By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
A major part of promoting your long-term wellness is eating right—specifically, eating the Pan Asian Modified Mediterranean (PAMM) diet. And a major part of PAMM is eating low-glycemic carbohydrates.
Focusing on low-glycemic carbs is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. It reduces the amount of sugar you consume, which means your body releases less insulin—a factor that helps drive inflammation and disease.
Most of the food choices involved in making the switch to low-glycemic carbs are easy. Cookies, candy, cake (desserts in general, I’m sorry to say), and most processed foods, for example, are no-brainers. They shouldn’t be within 100 yards of your dinner table!
Some foods are trickier, though—like rice.
On one hand, it’s routinely eaten in the Pacific, so it seems like it should be part of the PAMM menu. On the other, it’s a processed carbohydrate. Is it a yes or a no? And if it’s a yes, should you eat brown rice or white rice? Or is there even much of a difference?
Let’s take a closer look at how to handle this food…
Is Rice Healthy?
First things first: Is rice healthy in the first place? Should you eat it at all?
Here I take much the same position as I do with pasta. It’s okay to eat rice in small portions, and it’s best to eat it in its least processed form. In this case, that means brown rice only.
White vs. Brown Rice Nutrition
Brown rice is a whole grain that contains both the bran and the germ, which provide both dietary fiber and a number of vitamins and minerals. The extra fiber and protein in the bran and germ also help lower the glycemic index of brown rice, although not enough for me to green light eating as much as you want.
White rice actually starts out as brown rice, but it’s milled and polished to remove the bran and germ. Unfortunately, this process also strips away a lot of its essential nutrients—that’s why you often see white rice that’s “enriched.” Some of those nutrients are added back in before packaging.
Brown rice tends to be higher in sodium, and it has significant amounts of some trace minerals, including manganese, selenium, and magnesium. White rice is likely to contain more calcium, folate, and iron, but that’s because of the enrichment process.
Brown Rice for Healthy Blood Sugar and Less Inflammation
Like other whole grain foods, moderate amounts of brown rice can help you promote healthy cholesterol ratios, head off heart disease, and balance your insulin levels. How? Fiber.
To start, fiber slows digestion. It takes your body longer to break down fiber, so it’s not as quickly absorbed as other carbohydrates. As a result, it can help you feel fuller longer, and it can help prevent sharp spikes in your insulin level. This has the overall effect of helping to prevent inflammation, the primary cause of heart disease and other chronic, progressive diseases.
The ability of brown rice to keep blood sugar and insulin levels on an even keel has another big benefit, too. Replacing just one-third of a daily serving of white rice with brown rice could cut your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 16 percent!
Brown Rice for a Happier Gut
Another reason I love fiber is for how it helps the gut.
In addition to keeping things “moving,” fiber is a primary food source for the good bacteria in the GI tract. The more of it you consume, the more they consume and the stronger and healthier your microbiome becomes.
Science has only scratched the surface of understanding the ways gut bacteria influence our health. But I can tell you that keeping them healthy is linked with better immunity, improved digestion, mood, and weight management, among other benefits.
Brown Rice to Prevent Heart Disease
I mentioned earlier that brown rice is higher in some key trace minerals, including selenium, manganese, and magnesium. These are key nutrients for keeping your heart in good working order—especially magnesium.
The body uses magnesium to help regulate your heartbeat, dilate your arteries, and create the energy your heart needs to beat reliably and efficiently.
Finally, the fiber in brown rice can also help keep your cholesterol ratios balanced. Normally I’m not a “cholesterol watcher,” but if your LDL number is high, adding fiber to your diet can help bring it back down.
Cooking With Brown Rice
You can replace white rice with brown rice in just about any dish to bring more nutrition to the table. Here’s a quick rundown of some tasty, heart-healthy brown rice recipes from around the web that reflect the principles of my PAMM diet:
- My own Spicy Shrimp N Rice combines brown rice with low-fat shrimp and lots of spices including red curry paste. Vegetable broth adds flavor and the nutrients of antioxidant and heart-healthy vegetables for a quick, nutritious meal.
- Salmon Sushi Buddha Roll from Eating Well blends brown rice with salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and lean protein, in a blend of Asian spices including soy sauce and tamari. Top with veggies for more nutrients.
- Also from Eating Well, Bean and Veggie Taco Bowls take a Mexican food staple and make it vegetarian, lower fat, and healthier for the heart with brown rice and black beans. The combination of beans are a great source of protein. Spice it up with my Vervana Mexican Seasoning Blend for more flavor.
- From Food and Wine, Herbed Brown Rice Salad With Corn, Fava Beans and Peas blends long grain brown rice with legumes and spices. Drizzle one of Vervana’s flavored olive oils on top for added flavor.
- Mediterranean Brown Rice Salad from AllRecipes combines several of my favorites—olives, onions, and balsamic vinegar—with brown rice, feta cheese, and vegetables. This recipe makes a heart-healthy salad that could be a meal in itself. Add a Mediterranean or Tuscan spice blend from my collection for a flavor boost.
- From SparkPeople, Chicken Stir Fry With Vegetables and Brown Rice is a healthy take on traditional Asian stir-fry with lean protein, plenty of veggies and whole grain brown rice instead of white. Make it spicy with a seasoned olive oil or pepper blend.
The bottom line? In the question of brown rice vs. white rice, brown rice is the clear winner —a whole grain packed with fiber, vitamins, and some essential minerals. Enjoy brown rice nutrition in moderation as part of a balanced, heart-friendly diet.
- Harvard University TH Chan School of Public Health. Replacing white rice with brown rice may reduce diabetes risk. 14 June 2010. Accessed December 12, 2017.
- Mohan V, et al. Effect of brown rice, white rice and brown rice with legumes on blood glucose in overweight Asian Indians: a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Technol Ther. 2014 May 1; 16(5): 317–325.
- Ware, M. Which is better for you: Brown rice or white rice? Medical News Today. 24 Oct 2017. Accessed December 12, 2017.
- Whelan, C. Brown rice vs. white rice: Which is better for you? Healthline. 10 July 2017. Accessed December 12, 2017.
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