Brown rice is one more fad spreading globally in an increasingly health conscious society, besides fitness, eating organic, putting fiber before processed foods, veges over meats, grilling over frying…the list gets longer by the day. All these are justified too, since they promise good returns in the form of better health and longevity, hopefully. The end result is the growing popularity of foods like quinoa, corn, wheat, beans, lean meats, tofu and greens.
For a long time, rice, synonymous with white rice, has been considered part of the list of healthy, body building foods, consumed as it is, by 3 billion people worldwide. It is only in the last decade or so that brown rice has appeared on the shelves of health food outlets, and is being touted as a far superior and healthier option than its white counterpart. It remains doubtful, how aware majority of the world’s population is, about the benefits of brown rice, and how many would consider switching to this whole grain, given that, for the present, it is consumed by a very small percentage of rice eaters.
Brown rice is virtually unheard of in Myanmar, and rarely seen on supermarket shelves. This happens to be in a country known to be one of the world’s leading rice producers. The country has yet to wake up to the nutritional advantages of brown rice to be able to process its paddy into this healthier type. Elsewhere too, brown rice has not yet become the staple of the common man, since it is surprisingly more expensive, available in select stores and its taste not yet palatable to all. Its shorter shelf life of 6-8 months is one of the many reasons why its supply levels are nowhere close to the supply of white rice that lasts up to ten years.
What is brown rice?
Brown rice is an unrefined, less processed, but more nutritious form of white rice. It is rice grains with just the husk removed, the bran and germ layers staying intact and giving it the light brown color. It is also called whole rice or cargo rice. Any harvested paddy can be processed to remove only its outermost layer (the husk) to result in brown rice. Thus we can get long grain, short grain or glutinous brown rice, all of which have a milder flavor, are a bit firm rather than soft, even after being cooked for long, and a flavor that is slightly nutty. The grains stay whole and provide the nutritional advantage of bran and germ, unlike the processed and refined white rice. While both bran and germ shorten the life of the rice, making it rancid sooner, they contain essential and beneficial fats, making brown rice a far healthier staple than even the best white rice.
Rice- From field to table
All over the world, short grain, medium and long grain rice in thousands of varieties is sold, with Basmati being rated as one of the best long grain varieties, for its fragrance and less starchy content. But basmati like all other white rice varieties is simply the polished, refined version of rice whose husk and layers of bran have been removed before being polished.
Most of the rice varieties are composed of 20% husk that forms the outer layer, a layer of bran that constitutes 11%, and the remaining 69% is the starch-rich endosperm, called milled rice.
Rice fields are submerged in water till the plant grows to its full height, at which point the water is drained. The paddy is ready to be harvested as the stems turn yellow. The stalks cut from the fields contain what is called ‘rough rice’ that has to be dried before milling to ensure that the moisture content ranges between 18-22%. The next step is the milling process which includes cleaning the kernels, clearing foreign matter and then removing the non-edible hull or husk. The rice that emerges is the wholesome brown rice. It still contains a layer of bran, which is highly nutritious with its reserves of essential oils and fats, minerals and vitamins.
White rice is a processed, refined version of the brown rice, lasts longer and has a finer taste, amenable to various cooking styles in cuisines from all over the world. White rice is lower in fiber, softer and easier to digest, though its high glycemic index raises the risk of getting type 2 diabetes. It has a longer shelf life and not considered a high allergy food.
Nutritional content of Brown rice
Brown rice scores over white rice due to the nutritive goodness contained in this whole grain. Its minimal processing to remove just the outer husk does not damage the healthful beneficial store of vitamins and minerals.
Being unpolished, brown rice contains the grain’s aleurone layer which is laden with healthy fats, essential for good health.
Brown rice has a high fiber content, which aids digestion, and prevents the accumulation of cancer causing substances. It is rich in minerals like iron, copper and phosphorus, besides many others, all of which are essential for a healthy body.
Brown rice is a treasure trove of vitamins. It contains vitamin A, C, D, E, K and complex B vitamins like B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12.
The selenium contained in brown rice works towards synthesis and repair of damaged human cells, which trigger the self-destruction of disease causing cells. Selenium works in tandem with other minerals and vitamins to promote better health.
Brown rice is laden with manganese which helps produce energy from carbohydrates and protein. It also facilitates the synthesis of essential fatty acids, and is a component of critical antioxidant enzymes. A single cup of brown rice helps to meet 80% of the body’s daily requirement of manganese.
