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In Praise of Brown Rice
I was talking about rice with a chef friend recently and the subject of how much I like risotto came up. This led to the discussion of white rice vs. brown rice and the health benefits of the latter. I had mentioned that the one place that I still use white rice is in risottos.

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Back in 2011 I told you about a group of studies that compared different food presentations on how much people liked the food (Bite, 9/21/11). One study compared "balanced" and "unbalanced" presentations, a second compared "neat" to "messy," and a third had the subjects just look at pictures of the food used in the two previous studies, without actually tasting the food. They found that more balanced, neater presentations of such simple meals as hummus and vegetables or chicken salad were perceived to taste better.


 

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More Brown, Less White



White rice is essentially brown rice that has been processed to remove the outer bran and germ parts of the rice. This is why brown rice is considered a "whole grain" and white rice is not. There's a lot of research showing that eating more whole grains can help you reduce your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and overweight. One of the reasons for this appears to be that eating refined grains leads to a higher spike in blood sugars than eating whole grains. This higher response is measured using a system known as the glycemic index (GI), and a higher-GI diet has been shown in many studies to be linked with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

We don't eat all that much brown rice here in the United States, although if you've been following Dr. Gourmet for a while, you know that I recommend switching from white rice to brown rice as well as from plain pasta to whole wheat pasta. Researchers at Harvard Medical School noted that our rice consumption is rising, however, and decided to look specifically at brown vs. white rice with regard to the risk of type 2 diabetes (Arch Intern Med 2010;170(11): 961-969).

They made use of data collected in three large prospective studies that altogether included over 197,000 men and women who filled out detailed dietary and lifestyle questionnaires every four years. The three studies lasted between 14 and 22 years.

The researchers assessed the amount of brown and white rice each participant indicated they ate and grouped the participants into 5 categories of consumption: less than 1 serving per month, 1-3 servings per month, 1 serving per week, 2-4 servings per week, and 5 or more servings per week. They then looked at those who developed type 2 diabetes over the course of the study and compared their brown and white rice intake with the intake of those who did not develop type 2 diabetes. In their analysis, the researchers took into account other dietary and lifestyle items that might contribute to the risk of type 2 diabetes, including how much red meat a participant ate, how much coffee they drank, their overall caloric consumption and other whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

After adjusting for all of those as well as other factors such as age and ethnicity, they discovered that those who ate 5 or more servings of white rice per week were about 17% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate less than 1 serving per month.

On the other hand, those who ate 5 or more servings of brown rice per week were 11% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate less 1 serving per month. Replacing 50 grams of white rice per day with 50 grams of brown rice seemed to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 10%.

What this means for you

As I mentioned above, we here in the US don't eat a lot of rice, period, and this was true for those in the three studies analyzed here. What's particularly interesting is that switching from white rice to brown for just one serving per day seemed to have a statistically significant effect on your risk of developing diabetes. Even more interesting is that substituting 50 grams of ANY whole grains for 50 grams of white rice had an even stronger effect: a 24% reduction in risk.

Try some brown rice recipes and find out how delicious eating whole grains can be:

Main Course Recipes

Stuffed Peppers | Coumadin Safe Version - Just like Mom used to make!
Cashew Chicken - Shrimp Fried Rice - Healthy Chinese food in the time it takes you to drive to the take-out place.
Potage a la Florentine - A delicous Spring soup with lots of veggies and brown rice.
Salmon in Parchment with Mangoes - Cooking in parchment or foil makes for easy cleanup. Use this technique for all kinds of fish.
Red Beans and Rice - The Creole classic.

Side Dishes

Brown and Wild Rice - Wild rice has a great nutty flavor. A great combination with plain Brown Rice.
Savory Lemon Rice | Low Sodium Version - Lemon and garlic add zing to brown rice.
Cilantro Lime Rice - Goes particularly well with Asian or even Mexican foods.

First posted: June 16, 2010