The Significance of Rice
When it comes to my family, rice is much more than just a grain. In fact, saying "Hello" in Taiwanese literally translates to "Have you eaten rice yet?" My dad's sister was a farmer, so he was always very mindful of the labor that goes into harvesting food. To ensure that I wouldn't let my food go to waste, he used to tell me that my future wife would have a face blemished by the uneaten grains of rice in my bowl. If you've ever met my wife, you'd agree that I didn't let a grain go to waste!
And while this grain has been culturally engrained in the Asian diet for centuries, many former rice enthusiasts have reduced their rice intake due to a fear of diabetes. Indeed, using the best statistical methodology available, a recent analysis of over 100,000 subjects found that a high consumption of white rice was associated with a 55% higher risk of diabetes compared to a low consumption of white rice amongst Asians. Also, across all ethnic groups, each additional serving per day of white rice consumption was associated with an 11% increase in risk of diabetes.
What About Brown Rice?It may not surprise you to hear that high white rice consumption is associated with diabetes. After all, white rice is produced by removing the husk, bran, and germ layers of whole rice grains, resulting in a refined rice grain with a high glycemic index. In fact, these days many health conscious individuals have switched from white rice to brown rice. However, in my last post, I debunked the myth that brown whole wheat bread is significantly healthier than white bread:
Likewise, you can't judge a rice grain by its color.
For instance, the average glycemic index of both boiled white rice and boiled brown rice is considered high, at seventy-three and sixty-eight, respectively. This might explain why one study found that substituting brown rice for white rice for sixteen weeks did not substantially affect blood sugar, body mass index or waistline measurements in Chinese subjects.
You may be asking yourself, "If brown rice is a whole grain, why does it have such a high glycemic index?" The answer lies in understanding how cooking rice exposes the starch to digestive enzymes, regardless of whether rice is white or brown. Rice is comprised of starch granules that contain tightly packed chains of sugar molecules called amylopectin and amylose. When rice grains are cooked by boiling them in hot water, the grains undergo a process called gelatinization. During gelatinization, the starch granules swell and the structural matrix is disintegrated, exposing the starch to digestive enzymes. Both white and brown rice are readily gelatinized when boiled, explaining why both types of rice have high glycemic indices.
Short Grain Versus Long Grain RiceStarch structure is more important than rice color! While all types of rice undergo gelatinization when boiled, rice that is comprised of higher amounts of amylose and lower amounts of amylopectin are digested more slowly and have lower glycemic indices. This is because the compact linear structure of amylose molecules is less accessible to digestive enzymes than the branched structure of amylopectin molecules.
Short grain rices tend to be low in amylose, which results in grains that stick together and have a higher glycemic index. On the other hand, the starch in long grain rice like basmati rice (common to Indian cuisine) is made up of a higher percentage of amylose. That's why basmati rice grains tend to stay more separate and why basmati rice has a lower glycemic index (forty-three) than other rice grains.
Basmati rice isn't exclusive to Indian cuisine! Substituting basmati rice for dishes that typically use short grain rice is a great way to lower the glycemic index of the meals you serve your kids. For instance, I recommend using basmati rice in a homemade chirashi sushi bowl instead of sushi rice. A chirashi bowl is a Japanese rice dish meaning "scattered" bowl. Rice is topped with a scattering of colorful accompaniments like fish and vegetables. Adding vegetables and vinegar to the rice also helps to lower the glycemic index of this dish.
You can learn how easy it is to make your own homemade chirashi kid bowl in the following movie entitled, "The Chirashi Kid".
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I will now be posting recipes in their own separate post. This way, you can organize your recipes in a folder in your e-mail and start your own virtual recipe book. Simply submit your email using the tool on the right of this blog. Try this chirashi kid bowl with your kids; I'll bet they won't let a grain go to waste!
Hu EA et al. White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis and systematic review. BMJ 2012;344:1-9.
Atkinson FS et al. International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care 2008 Dec 31(12):2281-3
Zhang G et al. Substituting white rice with brown rice for 16 weeks does not substantially affect metabolic risk factors in middle-aged chinese men and women with diabetes or a high risk for diabetes. J Nutr 2011;141:1685-1690
Aston LM et al. Determination of the glycaemic index of various staple carbohydrate-rich foods in the UK diet. Eur J Clin Nutr 2008 Feb; 62(2):279-285.
Fardet A et al. Parameters controlling the glycaemic response to breads. Nutr Res Rev 2006(19):18-25.
Holm J et al. Degree of starch gelatinization, digestion rate of starch in vitro, and metabolic response in rats. Am J Clin Nutr 1988;47:1010-6.
Ostman E et al. Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 2005;59:983-988.
Sugiyama M et al. Glycemic index of single and mixed meal foods among common Japanese foods with white rice a reference food. Eur J Clin Nutr 2003;57:743-752.