The magnesium contained in brown rice helps to regulate the body’s muscle and nerve tone by balancing the calcium action, serving as a calcium channel blocker in many nerve cells, thereby keeping the nerve cells relaxed, which may otherwise have go activated by calcium.
Brown rice is more filling and therefore cannot be eaten in large quantities, and is lower in carbohydrates and calories than white rice. This helps in maintaining lower weight levels and help people stay slimmer, as has been found in numerous research studies carried out on groups of people eating white and brown rice.
Wholegrain or brown rice contains phyto-nutrients that are quick to dissolve and be quickly absorbed in the bloodstream. These include phenolics that are some of the strongest phyto nutrients that help to fight disease. Plant lignan, another phyto nutrient, works as a shield from heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Keeping diseases at bay with Brown rice
The processing and refining of rice to produce fine, white rice leads to the loss of essential nutrients which, are beneficial for the human body. In the milling process and the polishing of rice, the grain loses 80% of vitamin B1, 67% of Vitamin B3, 90% of Vitamin B6, and half of its iron, manganese and phosphorus, while all the fiber and fatty acids are destroyed. This implies that all the goodness of rice as a whole grain is lost, and only a stomach filling, refined, starchy staple is being consumed, unless the polished white rice is fortified before being packaged.
The long list of nutrients of brown rice have been extensively tried and tested on large groups of people and the research findings indicate how regular consumption of brown rice instead of white rice can help to keep the following diseases away:
Most people look at brown rice as rice meant for patients of Type 2 Diabetes. Yes, it is the only type of rice diabetics can eat, but brown rice also works as a preventive of diabetes. Studies conducted by researchers at Harvard, and at the Diabetes Research Foundation in India, reveal that substituting brown rice for white, led to a significant reduction in glucose levels and lowered serum insulin with just a single daily substitution. A weekly intake of two or more servings of brown rice reduced the risk of Type 2 Diabetes by around 10% as compared to those who do not eat brown rice. The risk reduced by 20% in the case of those who consumed 4-5 weekly servings of brown rice.
Brown rice works to protect against diabetes with its high fiber content, the high level of magnesium and its lower Glycemic Index. Magnesium in particular, serves as a cofactor for over 300 enzymes that impact the use of glucose in the body and the secretion of insulin.
Cancer is a killer disease, and unhealthy eating habits have led to a spurt in the occurrence of colon cancer. The high fiber content of brown rice, causes the fiber to bind to all the cancer causing chemicals, reduce constipation and improve bowel functions. Fiber also works as a preventive for breast cancer in post-menopausal women. Hormone dependent cancers are kept at bay due to phyto nutrients like lignans. Selenium, contained in brown rice, works with Vitamin E to facilitate antioxidant actions in the body to prevent cancer.
Brown rice is a whole grain, filling, chewy, low in energy density with its high fiber and water content. This implies that smaller quantities can be eaten at a time, which fill up the stomach, even though fewer calories have been consumed. Reduced calorie intake is one of the essentials for reducing weight. An affected metabolism which causes weight gain has been linked to refined and processed grains like white rice.
Heart Disease, Hypertension and High Cholesterol
Brown rice contains manganese that helps in synthesizing body fats, and the outer bran layer contains essential fatty acids like Omega-3 which reduce the risk of developing heart ailments. Magnesium helps to regulate muscle and nerve tone and serves as a calcium channel blocker, thus preventing hypertension and heart disease. New research carried out in Philadelphia indicates that a component in the outer subaleurone layer surrounding grains of brown rice inhibits angiotensin II, an endocrine protein that causes hypertension and artherosclerosis, or hardening of arteries, which eventually leads to heart disease. Selenium helps the action of antioxidants that help the heart, and the existence of fiber, is beneficial as well.
Brown Rice Potential in Myanmar
Rice paddy grows best in areas with abundance of water, and Asian countries like China, India, Thailand and Myanmar provide a significant percentage of the global rice produce. Myanmar with its abundant water resources, is ideal for rice cultivation. The delta region in Myanmar including Ayeyarwaddy, Yangon, Bago and Mon states form the main rice growing region in the country. Rice is the main staple for the local population, and exported in large quantities to countries like China and Africa, among others. However, the demand is only for white rice. The existing mills can very easily process paddy to yield brown rice, but there is no market for this healthy product, due to lack of awareness and information about it. Its shorter shelf life further adds to the problem. The strata of society consuming brown rice in other countries, which is the health conscious, upper class elite, has yet to emerge in Myanmar.