Rice, Innocuous or Not?
It’s been plaguing me for a while now. Is Rice ok?
Should I or shouldn’t I eat it? If you’ve read a little bit about me you’ll know that I used to have a stomach ache most days. In fact, I pretty much had a stomach ache for about 20 years – give or take a few good months. I did the best I could to eat without upset but this was (in hindsight) entirely impossible because I was profoundly addicted to sugar and flaky pastry.
What I did know was that rice didn’t upset me. That was possibly the extent of my body wisdom. I could eat rice. White rice, that is. I was too lazy to cook the brown stuff. Waiting an hour for rice to cook was beyond my patience back then.
I became a connoisseur of white rice. It was one of the only foods I chose to buy premium. I would make a special trip to an Asian grocery and ask a wise elder to lead me to the most expensive 10kg bag; Basmati or Jasmine or both.
I was aware that brown rice was probably more nutritious, although I didn’t really know all the details. Being vegetarian for 8 years meant I’d had my share of advice to increase whole grains.
But along with food sensitivities, I also battled constipation and ulcerative colitis. Now, it’s also standard dietary advice to increase your fibre intake when you can’t poop. So I took the advice and began to cook up brown rice; usually enough for a few days (because it took so darn long to cook!).
But what happened? Well, all hell broke loose in my stomach. Brown rice seriously caused me more and more stomach pain! And I was still just as constipated. It’s counter-intuitive, but that’s exactly what happened.
What the? No wonder I was so confused. My body said it was ok to eat white rice yet I was advised to eat brown. I hadn’t learnt to trust my body yet so I didn’t know who to listen to.
On an incredible day, 3 years ago, I happened across the book; “Breaking the viscous cycle – Intestinal health through diet with the Specific Carbohydrate Diet” After that, I gave up rice altogether. I gave up all grains actually. I just considered them equally bad. I had been gluten-free for a few months but then overnight I stopped all grains too! I was nil grain by mouth. The difference was immediate and like a miracle, to my body consciousness I’ve listened to my body ever since.
Since then, in an effort to understand this crazy grain debate, I’ve come to learn that all grains aren’t equal. Some are seriously nasty but there’s a spectrum.
If the devil of them all is wheat, then rice might be considered simply a harmless ghost. Ghosts can be bad, but they can also hang out and not bother anyone.
Nutritional Profile of rice. source
Let’s take a closer look at these brown and white ‘spirits’.
Brown rice is a whole grain with the hull, husk and bran intact. The hull contains all the nutrients, (and there are a lot) but it also houses anti-nutrients; phytates and lectins. They are hard to digest; impossible to digest really unless you are part rodent.
Here’s the big problem with brown rice. Brown rice is high in phytic acid but it lacks the super hero enzyme phytase to break it down. I’ve written more about this here. So essentially, all the nutrients in brown rice stay locked up in the hull and are impossible to digest. From where I sit; why, eat something that you can’t get nutrients from. Especially if it’s going to give you a stomach ache!
To access the nutrients, brown rice must be soaked. The bad news is, it requires a long and careful preparation to make it safe to eat. One has to ask, is it worth the trouble? Source
How to break down phytic acid in brown rice.
It is quite alarming to note that soaking brown rice overnight will barely begin to break down the phytic acid. 24 hours is the minimum but that’s a long time to have planned a meal. Remember brown rice does not have the super hero enzyme phytase. This means that culturing in an acidic medium will not help the process. The method below will eventually hasten the soak time and reduce phytates if you are committed to eating it. I have never taken the time to do this.
- Soak brown rice in water for 24 hours at room temperature without changing the water.
- Reserve 10% of the soaking liquid (should keep for a long time in the fridge).
- Discard the rest of the soaking liquid; then cook the rice in fresh water.
- The next time you make brown rice, use the same procedure as above, but add the soaking liquid you reserved from the last batch to the rest of the soaking water.
- Repeat the cycle. The process will gradually improve until 96% or more of the phytic acid is degraded in 24 hours. Source
Once the husk is removed rice is basically nutritionally bereft. It’s virtually pure starch. There’s not much to it, there’s not much left. But the good news is; the phytates and lectins are all removed too. White rice is nothing but carbohydrate, glucose with neither toxins nor many nutrients.
