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What’s really going on with white rice (and how much should we care)

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“A classic food” of Spanish cuisine “with a reputation for being healthy” that in reality “is harmful to the pancreas.” In recent days, a study on the relationship between diabetes and the type of rice we eat (White or brown) has had a huge media coverage. And, the truth, it rains on wet. Over the last few years, we have heard a lot of negative things about eating rice. So we have asked ourselves, what about one of the most produced and consumed cereals in the world?

What really is white rice? From the outset, and although it may seem counterintuitive, it is a fairly processed product. If we think about it for a second, a grain of rice is made up of the hull, the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Brown rice only has the hard outer shell removed, but white rice has everything removed, leaving only the endosperm.

That already gives us a clue as to what is going on here: by producing white rice we are keeping the carbohydrates and discarding the fiber (from the bran) and the nutrients (from the germ). Why do we do it? Why do we “empty” the rice? Essentially, because this improves the flavor, makes cooking easier and, above all, extends its shelf life. That is, it is preserved, stored and maintained better. And that, until a couple of decades ago, was the winning argument.

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Things have changed. What happens is that, today, this argument loses weight and the possible problems related to its consumption begin to be seen in a different way. For this reason, for years we have heard that the consumption of white rice (due to its higher glycemic index) could be related to an increased risk of diabetes, with an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome or that its arsenic levels are very high.

A problem, yes…. The latter, the arsenic, affects the integral more than the white because it tends to accumulate in the bran and it is something that is being worked on (and a lot) from the European Union. However, it is a good sample of what we usually read in the press about rice consumption and its associated problems. A media treatment that ends up generating an introduction of foods derived from rice (such as drinks or pancakes) in children under six years of age and that in pregnant women the use of enriched white rice may be recommended; but, in the general population, moderate consumption of rice (whether white or brown) does not present any problem.

Is it better to eat brown rice? Nutritionally and in general terms, yes. Above all, because in increasingly ultra-processed diets, keeping our glycemic response under control is a good long-term strategy. However, that goes far beyond the type of rice we eat. And it is that, whenever we talk about a food in isolation, we run the risk of not seeing our diet as an integrated whole where each piece plays its part. If we do not think at a general level, we are shooting in the dark.

Image | Pierre Bamine

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