Life Staples - The Story
of Brown Rice
White or brown rice provides most of the food for more than half of the world’s population. About 94% of the world’s rice is produced and consumed in Asia. It is a symbol of life
and fertility — hence the origin of the widespread custom of
throwing rice at bridal couples!
A member of the grass family, rice was cultivated in China as early as 27 century B.C., and in Japan it is so important that even the Emperor joins in its ritual harvest. More than 25 varieties of rice exist, but one — Oryza sativa — furnishes virtually all of the world’s rice.
Processing destroys many nutrients found in whole grain rice. Also used as a cereal grain, most people prefer white rice to brown rice. Brown rice has the bran left on but the hulls removed. Further processing (polishing, enriching) results in white rice.
The nutritional value of rice is concentrated in the outer layers of the granule, which are rich in B-vitamins, vitamin E, minerals, fiber, lipids, and sterols such as gamma-oryzanol. Processing removes these layers, which are often sold as livestock feed. So while processing degrades the value of the human diet, at least it enriches the animal diet!
In rice-eating nations, 60-80% of calories come from rice. This means that 20-40% of calories from the other foods consumed must supply all missing vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients. In many countries, the nutrient content of rice largely determines the quality of health of the people who must subsist on it. White rice is not a nutrient-diverse food: 92% of a polished rice granule is solely carbohydrates, and only 2% of the additional material has any nutritional value.
The milling of rice has dramatic health consequences, the most important of which is the loss of thiamine (vitamin B1) resulting in beriberi among people whose diets consist almost entirely of white rice. Milling also decreases the content of riboflavin, niacin, protein, iron, and calcium in white rice. Whole grain rice, in contrast, retains its nutritional value.
Due to the industrialization of the Far East, Asian rice is now probably more processed than ever before in history. To put back some of the nutrients removed during processing, vitamins and minerals are sprayed on white rice. Ironically it is then described as "enriched". Vitamins and minerals are not the only nutrients stripped from rice during processing, but these are the only nutrients returned during "enrichment." A significant amount of protein, fiber, lipids, and sterols are forever lost during the conversion of brown rice to white.
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