In Thailand, asking “Gin kao rue yang” or “Have you eaten your rice?” is the equivalent of “how are you?”. Rice is part of our culture, a part of our language and a significant part of our GDP! Even if dinner is a noodles or a western dish, we still say “eat rice” as in eating a meal.
But rice, especially white rice, has been given a bad name. Dieters believe the fastest way to lose weight is to avoid white rice. While fasting from rice altogether can be very effective, especially if rice is already a big part of your total calorie intake, this formula and way of living is not sustainable in the long run.
It is true that white rice contains glucose, a sugar, that can increase weight and increase your blood sugar in excess and causing fat storage if you eat it in excess and you live a sedentary life. Those with metabolic disorders like diabetes should certainly follow their doctor’s orders about their rice intake. Avoiding white rice entirely should not apply to you if you aren’t overweight, don’t live a sedentary life, eat poorly in general, or have a metabolic disorder.
Eat Rice for Your Brain
Both white rice and brown rice contain glucose, which is your body’s favorite source of energy for literally every cell in your body. Importantly, did you know that your brain is the most energy-demanding organ because it is so rich in nerve cells and neurons? It needs half of all the sugar energy in your body to function.
Glucose availability for your brain will affect functions like thinking, memory, and learning. “The brain is dependent on sugar as its main fuel,” says Vera Novak, MD, PhD, an HMS associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “It cannot be without it.”
If you starve your body and hence your brain of glucose, you will be negatively harming the effectiveness of your neurotransmitters which are vital in the communications between your neurons. When glucose levels drop below their optimal level, we will experience poor attention and cognitive function as well. This is why young students need an optimal serving of breakfast with some quality glucose from rice in the mornings before school. However, bear in mind the portion size. A breakfast that is too large could cause sluggishness and drowsiness as well because of excess insulin in the bloodstream. Finding that right balance is key. And I find that small Asian rice bowls are the perfect way to help with rice portion control.
Not limited to young students, older adults will benefit from a balanced amount of glucose. Low level of glucose availability for the brain could put one at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s. Read the study by Dr. Domenico Piratic a professor at the Center for Translational Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA – investigates more deeply the impact that glucose deprivation has on the brain.
Don’t be Hangry! Eat Rice for Your Mood
The mental symptoms associated with low blood sugar levels may include:
- feeling confused
- feeling anxious
- having difficulty making decisions
If you don’t have an underlying emotional issue, all of these physical symptoms can be fixed by having some rice and complex carbs. This is why a hot plate of beautiful fragrant Jasmine rice is the ultimate happy food for many! We all know what it’s like to be hangry (hungry + angry), so if you’re feeling drained at the end of the day and feeling moody when your kids get home, have a little bit of a carbohydrate like a fruit to pre-empt the moodiness that could be easily triggered by the kids dropping their backpacks and socks at the front of the door…again!
Fuel for Your Muscles
White rice is preferred for sports nutrition as it’s is most readily available for muscle repair and recovery and glycogen replenishment. Furthermore, adequate intake of carbs with protein actually helps protein absorption for building muscle mass and strength in post-training as well.
If you know you have a heavy day of strength training, plan to have breakfast and some carbs an hour or so before. Without that fuel, you will be putting yourself at a disadvantage that would effect the effort you put into your workout, affect your form while performing quality reps and overall mood. You could even risk injury if you’re trying to push your way through the last few reps with bad form.
Which Rice? White Rice or Brown Rice?
What’s the difference between the two and why am I led to believe that brown rice is healthier?
Brown rice has all the layers of its natural grain in tact which is why is it called a whole grain. The three parts of the grain are the outer bran layer, the germ at the core, and the endosperm which is he starchy middle layer.
White rice is brown rice refined where the bran and the germ are removed leaving the endospore. This removes some nutrients and much of the fiber. And this lowered level of fiber is the reason that we are told we should choose brown over white. However, it the large context of your daily meals, you can easily add fiber and nutrients to your diet from a wide range of options. What’s really interesting is that brown rice actually contains certain anti-nutrients that are molecules that undermine its nutritional advantage because these molecules actually inhibit the absorption of the micronutrients from the rice. An example of an anti-nutrient in brown rice is physic acid a.k.a. phytate which inhibits the absorption of zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
A study conducted at Osaka City University explains that brown rice decreased the digestibility of protein and fats while white rice didn’t. Phytates can also reduce protein bioavailability and impair the function of some digestive enzymes. So looking at the big picture of your meals, consuming a healthy portion of white rice to complement your protein and good fat sources sounds like the better option to reach your macronutrient goals.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
White rice is good for you as part of balanced meal planning. You can get too much of good white rice. So portion size is key. If you look at your lunch plate as a pie chart, the rice should take up only 25% or one-fourth of the plate, half of your plate would be vegetables and vegetables, and the last fourth of your plate should be a protein.
It’s also good to keep in mind that you don’t need to eat the same amount of rice or carbohydrates everyday. This can change based on your activity level. This is called carb-cycling. The principle is that you adjust your carb consumption based on each day’s activity level. For example, if you you have a heavy lifting day or intense exercise day, then you will want to consume more carbs. If you are spending most of your day in a seminar or sitting at your desk for most of your day, then you would want to limit your calories and carbs especially the simple carbs, because your body is neither needing as much nor as immediately as on days when you are exercising.
Other Options for Good Carbs?
If you want to take a break from rice, choose other carbs that have low to medium glycemic load. Glycemic load tells you how the food fast the food causes a rise in your blood sugar taking into consideration the serving size. Complex carbs because of their fiber content temper the sugar to rise gradually and prevent you from having a sugar crash.
What are some good options of nutrient-dense and fibrous options?
- whole-grain breads
- low sugar and fibrous fruits
- starches and vegetables, like legumes, potatoes, corn, squash, zucchini, eggplants
If you’ve been depriving yourself of rice, it’s time to welcome it back to your life with joy! It’s good for your brain, mood, and even muscles too.
- Edwards, Scott. “Sugar and the Brain.” Harvard Medical School, https://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/sugar-and-brain. Accessed 14 March 2019
- Lauretti E. et al. “Glucose deficit triggers tau pathology and synaptic dysfunction in a tauopathy mouse model.” Nature International Journal of Science, https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2016296. Accessed 14 March 2019
- Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System. “Get Off the Blood Glucose Roller Coaster.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/diabetes/diabetes_education/patient_education_material/get_off_the_blood_glucose_rollercoaster.pdf . Accessed 14 March 2019
- McQuillan, Susan, MS, RDN, CDN .”Diabetes Diet: The Best Way to Eat for Type 2 Diabetes.” Endocrine Web. https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/diabetes/diabetes-diet-best-way-eat-type-2-diabetes . Accessed 14 March 2019
- Annamalai Manickavasagan, Chandini Santhakumar, N. Venkatachalapathy. Brown Rice. Springer, 2017
- Leal, Darla. “The Reason Athletes Eat White Rice Instead of Brown.” Very Well Fit. https://www.verywellfit.com/lifters-still-choose-white-rice-over-brown-3121319 . Accessed 14 March 2019
- Schlemmer, Ulrich, and Frølich, Wenchel and Prieto, Rafel M. and Grases, Felix. “Phytate in foods and significance for humans: Food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis.” Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/mnfr.200900099. Accessed 14 March 2019