This cereal is a power house of natural minerals, vitamins and can be cooked in supremely different ways. But can eating rice cause weight gain or is red better than white? Let’s look at the nutritional profiles of different rice varieties found in India and bust the myths around this grain.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has notified standards for basmati rice from August 1 to check proliferation of adulterated rice this year. The new rules will set standards related to average size, moisture and uric acid content and state of basmati rice after cooking. The idea is to retain its fragrance, no use of artificial colours, polish, and the rules will apply to brown basmati, mill basmati (parboiled) or half boiled basmati.
But this everyday staple is a significant part of the Indian diet and experts treat this as a healthy option that is easy to cook as well. While there are over 5,000 varieties of rice found in India, here we pick and choose some of the best and commonly found varieties:
This is grown in the Western ghats in Maharashtra, it is a short-grain, fragrant variety. The word Ambemohar means mango blossom in Marathi. Its texture is fine and can be used in cooking soft idlis and crisp dosa, puffed rice called kurmure in Marathi. It has a high nutrition profile and contains high-soluble fibre.
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This is a staple for tribal communities of Kerala. It is a sticky variety which can be made as plain rice and not as biryani or pulao. Since the grain is obtained from bamboo shoots, it is a variety found only in tribal communities of Kerala and largely cooked during festivals like Pongal. The rice is rich in carbohydrates, fibre and protein and has low glycemic index.
One of the most popular white rice found all over India, this is one of the finest versions to enhance the flavours of recipes like pulao, fried rice, and biryani. It is also found to be rich in minerals like iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, and copper, amino acids and has a low to medium glycemic index.
It is cultivated in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and is a medium grain rice. It
has a fine texture and fragrance and so can be used as an alternative to Basmati. The variety contains higher amounts of selenium and zinc. It is good for heart and can be consumed
by those having high blood pressure levels.
This is a non-Basmati variety of rice and is popular one grown in Punjab and Haryana. The variety is premium with the length of kernels ranging between 6.5–7 mm. Unlike Basmati, it is non-aromatic and is a good source of protein. It helps strengthen the immune system and boost energy and mood. Its low glycemic index lowers blood sugar levels.
This medium grain, high-yielding variety became a prominent native in Maharashtra. This is because of the fact that an old favourite rice of Maharashtra, Ambemohar was low yielding and prone to diseases, while Indrayani was a cross high-yielding variety with distinct aroma. It is best suited for those suffering from indigestion, boosts metabolism, and maintains good gut health. Consuming it for a longer period can delay ageing process and is a crucial dose of vitamin B1.
Assam is known for its Bora saul variety of glutinous rice which is sticky, opaque and has very low amylose content (polysaccharide, a form of sugar). It is eaten on traditional occasions like Bihu, and is relished with doi (curd), gur (jaggery) and cream. Also taken as a breakfast cereal, it makes a perfect kheer. It is rich in starch, protein, and minerals, regulates diabetes, prevents chronic diseases, and reduces inflammation. Another variety called joha is an indigenous variety from Assam, rich in flavonoids and antioxidants as it helps improves metabolism.
Another variant of Samba, mappillai samba rice is a popular variety found in Tamil Nadu. It is a distinct red rice rich in iron and zinc and helps in the production of haemoglobin and myoglobin. What is interesting is the fact that this rice is given to the bridegroom and is also called a bridegroom rice, where a bridegroom (mappillai in Tamil) lifts a rock to show his physical prowess. This rice helps to lower cholesterol levels and contains magnesium, phosphorus, molybdenum and manganese.
Tamil Nadu is known for growing jeera samba, which is also called seeraga samba rice because of its appearance as the grains look quite similar to cumin seeds. However, the word ‘samba’ means seasons and its best variety is grown between August and January. Nutritionally, this rice is known to contain selenium which helps to prevent the cancer of colon and intestine. It is less fluffy variety, and the taste is very ‘starchy’, but one of the easily digestible white variety.
This variety of rice received the GI (Geographical Indication) tag in 2017 and is a popular variety in West Bengal. It’s a premium variety rice which has a history of cultivation as old as 300 years in the area. The name comes from principal ingredients used in preparation of offerings to Govindaji, the family deity of Setts of Kolkata. It is an aromatic white sticky rice in sweet buttery flavour. Try making poha for breakfast or a snack with it as it boosts energy and has a low glycemic index.
Cook it right
According to celebrity nutritionist Shweta Shah, rinse the rice at least twice. The basic water to white rice ratio is 2 cups water to 1 cup rice. In a pan, bring the water to boil. Once it’s boiling, add a big pinch of salt. Add rice and let it cook without stirring. The best way to eat rice with vegetables or dals. Watch portion sizes if you want to lose weight, and you can enjoy rice daily.
Antinutrients are plant compounds that reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. They become a problem for people who depend on grains and legume diets solely. As per functional nutritionist Mugdha Pradhan, CEO and Founder, iThrive, certain preparations of rice involve fermentation which helps reduce anti-nutrient content and adds beneficial probiotics. “Grains are not recommended since they contain a high amount of anti-nutrients and plant defence chemicals. People with autoimmune conditions and gut issues, especially, should be careful with grains and minimise their consumption. However, rice comparatively, is a much safer option compared to other grains. White rice, in particular, is very low in anti-nutrients since the outer coating has been removed. So much so that even advocates of very restrictive paleo and carnivore types of diets recommend it as a safe source of carbohydrates. Other unprocessed forms of rice such as brown, black and red rice are higher in anti-nutrient content. But owing to their higher fibre content, they have a lower glycemic index. This may be valuable to certain individuals with metabolic health issues such as diabetes.”
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Myth 1: Can we have rice for dinner?
Rice is easy to digest and improves the quality of sleep. It increases leptin sensitivity. Leptin is produced by a fatty tissue and it regulates fat storage in the body. “Foods high in carbs, such as rice can be eaten at night as they get metabolised into glucose. At night, glucose more readily converts into energy. When grains like rice are consumed during the day, the glucose converts into fat. So, it is better to have rice for dinner instead,” says celebrity nutritionist Shweta Shah.
l Myth 2: Does rice make your belly fat?
Studies have observed that eating rice results in weight gain and increased belly fat. However, it all depends on what carbs and in what amounts you take. A fried rice or added butter in rice will give excess fat or sugar in meals but rice meals like khichdi and dal rice are rich in good fats and proteins.
l Myth 3: Brown vs white?
Both white and brown rice are high in carbohydrates. Brown rice is a whole grain. It contains more nutrition than white rice. Brown rice is generally higher in fibre, manganese, selenium, magnesium than white rice. White rice is richer in folate and very easier to digest than brown rice. Brown rice has more calories, protein and fat compared to white rice.
However, experts recommend white over brown rice because the outer coating containing plant defence chemicals. Plus, antioxidants are removed. These can be harmful to health. White rice is thus easier to digest and more gut-friendly. However, some individuals with metabolic health issues like diabetes who specifically want lower glycemic foods may opt for brown rice if they are able to tolerate it since brown rice has a lower glycemic index and doesn’t spike blood sugar as much.
l Myth 4: An all season grain, Pradhan says it is okay for north Indians to have rice grown in Kerala. “It’s recommended to eat plant foods, especially fruits, and vegetables that are local and seasonal. But the effects of this, especially when it comes to rice, are insignificant. In today’s toxic urban environment we have much bigger health hazards to worry about. Also, most rice varieties are native to only the southern and other parts of India with adequate water. If we only ate rice that was native to the locality, most parts of India would not be able to eat rice.”