So why would you eat something that is nutritionally bleak and turns to glucose? Well, because it relatively harmless, it tastes good and it’s a vehicle for the good stuff. Homemade sauces, stock, butter, coconut milk, and vegetables. Its neutrality teams with most cuisines. It’s fun, kids love it and it’s cheap! When you switch to buying pricey organics a little bit of cheap and harmless can be a saviour.
Food for good, gut bacteria.
White rice contains beneficial resistant starch, a form of starch that miraculously passes through the stomach undigested. Rather than feeding us, resistant starch travels to the large intestine to feed our good bacteria. Good bacteria gobble up resistant starch and use it for energy to survive, thrive and repopulate. How cool is that! Source
White rice can become a prebiotic fertiliser for your micro-biome.
But there is a catch. Once cooked, white rice is not instantly a form of resistant starch. White rice must be left to chill in order to become resistant starch. It’s all a bit sciency and complicated however cooling rice in the fridge allows retrogradation (resistant starch) to occur. Once retrogradation has taken place, rice can actually be reheated and remain a resistant starch. Bizarre but true. So rethink white rice sushi, rice salad, cold Asian rice noodle dishes. As a bonus, adding vinegar only further contributes to the wonders of resistant starch in your diet.
The Coconut Oil Miracle.
Coconut oil can increase the level of resistant starch in white rice after it has cooled. Simply add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil to rice while it’s simmering then allow to cool. Too easy! Source
This is not a ticket to be lazy. The dose makes the poison. White rice is not a meal in itself. I consider it a once or twice a week side dish to accompany an already vitamin and mineral rich diet. Rice is a good option for children. I often cook white rice for my family but don’t choose to put it on my plate. I add rice noodles too (Pho) chicken broth for my family but skip my bowl. It fills them up, it’s home-made and it’s healthy. If you can get a big bowl of homemade bone broth into your kids via oodles of fun rice noodles, I say good on you!
Ahhh Arsenic! Wash Rice Thoroughly.
Did you know that rice naturally contains Arsenic as well? Many commercial rice products contain shocking levels. source
Most of the arsenic is found in the husk, so brown rice has significantly more arsenic than white rice. Read more. I recommend washing white rice several times before cooking it to remove residual arsenic. I rub the grains with my fingers as I wash it in warm water. I feel great satisfaction watching cloudy water become clear after several rinses. It is not enough to let water run over the grains in a sieve.
Spend a few minutes caring for the grains so that they will care for you in return.
Wild rice is not actually rice or a grain, it is in fact a broad name for 4 different grass species in the family of pseudo grains. Like most pseudo grains wild rice is also wildly nutritious, but like brown rice the nutrients are all bound up by phytates. Fortunately however, wild rice does contains the super hero enzyme phytase, which is a good thing if you enjoy and can tolerate a few grain like foods in your diet.
To properly prepare wild rice, soak it overnight in warm water with a tablespoon of whey, plain yoghurt, lemon juice or Apple cider vinegar. Rinse well then cook. Read more about culturing grain and pseudo grain.
Who doesn’t enjoy a really good bowl of Vietnamese Pho; noodle soup in a bone broth. If you are eating rice without upset, rice noodles are the same deal. Not a lot of nutritional value in themselves, but they are super good with other healthy stuff.
The Verdict – Who should eat rice?
Gut healing diets like GAPS and SCD do not permit any grain, including rice. I don’t propose to differ. I agree entirely with this protocol. I haven’t had a flare up in my conditions in over a year. Despite my relative wellness, I eat any toxin baring food, whether it be rice, pseudo grains, nuts, seeds, FODMAPs and night shade veggies with caution.
It’s a conversation I have daily with my body. I have to assess and reassess the condition of my stomach from meal to meal. I’m probably more in tune now than I ever have been. My body promptly speaks up. I listen and respond as best I can. I personally feel brown rice is more harm than good in my body but I enjoy white rice now and then. Your constitution may tolerate both?
But I’m certainly not here to tell you to eat rice while you have troubling gut symptoms. I’m looking toward long-term wellness. I am proposing that properly prepared rice may be tolerable with a well-balanced, anti-inflammatory diet after a long period of healing.
If you choose to eat white rice, you can rest assured that it is relatively free from gut irritating anti-nutrients.
What you decide will look different based on your own health issues or what works for you.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on rice. Does brown rice upset you?