White, brown, red, black or wild: Which rice variety is the healthiest choice for you?
The smartest thing to do here is to pick a rice variety that is packed with the most nutrients and then cook it in the best way.
If there’s one persistent dilemma every health-conscious person in India faces today, it’s probably to do with rice. People of the Indian subcontinent are traditionally used to eating rice, and it’s an integral part of our culture too. But consuming rice has also been associated with weight gain and increased risk of diseases like diabetes.
This is the reason why the rice question has become a huge issue for those who want to eat healthy and stay fit. The confusion probably deepens whenever you come across an aisle full of rice varieties at the supermarket, or when you read that you should eat a particular type of rice to lose weight.
Time to leave that confusion behind, because here’s everything you need to know about the most popular varieties of rice available in India and to make the healthiest choice for your diet.
Cooking rice the right way matters more than glycemic index
Glycemic index (GI) of a food refers to how quickly it raises your blood glucose levels. The higher the GI, the quicker your blood glucose levels rise. Most people assume that choosing a rice variety that has the lowest GI is the smartest way to go, but that’s not true. Yes, the type of rice matters, but so does the size of the grain and method of cooking.
For example, long-grain white rice varieties like basmati have a GI of 57 while short-grain white rice varieties have a GI of 72. Similarly, when medium-grain brown rice is boiled it has a GI of 72, when steamed it has a GI of 50, and when microwaved it has a GI of 59.
The smartest thing to do here is to pick a rice variety that is packed with the most nutrients and then cook it in the best way. Steaming your rice is a healthier method, and make sure that you don’t fry it in oil or ghee as that will just add calories to it.
The right rice for you
There is no rice variety that is completely devoid of carbohydrates and calories, so if you are on a low-carb, low-cal diet you might want to stay away from rice altogether. Otherwise, you can choose from the following rice varieties.
1. White rice
With 68 calories per 100g (according to the US Department of Agriculture or USDA’s Food Composition Database), white rice is also very carb-heavy (14.84g per 100g). But, traditionally, this is the most popular type of rice and has its own set of benefits. White rice is a rich source of calcium and folate, even though it has lower protein, fibre and mineral content.
Nutritionally, white rice might not seem like the best choice if you’re on a weight-loss diet, but people with irritable bowel or digestive disorders should opt for this variety because it’s low on fibre and the easiest to digest. If you do choose to eat this rice, go for the long grain ones like basmati.
2. Brown rice
The fact that brown rice is rich in fibre, protein and antioxidants is well known. This rice variety is full of flavonoids like apigenin, quercetin and luteolin - all of which are known to prevent diseases. According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2019, eating brown rice can lower the risk of diabetes and even reduce inflammation.
Choosing brown rice is a healthy option, but you need to remember that it has similar carbohydrate (17.05g per 100g) and calorie (82 cal per 100g) counts as white rice. Even so, brown rice is a good choice for those who want to lose weight the healthy way.
3. Red rice
455 calories per 100g is a huge number, but still, red rice — especially Himalayan red rice — is making its way into more homes these days. The reason is simple: apart from being packed with protein and fibre, red rice has an exceptionally high antioxidant content. It’s full of flavonoids like anthocyanins, apigenin, myricetin and quercetin, and it can help the body fight cancer-causing free radicals even more than brown rice can.
So, apart from helping prevent cancer, eating red rice can also decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of heart diseases and diabetes.
4. Black rice
Also known as forbidden rice, black rice has the highest antioxidant concentration of all rice varieties. Apart from actively preventing cell damage due to free radicals — and thereby reducing the risk of all types of cancer — black rice also minimises oxidative stress, high levels of which can cause heart diseases and mental decline.
Black rice is also rich in fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals, and has 335 calories per 100g. Despite being high-cal, black rice can help you lose weight, detoxify your body, and minimise the risk of diabetes, heart diseases, etc. So overall, this is a good rice option for those who want to lead a healthy life.
5. Wild rice
This rice variety is actually not a rice at all, but the seeds of some aquatic grass varieties. Yet, wild rice is used just like every other variety of rice and gains a special status during the bi-annual festival of Navratri. With 101 calories per 100g, wild rice is rich in protein, fibre, folate, and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese.
According to a study published in Nutrients in 2013, wild rice actively reduces triglycerides, cholesterol levels, insulin resistance and oxidative stress - all of which point to the fact that this rice variety is a great choice for those who are at risk of high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer and heart diseases.
Now that you know the nutritional content and benefits of the most popular rice varieties, go pick the one suited best to your individual needs.
For more information, read our article on Fiber: Food sources, Benefits and Side Effects.
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