Tuesday, March 24, 2009

white rice is better than brown

Everybody tells us to eat whole grains. We're supposed to eat brown rice rather than white. They tell us that science shows that brown is better; that it has more vitamins and fiber. Why then do the Chinese eat white rice every day and have less obesity than us?

Brown rice is white rice, but with a thick husk around it. This is like eating walnuts and not taking the shell off. Nature put some nutrients in to make that shell, but they're not for us. They have a poor bio-availability. Our bodies have to take more time to process through the shell. Most of it passes through us with a net loss of energy and a slowing of our metabolism. Difficult-to-digest foods are not good for us and slow down our digestive systems. this steals our energy, makes us lethargic and makes our bodies ask for more food.

White rice is the most hypo-allergenic, easily assimilated, and energetically neutral of the grains. All food and herbs have properties (warming, cooling, moistening, drying, etc.) but white rice is completely neutral. While white rice is the best, though, it should not be taken to the exclusion of the other grains. All foods have things that no other food will give us, so we need a wide variety. You should have all the grains available, even brown rice. If you soak the other grains overnight, they will have the same cooking time as white rice. then you can cook them together and have a wide variety of grains, but cut the concentration of the more difficult-to-digest ones.

Brown rice was popularized in the macrobiotic movement. Their studies used brown rice as it is found in Japan which is partially milled. They take 3/4 of the husk off. The stuff we get here is completely un-shucked and is too difficult to digest (although you could mill it yourself if you really wanted to).

Brown rice was also touted as being superior because of the experience of the Japanese armada. They fed their navy white rice, and they developed beriberi (a disease due to deficiency of B1). Then they fed the brown rice and the beriberi resolved. So there is some B1 that we can pull out of the brown rice. Does that mean we need it? No.

The thing about this experience is: That's all they were feeding the soldiers. Only rice, nothing else. Almost every other fruit, vegetable and meat out there have B1. If you are eating any semblance of a balanced diet, you don't have to worry about beriberi. Also, vegetables will give you all the vitamins and fiber that you need.

In China, they eat just about everything. The fact that they took the time to knock the hull off of the brown rice indicates that there must be a good reason. It makes it easier to digest.

There are those who argue that we want difficult digestion - That by making it harder, the metabolism will respond by working faster. This is like pouring water on a fire to make it burn hotter. It does not work this way; just look at the Asians. All they eat is cooked or pickled and easy to digest foods. they eat more calories per day than us and have less obesity. This is due to efficient digestion.

I wrote a book called “The Asian Diet: simples secrets for eating right, losing weight, and being well” which explains how the lessons of the Asians cultures have contributed to their good dietary habits and can help improve ours. There’s more info at http://www.theasiandiet.com . I know this site is not supposed to be used to sell anything, so I urge you all to check it out from the library. You can read it in a day. There is a lot we can learn from the lessons figured out from thousands of years of experimentation, observation, and documentation.


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  2. Thank you for sharing this! I was looking for an explanation of why TCM encourages white rice over brown and now I feel like I have a better understanding.

  3. Thank you for this article! --- We have been soaking our brown rice and then using the soaking liquid to soak the next batches. Like you mentioned above, I have been reading lately to only eat it if it has been partially milled. So would you recommend eating white rice over partially milled brown rice?

  4. The Chinese take the bran off the rice because it doesn't go rancid as quickly...just like we mass refine white flour in this country. I have heard that in the past, people use to partially, but not completely, mill rice with rudimentary machines. I have no idea how they would do this, but maybe you do? I know in India people used a dhenki to remove the husk, but I am not sure how much bran they were able to remove...In my opinion, given the extensive scientific literature on the benefits of whole grains and the compounds contained therein, would it not be advantageous to eat partially milled brown rice (more milling for some and less or not at all for others) to preserve at least some of the nutrition in the bran, which adds up to a lot if you make rice your energy staple? Would be interested to hear your take on this...

    1. Rex, I think you are right that partially-milled would be preferable to completely-polished. In America, it is nearly impossible to find that though. What my family does is to mix 2/3 white rice with 1/3 brown. Actually, we usually use a mixture of quinoa, brown rice, barley, cracked wheat, amaranth, millet, and beans that constitute the 1/3 of our mix.

      It is true that milling the rice increases the shelf-life. But that does not explain why they still used white rice even when the brown rice had just been harvested. It was not just the preservation, nor was it just that it has a shorter cooking time (ergo less fuel). It was because they found the un-milled brown rice to be too difficult to digest.

