I had a great question the other day asking about what is better, white rice or brown rice? There is no clear winner but here is some information to consider when making the choice.
Brown rice contains phytates which are maligned as something to avoid at all costs. Phytates are phytonutrients found in higher amounts in brown rice (vs. white) because brown rice hasn’t been stripped of the bran and the germ like white rice has. This also means because of this ‘stripping’ brown rice has more nutrients overall including fiber and other micronutrients. Phytates can block the absorption of some micronutrients (iron, zinc, and manganese), though because such small amounts get blocked it is not an issue for individuals with balanced, varied diets. Soaking grains and cooking helps remove some of the phytates as well. Keep in mind what gets missed is that phytates also have some health benefits to them – they are a source of anti-oxidants which can lower inflammation in the body and and have been shown to lower the glycemic load of a meal. Brown rice is higher overall in nutrients as well as fiber, and compared with white rice reduces risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Brown rice is also slightly higher in arsenic, which in large quantities could be concerning. We know that soaking grains for ~ 3 hours and then rinsing them helps remove some of the arsenic, and then cooking rice in a large pot of water and then rinsing after cooking removes additional arsenic. Overall, I recommend not making rice your sole source of whole grain and choosing grains like barley, quinoa, and farro to mix it up. This helps avoid the issue altogether. If you’re only consuming rice a couple of times a week (1-3 times) than the arsenic levels shouldn’t be that much of an issue (assuming you’re taking the steps mentioned above to reduce arsenic levels), and in that case I think the benefits of brown rice are greater than those of white rice. That being said, white rice is not the evil it is sometimes make out to be, and especially basmati white rice is shown to have a low glycemic index and lower arsenic levels, so if you do chose white, I would go with basmati.
Once again nutrition is not as black and white as we’d like it to be (wouldn’t that make it so much easier?!) but the benefit of this is that it allows us to mix it up (eating both brown and white rice, for example) without the fear that there is only one way to approach it.
Here’s my favorite barley salad recipe, it’s great because you can make it ahead and have for a couple of days for lunch topped with some grilled chicken or salmon: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/barley-and-kale-salad-with-golden-beets-and-feta. Tip on roasting beets: I just scrub and trim them, rub a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper over them, cover individually in tinfoil, place on a baking sheet and roast at 425 degrees for ~1 hour 15 minutes (maybe longer if they’re big – feel for softness). Remove tinfoil, let cool slightly, and the peel rubs off magically with a paper towel. I then cube them into 1″ pieces, and throw in a tupperware with maybe a little more olive oil, salt, pepper, and splash of balsamic vinegar. I keep these in the fridge during the week to throw on salads or just eat plain.
Beets are a great source of fiber, folate, potassium, copper, vitamin C, and yes, inorganic nitrates, which get converted to nitrites and eventually nitric oxide which has a whole host of benefits to exercise and performance. Double win.