Is rice healthy? What’s the deal with white vs brown?

I get asked about rice a lot. Is rice healthy? Is rice gluten free? Should I eat brown rice?

Clients tell me they make good choices and choose brown rice with meals. Some of you may have heard that all grains are bad, some of you may have heard that brown rice is better. It’s all very confusing. Let’s me try to clear this up…

The longer I am in the fitness and health industry the more my answer become: “It depends on on10” –  and this is one of those times where I’ll use that answer.

Here are ten tips on the deal with rice. I’ll try to sum this us as best I can without getting to “science-y”:

1) We as human beings have not yet evolved to tolerate grain completely. In our evolutionary history they are a relatively new addition to the diet, and since the agricultural revolution when grain became a staple of our diet we have seen a decline in health. If you want to argue this fine – I’ll help people who really want help instead – but watch this first if you need convincing.

2) Icky Inflammation! Grains have inflammatory and gut-irritating properties – aka some humans do not tolerate/digest them well. We can soak them, cook them, even ferment grains, but those negative properties remain and if eaten in excess or even small amounts can cause varying degrees of health problems depending on how grain intolerant the individual is (most of us are intolerant to some degree). For a really in-depth science blog by Mark Sission on this topic checkout: Why Grains are Unhealthy.

3) Yes, I’m a gluten hater. Some grains are worse than others: Wheat (gluten) is the very worst for our bodies. Everyone should avoid wheat/gluten containing products. For a list of gluten containing properties go here. Wheat and gluten containing grains serve no health benefit and can cause a bunch of health problems in some people But here what they real issues is; they are SOOOO easy to overeat, so avoiding them in general even if you are not gluten sensitive will help you make better choices. However, I’m not going to tell you; you can never have a cookie again (unless you are celiac) because that would be mean. Going down the spectrum of poor grain choices is GMO corn, then oats, quinoa, and rice are probably the least problematic of the grains, but it is still a grain, and some people may be sensitive to it.

4) Naked rice wins!  The reason why white rice is not as problematic as Brown is that white rice is stripped of the nutrients and fiber in the husk therefor leaving it as just a plain and simple starch without any of the undesirable inflammatory properties of the grain.  Is it the best starch? Well, that depends on you and your goals. There is no one size fits all answer to that. Personally, I usually end up rotating my starch carb choices between yams, winter squashes, potatoes, rice (white or sprouted brown) and oats.

5) Earn your carbs! The reason I recommend white rice to athletes is that after INTENSE exercise glucose stores need to be repleted. In the post-workout meal, a starch does a good job of this.  Another good starch would be a sweet potato cause it is way more nutritious than white rice.

6) Not everyone should eat white rice.  People who are trying to lose weight or those who are inactive or only moderately active have no business mainlining such an insulin driving food, but everyone is different, so you have to figure out your carbohydrate tolerance yourself (sorry no test for that yet, just trial and error).

7) The occasional sushi roll? Will it kill you to have white rice once in a while?  No.  Is it the worst thing?  No. There are worse sources of carbs: sugar and white flour can be worse – but eating rice, especially in large portions everyday, when you sit at a computer all day may not be good for optimal health. I love the occasional sushi roll, but I wouldn’t eat them everyday if I were trying to get my six pack to show.

8) “You’re one of those crazy carb haters!” Why are high carb foods bad for me?  Well first off I’m not a carb hater.  There are three factors that determine carb requirements: 1) Genetics 2) Activity Level 3) Goals. As a very active person with a moderate tolerance for carbs, I need some good starch in my diet, I prefer to refer to them as good starches in my diet since carbs confuse people. Veggies and fruit are carbs too, but when people say “carbs” they are most often talking about starches (grains, bread, potato, pasta, etc) and that is specifically what I’m referring to here. I eat sweet potatoes, some white potatoes, white rice and some GMO-free corn tortillas because I need some starch in my diet and I workout 4-5 days a week. But let’s be honest most of America is not that active. Most people sit all day and are lucky to get in two maintenance workouts a week.  So unless you are a very physical person or one of the few lucky ones that does well on higher starch diets (they do exist), chances are your starch requirements are lower than you think. If you are struggling with weight loss try a lower (notice I don’t say low or no) carb diet and see how you do.  Some people do well low some people do better with moderate carb intake – you gotta care enough to experiment if you want to successfully navigate optimal health.

9) To understand why high carb foods can make you fat read this: http://www.diabeteshealth.com/read/2007/04/24/5143/why-eating-too-many-carbs-makes-you-fat/

10) TOP TIP! Above all, I’d like to re-stress that avoiding wheat/gluten is one simple thing you can try to see if it helps you. It ha helped me and several of my clients. If it helps you feel better and hit body composition and performance goals, great! If not, go ahead and eat in moderation in line with your activity level and goals. Of course, there is room for improvement after being gluten free, but if you choose to try it, that is a good starting point – and yes rice; white or brown is gluten free. Yay!