Updated: Aug 9, 2022
Rice receives a lot of bad press in the West, as we scramble around trying to sort out what is good for us, what foods will make us healthy, slim, young again.... desperately searching for the elixir of life, the next superfood. We are woefully unhealthy, which demonstrates our lack of answers to the above, as we continue to be mis-guided by external "experts", or catchy press headlines.
"Rice makes you fat" some say, "rice is nutritionally empty" spout others. And yet in Asian countries, rice, in all it colours, white and brown, has been a staple food since the dawn of time. It is eaten at lunch and dinner, and often for breakfast too. Nothing like a tower of spice infused yellow rice, an egg with onion vegetable accompaniment & coconut sambol. Not only delicious but your digestive system will be very happy too. And this is the key to good health!!
Rice has many positive properties. It is sattvic in nature, meaning it brings balance and harmony. Rice is grounding, nourishing and delicious. It supports digestion by activating important enzymes and providing fibre. And because it has the sweet taste, you are more satiated and less likely to look to sugary foods later in the day.
In Asian countries they have a healthcare system that uses the ancient science of Ayurveda. It is a preventative system that is designed to bring harmony to the body and mind. Ayurveda understands the benefits of food according to the individual. Every person has a unique constitution - made up from the elements that exist in the Universe - Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water). Rice is particularly good for pacifying the Vata dosha because of its warmth, heaviness and softness.
Unlike the Western perspective which judges rice on its calories and fibre content, Ayurveda takes into account who's eating it, when it's being eaten and how our agni (digestive fire) reacts to it.
White Rice vs Brown Rice: Which is Healthier?
In nutrition circles, white rice gets a bad rap and brown rice is considered the healthier option. This is because a grain of brown rice is enclosed by the bran which is rich in fibre and vitamin B. When the bran is removed through the milling process, you get white rice. Therefore, nutritionists believe that white rice has less fibre and vitamin B than brown rice making brown rice a healthier choice.
Ayurveda has a different view. Since the bran has been removed, white rice is easily digestible. According to Ayurveda, our agni, or digestive fire is the weakest during summer. It is recommended that we consume foods that are easy to digest when our digestive ability is low. For this reason, white rice is a much healthier choice during summer season since it is easier to digest. During the winter season, our agni is at its strongest, making brown rice a better choice. Our digestive fire can handle heavy foods such as brown rice during winter. Another factor to note is the person's constitution (prakriti). Everyone is different and unique. There are individuals who have a strong agni throughout the year, so for these people brown rice is recommended. Individuals with sensitive or weak digestion should opt for white rice.
There's one more factor to consider- how the rice was processed. Instant, precooked rice, which is often coated with glucose and oil, has little nutritional value. As for all foods, organic and minimally processed are always better.
In conclusion, minimally processed white rice doesn't deserve its bad reputation. It's all about who's eating it and when. The general rule is to go for white rice in the warmer months and brown rice in the cooler. If you're one of those people who could practically digest rocks then yes, take advantage of brown rice's nutritive value year round. If digestion is a little slower, go with white. As the rest of the world already knows, there's definitely a place for rice in the diet.
To make grains tasty I always add salt, oil and spices. A few roasted cumin seeds add a pleasant aroma. I particularly like adding cardamom into the cooking water. You may add other spices as well. Here is a basic recipe for rice. For every one cup of rice add:
1.5 cups of water for 'al dente' rice, 2 cups of water for soft rice. An easy rule of thumb for al dente rice is to add water to 2x the height of the rice.
1/4 tsp of your favorite spice (examples are cumin, fennel, ginger, cardamom, oregano, thyme)
2 tsp of oil or ghee
1/4 tsp of salt
First, sautee the spices in the oil for 10 seconds. Then add the rice and water. Bring the rice and water to a boil. Then reduce heat to simmer until the rice has completely absorbed the water. Take off the heat and cover. Leave for a few minutes, do not stir. Avoid stirring rice once it is soft. Stirring breaks the rice grains making it less light and fluffy. White rice will be ready to serve within twenty minutes. Unprocessed brown rice can take up to an hour.
Add a small amount of turmeric to the cooking water if you want to make yellow rice and reap the numerous health benefits of this sunshine spice.
So, let's eat rice, spiced, accompanied with fresh vegetables, relishes and even more spice, and your belly will thank you for the goodness it has received.