Brown versus White: Is Brown Rice Really The Only Healthy Alternative?

The brown versus white rice debate just got more complex with plenty of sub text. Do we have a clear winner here?

Kalyani Sardesai

For years, common sense had it that the wise and virtuous amongst us ate brown rice, while the careless stubbornly stuck to white. The former would lead you to good health, while the latter would definitely descend the path of obesity and diabetes. So were you to vote in favour of health, your taste buds would protest (white is wayyy tastier insist the foodies of the world) and vice versa.
But suddenly, it's not such a cut-and-dry chice anymore. Research conducted by various interest groups indicate a far more intricate picture with lots between the lines.

Fit and Fibrous!

Dr. G M SubbaRao, spokesperson for the National Institute of Nutrition,  Hyderabad points out that in terms of glycemic index there's little to choose. "Brown rice does have more micronutrients and fibre per 100 gms due to the processing that retains them. Also, since you can't eat as much of it as white rice at a go, it's good for weight-watchers and diabetics. That said, our policy at NIN veers towards balance and diversity—we refuse to make good guys and bad guys out of any food group. Everything in moderation, and since we are talking fibre, apart from staples like rice, it is crucial to eat about 150 mg of fruits and veggies in a day for your fibre and mineral intake," he says.

Though of course, white rice is considered tastier than brown rice, a lot of the bias is steeped in culture and history, says Dr. Subbarao. "A few decades ago, we tended to think of white rice as more refined and elitist as opposed to brown rice-which was perceived to be a poor man's food, for the masses. Today, ironically enough, brown rice costs more," he says.

Stay Full, (Do Not) Stay Hungry 

A recent study conducted by Diabetes Technology and Therapeutics with experts culled from various research institutes voted clearly in favour of brown rice.

It aimed to compare the effects of brown rice, white rice, and brown rice with legumes diets on 24-hour glycemic and insulinemic responses among overweight Asian Indians.

The study clearly indicated that while the presence of legumes did not make a significant difference, consumption of brown rice in place of white rice can clearly reduce glucose and fasting insulin responses among overweight people. This means that glucose, the final product of starch breakdown, is released slowly into the bloodstream. The high fibre content keeps you feeling full longer. 

What Ayurveda says

Ayurveda, on the other hand, has a far more holistic approach to the white vs brown debate, says Pune-based Vaidya Anuja Sharma. "While it is considered the 'foundation of nutritive foods' given its suitability across the year, irrespective of your unique prakriti or constitution, whether or not you should eat brown over white rice largely depends on your physiology and time of the year," she shares.

"White rice is usually best during summer when one's digestive ability is low. Brown rice usually works during winter months when your digestive abilities are stronger. However, you can soak brown rice for a couple of hours before cooking to make it easier to digest," she says. 

A Nutritonist’s verdict

For her part, Pune-based nutritionist Sakshi Singh points out that while rice has more fibre and minerals, it's actually not a very significant amount.  "On the whole, brown is slightly healthier but it's not such an out and out winner. It's your fruits and veggies that are supposed to be your main source of dietary fibre and minerals, and not rice," she says.


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