Rice is, bar none, the most popular grain worldwide. This is mainly because it serves as a staple food for a large part of the world. But did you know that not all rice is equally healthful? The nutritional content of rice is determined by its type and origin as well as its potential level of arsenic contamination. Wait, did you just say arsenic?! Well, yes I did. But more about that distressing subject in a minute.
First, we will take a look at what makes rice nutritious. Rice is made up of three layers, the bran, endosperm, and germ. The germ is where all the nutritional goodness is because that’s where the health-building micronutrients live. When you see a rice product that is whole grain that means that it contains all three layers: the bran, endosperm, and germ. The color of whole grain rice is determined by its bran and that’s how you get brown, black, purple, and red rice. Now, wild rice is a close relation and also nutritious, but is technically not in the rice family.
Now, let’s look at how rice becomes not so nutritious. When you take brown rice and remove its bran and germ, it becomes white rice. White rice mainly came about because of convenience. You see, white rice has a longer shelf life and shorter cooking time, but the healthful goodness in the germ is missing in action. Oh, and the bran is, of course, gone too and that’s where the fiber is. So you end up with a nutritionally poor product and one to avoid!
If you haven’t tried the more colorful pigmented whole grain rice varieties, you are missing out. Red, black, and purple rice have been shown to have higher antioxidant activity compared to brown rice. And black rice takes the prize for the highest antioxidant levels of all rice varieties. So, get adventurous and try them all. It will be a delicious journey, I promise!
Now back to arsenic. Ugh! This is, unfortunately, the dark side of rice. Arsenic is naturally present in the earth’s crust and is a toxic element and is a human carcinogen. Consequently, it is found in soil and water. What’s even more unfortunate is that industrial pollution has caused increased concentration of arsenic in some areas. Oh, and did you know that arsenic-based drugs are used in poultry production? Yikes!
All plants will absorb some arsenic. But did you know that rice has the potential to absorb up to 10 times more? This is because rice is grown in flooded paddy fields which create conditions that allow arsenic to be more readily absorbable. Arsenic tends to accumulate the most in the outer layer (the bran) of rice and this is why whole grain rice can have up to 80 percent more arsenic than white rice.
Now before you go running for the white rice, here are some strategies to use that will help you to avoid getting too much arsenic exposure when eating whole grain rice:
Buy whole grain rice grown in areas known to have low arsenic levels
According to Consumer Reports, brown basmati rice from California, India or Pakistan has about a third of the inorganic arsenic as compared to other regions. It is advised to avoid eating ice grown in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and most other U.S. locations unless you have assurances from a rice producer that they work to keep arsenic levels low. You can check a company’s website, as some rice growers will conduct independent testing for arsenic. One such is Lundberg (they have amazing rice, yum!), CLICK HERE to read their statement. Keep in mind that even if it’s organically-farmed, that does not mean that there are lower arsenic levels.
Rinse the rice before cooking
This reduces arsenic content. You want to rinse the rice until the water becomes clear
Cook the rice with more water
The amount of arsenic in rice can be reduced by approximately 40 percent, as shown by research, if the rice is boiled in a large volume of water. Try to use a 1-to-6 cup rice-to-water ratio and then just drain off the excess water.
Don’t just eat rice, get a variety of healthy carbohydrates!
Eat beans, lentils and other legumes. How about some squash, carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabaga and turnips? Yum! And don’t forget about delicious whole grains like amaranth, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, millet, and quinoa. Go for variety in your diet and arsenic exposure from the occasional servings of rice will not be a big deal. Try substituting another grain for rice in a recipe. Quinoa, for example, can be used in most any recipe that calls for rice. To your good health!