White, Brown, Basmati – The Many Avatars of Rice

Rice comes in several colours, strains, and varieties: white, brown, red, even black. However, whatever the colour, rice is the seed grain of a species of grass, Oryza sativa.


The nutritive value of rice depends on the soil where it is grown and the polishing process. However, generally speaking, rice is mainly made of carbohydrate- starch- which constitutes 90% of the dry weight and 87% of the caloric content.

Rice also contains minerals like manganese, selenium, phosphorous, magnesium, iron and copper and vitamins like thiamine (B1), niacin (B3). It also contains dietary fibre and small amounts of essential fatty acids.

Popular white

The highly polished white rice is the most common and popular variety of rice consumed, especially where it is a staple as in Southeast Asia (including India), the Middle East, and the Far East.

Rice grain is made ready for consumption by removing the husk. It is then polished by removing the bran and the germ. This improves the taste and ‘the look’ but leads to a loss of the vitamins and fatty acids present in the whole grain. What remains is the starchy endosperm.

Starch is of two types: amylose and amylopectin.

Rice such as Basmati, high in amylose, is long grained and does not stick together. Amylose is also resistant starch- healthy fibre. It slows the digestion of starch and prevents blood sugar spikes. It is beneficial to gut bacteria which aid digestion. It also facilitates the formation of fatty acids like butyrate which are said to improve colon health.

Amylopectin is usually found in strains of short grain rice, and its presence is characterised by stickiness on cooking. This starch is highly digestible and not advisable in diabetic diets.

In general, though white rice is of many types and strains, it is mostly starch and is best eaten in limited quantities.

Basmati, the queen of fragrance

This long, slender, fragrant grain is so special that patent wars have been and are being fought over its production. The word ‘Basmati’ itself means ‘fragrant’ in Hindi.

Nutrition-wise, it is no different from any other polished white rice. Yes, it contains amylose as its starchy constituent, and that’s the reason the pulaos and biryanis that are cooked with Basmati have beautiful, separate, long grains giving off the most delectable smells. Compared to the short grained rice varieties, Basmati has the better kind of starch.

Basmati is also more expensive than other rice strains. This fact makes it prone to adulteration. Buy a trusted brand which will give you the best value for money.

Going brown

When only the inedible outer husk of the rice grain is removed, you get brown rice. This is a whole grain with ALL its nutrients – minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, and starch- intact.

There are many benefits to eating brown rice:

It has a low glycemic index, yet is nutrition dense being filled with essential vitamins, minerals, and fibre. This makes it a better choice over white rice for diabetics.

Brown rice is rich in selenium. It is also good for maintaining a healthy cholesterol profile because it contains essential fatty acids. Brown rice, thus, benefits the heart.

Brown rice is full of fibre and is slow to digest. It makes you feel fuller for a longer time, and that’s why it’s an important part of a weight-loss diet. It is also a good digestive aid, preventing constipation and colitis with its higher fibre content.

You get brown Basmati rice too. Choose a good brand and go ahead with all the dishes that you make with the white version.

Brown rice stays fresh for approximately six months. If you are slow to use up your supply, refrigerate it.

Germinated brown rice: seeds of health

This is unpolished brown rice which has been allowed to germinate. Experts recommend soaking brown rice for 4 to 20 hours in warm water (30-40 °C). It can also be soaked for longer hours in cooler water. This activates the germ in brown rice and increases the levels of essential amino acids like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Soaking brown rice reduces its chewiness and makes it softer and tastier to eat. Remember to discard the water from the soaked rice and cook in fresh water to avoid the smell that develops on soaking grains.

Germinated brown rice adds to the health benefits of eating brown rice.

GABA is good for preventing neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Investigations have pointed out that postpartum depression, mood swings, and psychosomatic health of lactating mothers are benefitted if germinated brown rice is included in their diets.

Brown rice is better that white. It’s just a matter of getting used to the chewiness.

What to eat, what to eat?

There is a whole lot of speculation, tons of advice and innumerable diet fads doing the rounds these days. All of it is supposed to boost health and well-being.

Don’t be misled by the ‘no carbs!’ chant. Carbohydrates are essential to a balanced diet. EXCESS carbohydrates are not.

Healthfulness has to be a way of life. Cannot eat this, do not eat that, must not… rules and principles have to be sustainable and integrated into one’s life. The middle path of ‘no fasting, no feasting’ is advisable because it is sustainable UNLESS there is a health reason, like diabetes for instance, that bans certain foods.

Also, not all of good health is in what you eat: regular exercise and rest are the other two companions. A positive attitude goes a long way too.

We eat because it is a pleasure. ‘No white rice,’ if not acceptable, is better replaced with ‘limited amounts a few times a week’.

The MUST-DO, however, is to adopt the organic way which shuns the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture.

What health benefit will you really enjoy if everything is tainted with a dusting and residues of poisonous substances? This is like taking one step forward and two steps backward, with all the benefits being negated by the harm that chemicals cause from allergies to cancers.

What life are we to look forward to when we are busy ruining the very earth that sustains us by destroying the environment and upsetting ecological balances?

THINK! Go organic.

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