in this respect. Eating brown rice may help lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Brown rice has a lower glycemic index and may actually help control blood sugar levels.(1)
Despite the fact that it might appear that brown rice has the upper hand in most of the important categories regarding nutrition, it’s not that simple. Proper nutrition is not about trends it’s about meeting what your bodies demands as OPEX CCP Nutrition Instructor Sean McGovern explains, “food selection is always an n equals one situation. It’s always best to ignore what the market is telling you and focus on what you can control and what you know works best for you. There are pros and cons to choosing white or brown rice as your primary starch. White rice may be a perfectly acceptable option for an athlete who has digestive issues and is trying to eat cleaner. The primary reason being is that it is very easy to digest. However brown rice may be an excellent option for general fitness enthusiasts who don’t need a great deal of starches to support activity and have the ability and time to digest complex carbohydrates. Brown rice is also excellent in helping diabetics control their blood sugar levels and manage their condition.”
In other words, Sean McGovern wouldn’t go as far to name the best type of rice we should all be consuming. Instead, we should be moderating what we eat in accordance with our activity level and what our bodies need. While there is arsenic and anti-nutrients present in brown rice, they shouldn’t be a concern to your overall health if you are eating in a balanced fashion. A similar case can be made for white rice; Yes, white rice can spike your insulin, but it shouldn’t damage your health or make you diabetic if you are managing lifestyle factors and stress levels on top of your daily nutritional practices. Sean McGovern goes further, “Nutrition is more so a component of what the client needs and the overall goal of the nutrition. For example, an overweight client who needs help balancing blood sugar may not need any type of rice at all.”
Sean McGovern’s advice to us all? Experiment with the two rices or get a nutritional expert to determine which rice or starch will work best us. So eat your favorite type of rice in moderation and always balance your nutrition with your long term health and fitness goals.