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Benefits of brown rice

The many health benefits of brown rice do not arise merely from the fact that brown rice is a whole grain that contains fibre.

Because among whole grains, brown rice contains the least amount of fiber, as can be seen from the tables in this article on the fiber content of foods. For your easy reference, I reproduce here the table showing the fiber content of whole grains:

Fiber content of GRAINS (80 grams dry, uncooked)
Food % fiber Fiber (grams)
Amaranth 15.2 12.0
Barley 17 14.0
Brown rice 3.5 3.0
Buckwheat 10 8.0
Corn 7.3 6.0
Millet 8.5 7.0
Oats 10.6 8.5
Quinoa 5.9 4.5
Rye 14.6 11.5
Wheat 12.2 10

Even with that relatively small amount of fiber, you will experience the health benefits of brown within days of switching from eating whilte rice to eating unpolished brown rice. Scientists are therefore missing the point when they focus only on the fiber content of whole grains.

There are two possible reasons for this. One is that even small amounts of fiber can bring about significant benefits to health. This seems to be the case. In my article on the benefits of fiber, we see that eating a few slices of wholemeal bread is enough to markedly improve the condition of people with diabetes as well as to reduce the risks of heart disease.

The other possible reason is that other factors also contribute to the health benefits of brown rice. For now, let's look more closely at the health benefits of brown rice from fiber.

Soluble vs insoluble fiber

Fiber has two main types - soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber has been found in scientific studies to lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risks of heart disease. It further promotes the fermentation of carbohydrate foods in the intestines, contributing to the production of certain vitamins as well as the growth of friendly bacteria.

Among whole grains, oats contain the highest amounts of soluble fiber and during the 1980s and 1990s, there was much excitement within the medical community about the health benefits of oat bran (when in fact, the focus should have been on whole oats rather than just the bran).

However, as doctors and scientists refine their understanding of the benefits of fiber, they now know that insoluble fiber plays equally important roles. They bulk up the food, giving a sense of fullness so that a person will not over-eat.

Insoluble fiber also ensures that food passes smoothly through the digestive tract and not get stagnated along the way. This will also mean that beneficial fermentation takes place along the entire digestive tract and not just at the start of it.

Since both types of fiber are important - and nobody really knows how much of each type a person needs - I would not worry too much about whether brown rice has more soluble or insoluble fiber. If you really want to know, brown rice has mainly insoluble fiber and very little soluble fiber.

Phytonutrients in brown rice

Another major contributor to the health benefits of brown rice are the antioxidants present in rice bran. The skin of brown rice is extremely rich in antioxidants, containing about 120 types.

The value of these antioxidants have largely gone unnoticed because most of the scientific research on phytonutrients - those plant nutrients that have powerful antioxidant properties - focus mainly on the "free" from that dissolves and enters the blood stream easily. These types of phytonutrients are found mainly in fruits and vegetables.

Brown rice (and other whole grains), however, contain mainly "bound" phytonutrients that are attached to the walls of plant cells. These are not "free" because they can be absorbed by the body only when the food is digested. About 99 percent of phytonutrients present in brown rice "bound" form of phytonutrients.

There is no reason to believe that "bound" phytonutrients are less valuable than the "free" types. Scientists who have studied the total antioxidant activity of different foods find that whole grains like brown rice do as well as vegetables and fruits.

Among other things, rice bran contains two types of vitamin E, tocopherol and tocotrienol. The second type, tocotrienol is said to be more effective in fighting free radicals. Another powerful antioxidant is gamma oryzanol and this is present only in rice bran. These antioxidants are preserved in rice bran oil and many health benefits of brown rice are also present in rice bran oil.

The oil present in brown rice and rice bran is about:

Nutritional benefits of brown rice

Like all whole foods, brown rice has its share of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other nutrients. I rather not focus too much on these because each food has its own unique combination of vitamins and minerals and who is to say which combinations are better? Are the nutrients in brown rice more valuable than those in wheat, oals or other whole grains? Not really.

One article I read, for example, points out that brown rice is particularly rich in manganese and selenium. But when I did further research, I found that several other foods are also just as rich. For example, manganese is abundant in mustard greens, spinach, raspberries, strawberries, pineapple, garlic, cloves, cinnamon... apart from brown rice and oats. Foods rich in selenium include salmon, tuna, shrimps, liver, mushrooms...

In any case, why highlight these two trace elements? Sure, they contribute to health and well-being, just as all other nutrients do.

So there is no need to go into too much analysis about the health benefits of brown rice arising from varrious nutrients. To me, it is more important to think in terms of eating brown rice and other whole grains as the main food, instead of white rice, white bread and other refined grains.

Remember, though, to eat a variety of grains and not just brown rice. And to enjoy both the taste and the health benefits of brown rice, learn to cook it well.

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