  5. Thanks for your input...I agree that white rice seems to be much more digestible...Since I am a pretty skinny guy (5'10" and 137 lbs), I do a lot of weightlifting and have been trying to gain weight. I find that I can certainly eat much more white rice at any given meal than brown rice. According to what I've read about TCM, grains and legumes need to make up at least half of all calories, and since white rice seems to have so little nutrition and it's a refined food lacking in fiber, I am thinking other more whole forms of starch may be better in the long run...? For instance, according to epidemiological studies, Okinawans ate sweet potatoes as their primary source of calories and lived very long and healthy lives. Since switching to white rice after WWII, their longevity has declined somewhat...

    Roots and tubers such as potato, sweet potato, taro, and yucca, all seem to have more nutrition and fiber than white rice (and you are also eating the whole food). The problem with potatoes as a staple is that the calorie density is much lower than white rice (about 90 calories/100 g compared to 130 calories/100 g of white rice) and so are too bulky. Sweet potatoes are too sweet for me to eat in large quantities because they send my blood sugar skyrocketing and then crashing and they have the same problem as potatoes in terms of calorie density. I am thinking the Okinawans must have eaten a variety of sweet potato that was much less sweet than even the purple ones I can find here in the US. Taro seems promising though because it apparently has 140 calories/100 g, has a relatively low GI (same as white rice), tastes like potatoes, and its starch seems very easy to digest. Yucca seems to have even higher calorie density than taro. What do you think about replacing white rice with taro and yucca as the primary energy staple?

    Durum wheat pasta imported from Italy (where they use less hybridized forms of wheat) is also very calorie-dense and easy to digest, but I am worried about gluten since so many people seem to be affected...What is your opinion on this?

  6. Hi Dr. Bussell,

    It's been a while since I last commented on your blog, but I just wanted to let you know my experience with the whole brown rice vs. white rice thing. I used to be eating short-grain brown rice, and every time I did, I would get heartburn around my pyloric valve and a lot of belching. When I ate white basmati rice, this would not happen. I therefore mistakenly assumed that brown rice was harder to digest than white rice. However, I have now realized that the notion that eating brown rice is like "eating a walnut with it's shell still on" is not valid. Bran from whole grains is just insoluble fiber. It doesn't get broken down by the body, it doesn't require more energy to digest, it just sweeps the bolus along the digestive tract just like celery or kale stems do. In my experience, the only people who have trouble with whole grains are those with a compromised large intestine (Crohn's disease, etc.)

    The reason why I got a burning sensation around the pyloric valve, and I am not alone in this, is because I ate short-grain sushi rice. I found that if I ate white short grain sushi rice, I would get the exact same heartburn as brown sushi rice. Traditionally, this type of rice has been used to make sushi, and was drizzled in vinegar before being wrapped in nori sheets. Some people theorize this helps neutralize the high alkalinity of short grain rice, and the stomach does not have to secrete as much acid as it otherwise would. I now eat only brown basmati rice, I do not add any vinegar or acid to it, and I never get heartburn, it's just as easy to digest as white basmati, it makes me regular, unlike white rice, and more importantly, the mental and physical benefits are substantial. Eating brown basmati has lowered my desire to eat meat, improved my stamina, the dark circles under my eyes have disappeared, I sleep more soundly and I need less sleep, my reflexes have improved, I feel much more mellow and grounded and my metabolism has also slowed somewhat, and I don't feel like I need to eat as much. In short, I am not sure who taught you that white rice is better than brown, but for me, I have solved most of my health concerns simply by shifting to eating whole brown rice.

    Other whole grains are more difficult to digest, but some people can handle them. For instance, oats are extremely high in protein, are heavy, and I find that thye just suck a ton of blood into the digestive tract, which makes me feel rather tired after I eat them. Traditionally, I believe oats were at least somewhat fermented or sprouted so that they could be easily digestible by everyone. Wheat is also quite heavy and high in difficult to digest gluten, and human beings may have been eating a different variety or prepared them differently traditionally.

    Wild rice I digest just fine, and the benefits are even greater than brown basmati. Wild rice has helped resolve my kidney deficiency. Quinoa is also an excellent whole grain. In short, I believe white rice actually robs the body of minerals in the same way that white flour does. The "ease of digestion" argument is bunk. However, I have found that brown rice does not combine at the same meal with meat as readily as white rice. But that is easily remedied by eating meat with root vegetables instead.

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  8. I don't think you can say one is outright better than the other because everyone's body is different. For me I gave white rice an effort but every time it would leave me felling tired with blurry vision and cause me inflammation and I'm not a diabetic. believe me I wanted white rice to work since I have digestive issues and its easier to digest but I feel like diabetes may be in my future if i continued. But I will say one thing is that it was the only rice that didn't constipate me and I've tried them all.

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