During our grandparents era brown rice was the chosen grain for the domestics, and white rice for the rest of the house-holders, including children and domestic pets. Why and when did it change and reverse the process- white for the domestics and brown for the masters.
During the Second World War rice was scarce and people in most countries had to depend on corn, and other cereals and grains.
The change would have occurred post-war when nutrition became an important factor due to malnourishment, common during the post-war period.
Today, white rice seems to be the favourable choice when guests are invited for a meal: it is more appetising, tasty and fits into most varieties of preparations, like biryani and lumprai, or just yellow rice.
Polished rice or white rice, which primarily consists of starch, is produced through a series of mechanised processes including hulling and milling, and it is the predominant type of rice consumed worldwide. Although the glycaemic index value of a specific white rice variety depends on the degree of processing, cooking time, and amylose content, the glycaemic index values of white rice are higher on average than those of whole grains. For example, the mean glycaemic index values were 64 for white rice, 55 for brown rice, 41 for whole wheat, and 25 for barley. In addition, white rice is the primary contributor to dietary glycaemic load for populations that consume rice as a staple food.
Brown rice is healthier for daily use, since the polished white rice removes the hull of the rice kernel the most nutritious part of the grain. White rice is a refined carbohydrate and researchers from Harvard School of Public Health have found that its consumption is linked to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The incidence of type 2 diabetes is high in China, the researchers found that eating white rice four times a day may be a factor, while diabetes was much less among the West, as they eat less rice during the week.
White rice has a high GI (glycaemic index) which is linked to diabetes and the researchers showed that the more such rice is eaten, the higher the risk of type 2 diabetes. Compared with brown rice, white has less fibre and fewer nutrients such as magnesium and vitamins. Experts say larger studies are needed to substantiate the hypothesis.
In Sri Lanka people prefer to eat white rice as it is cheaper than the unprocessed grains, and rice packets freely sold on the road-side are cheap and cooked with white rice..
White rice is low in fibre, and absorption from the gut is faster causing sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.
Rice form the bulk of the plate among the farmers and working class people. They need it, as most of the quick energy is obtained from rice. So it is true 85% of the plate is filled with rice.
The more sedentary types should not eat rice as much as the amount the workers consume. About two tablespoons of cooked rice would be sufficient to produce there calorie requirement. Eating too much of rice by the office workers and the executives in the city with little or no exercise are susceptible to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, among others.
Today, more than half the world population lives on the energy produced by eating rice, and those eating brown rice have the added advantage of the nutritive values in the out layers of the grain.
A cup of brown unpolished rice contains 88 per cent of manganese, 27.3 per cent of selenium, 20.9 per cent of magnesium. 18.7 per cent of tryptophan and only 12 per cent calories.
High fibre content of the brown rice reduces absorption of cholesterol, and facilitates healthy bowel movements and supposed to promote weight loss.
Those who eat white rice are deprived of the valuable nutrients like the ones mentioned above, including B vitamins, such as thiamine, niacin, and minerals like phosphorus and magnesium. Brown rice contains relatively high levels of the amino acid lysine. These micronutrients and minerals are found in the unmilled and unpolished bran and germ. In the United States the polished rice is referred to as enriched rice, enriched with two B vitamins- thiamine and niacin and iron. In countries like Sri Lanka the white rice is not enriched due to the costs.
IT is important that people concentrate more on consuming unprocessed products, especially in Sri Lanka where so many delicacies are cooked using rice flour and wheat flour, such pittus, hoppers, roties, indiappans and so on.
Written by Dr Harold Gunatillake-Health writer