Choose white rice instead of brown.
Lunch Hour Lesson #24
Brown rice is commonly viewed as the “healthy” choice, over white.
The idea is that it is a whole grain, while white rice is a refined grain, meaning that the bran has been removed.
Whole brown rice has magnesium, selenium, and manganese in its bran, which are important minerals.
However, in this lesson today, I’m going to outline two reasons why I (maybe surprisingly) advocate choosing white rice over brown rice. They are: phytic acid, and arsenic.
Let’s start with phytic acid. Phytic acid is a substance contained in all whole grains. It acts as a chelator in the body, meaning that it binds to minerals like iron and calcium and carries them out of the body.
This would be a good thing if you have too much iron or calcium. High iron levels are definitely not ideal. Phytic acid also binds heavy metals in the gut, and can potentially help to minimize their accumulation in the body.
However, for the majority of people, it is best to avoid ingesting something on a regular basis that could carry minerals out of the body. Particularly if you have low iron levels, frequently get cavities, or have weak teeth or bones, this would be a concern.
The second reason why I recommend white rice instead of brown rice is arsenic. Rice itself absorbs more arsenic while growing than other grains, because it is grown under flooded conditions where irrigation water is often contaminated with arsenic from the soil.
Why is the soil contaminated? In the south-central part of the US, where the majority of rice is grown, there was also another crop in heavy production: cotton. For decades, cotton crops were heavily treated with arsenic-containing pesticides to control specific pests like the boll weevil beetle.
Those pesticides have now largely been banned, but the soil retains arsenic indefinitely, so even if the farmland is now organic, it still may contain higher levels of arsenic. We can call this the soil legacy.
I teach both in-person and online versions of the program.
Rice collects arsenic (along with other valuable nutrients) in its brown outer shell. When this shell and bran is taken off, a large portion of the arsenic is also eliminated.
Knowing all this, for the phytic acid and the arsenic, I recommend avoiding brown rice. And that would include rice milk, brown rice syrup, brown rice pasta, and bread and cereals made with rice. For adults, once in awhile is probably fine, but for children or pregnant women, I would not recommend these foods be consumed.
So then we’re left with white rice. Some people may say, isn’t that just empty calories? Here’s my take: I like to use white rice as a good source of easily-digestible carbohydrate that can serve as a base for other nutrient-dense foods. I don’t need my rice to contain all the vitamins and minerals, because I put things like beef and broccoli on it!
To minimize arsenic content, choose organic white basmati rice grown in California, India, or Pakistan. (These areas do not have the history of using arsenic-containing pesticides, so the soil is not as contaminated.)
Go to the grocery store and find organic white basmati rice grown in California, India, or Pakistan. Cook it like pasta and eat it with ground beef and broccoli. If desired, season with some gluten-free soy sauce.