This post is in response to a very interesting article published on CALdron – Chef At Large‘s print magazine. Fundamentally, brown rice is claimed to be this wonder food that helps prevent diabetes, reduce cholesterol and overall good health.
What this article is going to examine is the actual underlying science of brown vs white rice in layman terms and try to pull in actual research citations to back up its conclusions, all in common layman terms.
The fiber argument
Brown rice has 4 times as much fiber as white rice – therefore brown has an advantage over white rice.
Or does it ?
The fiber content of brown rice is 1.8 grams of fiber per 100 grams of rice (111 calories). White rice has 0.5 grams of fiber per 100 grams of rice (130 calories). Psyllium husk (Isabgol) has 77 grams of fiber in 100 grams with 200 calories. Conclusion – be very careful of advertising.
The cholesterol argument
Brown rice is claimed to have zero cholesterol. No arguments there – it actually has zero cholesterol !
But guess what – so does white rice, or potatoes or cauliflower.
The Harvard School of Public Health Study
One of the most common citations of this debate is a study performed at Harvard. The actual study is the below:
Substitution of whole grains, including brown rice, for white rice may lower risk of type 2 diabetes. These data support the recommendation that most carbohydrate intake should come from whole grains rather than refined grains to help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Here’s the problem with this study – it is not an experiment, but survey data collected from a number of subjects (39,765 men and 157,463 women). The second problem is to cite this study from its conclusions without reading it. If one actually reads through the actual study, here’s what one would find.
Men and women who had high white rice intake were less likely to have European ancestry or to smoke and more likely to have a family history of diabetes. In addition, high white rice intake was associated with high fruit and vegetable intake and low intake of whole grains, cereal fiber, and trans fat. In contrast, brown rice intake was not associated with ethnicity but with a more health-conscious lifestyle and dietary profile. For example, participants with higher brown rice intake were more physically active, leaner, less likely to smoke or have a family history of diabetes, and had higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and lower intake of red meat and trans fat. Both white rice and brown rice intake were positively associated with a higher glycemic load in all three cohorts.
What does it mean ? It means that they did not take a uniform set of people. The people who were studied for brown rice effects were ALREADY health conscious and that had a greater impact of their overall health. People who were eating white rice were ALREADY unhealthy and used to accompany it with lots fruits and vegetables rather than meat/protein… already leading to a diabetic combination.
This study does not tell you anything except that people who are eating white rice are people who dont read fitness articles.
Experimental study – impact of brown rice in women
Thus, a total of 40 participants, 35 non-menopausal over weight and obese female completed the study. The period and carry-over effects were checked and none of them were significant in this study.
No significant differences between the two diets were found regarding fat/lipid profiles and Fasting Blood Glucose. Diastole blood pressure level was significantly (P = 0.032) decreased after consuming brown rice diet compared with white rice diet. In the brown rice diet, inflammatory marker (hs-CRP) level decreased significantly in comparison with white rice diet. Weight changes were were 1.2 kg with brown rice vs white rice. After brown rice consumption magnesium was significantly higher than white rice consumption.
Now this is an interesting study – they gave equal amounts of white rice and brown rice to different groups of women and asked them to consume it every day. They were asked to (but not experimentally verified) not change any other aspect of their diet and food habits.
The results were somewhat predictable – there was no change in either lipid/fat profiles of their body or fasting blood glucose (both accurate markers of diabetes). However, body weight decreased. There is no explanation for why that happened. The most likely explanation is the higher concentration of magnesium + fiber in brown rice. Both of which could have been gotten via isabgol + spinach rather than rice (with much lesser calories).
Experimental study – lower insulin spikes and lower glycemic rating
Consumption of brown rice in place of white rice can help reduce 24-h glucose and fasting insulin responses among overweight Asian Indians
This, is the only claim of brown rice which looks to be fairly accurate and bang on target. Consuming brown rice has a lower insulin response than white rice. What this means is that people who are already diabetic, will find sugar level/insulin management much more easier with brown rice than with white rice.
Does this mean it is good even for people without diabetes ? In general yes – lower glycemic load foods have shown to be better at maintaining overall cardiovascular health. However, the most important takeaway is the following – Brown rice does not help in better cardiovascular health and diabetes prevention. It is the lesser between the two evils – white and brown rice both – because of it’s better glycemic rating.