February 17, 2009

From white to brown rice

When it comes to nutrition counseling, few suggestions I make to Bread for the City clients cause as much a stir as switching from white to brown rice. To many, white rice is a cultural staple food, a non-negotiable part of their diet.

I understand the cultural value of culinary tradition. But I also believe it’s possible to honor and uphold tradition while learning and growing into even healthier lifestyles. Enjoying brown rice and other whole grains is a simple step in that direction.

Most of the healthy parts of grains are found in the outer parts, called the germ and bran. But these parts are removed in the process of turning brown rice into white rice. When the germ and bran go, about three-quarters of the nutrients are lost, too.

Most often, this newly white rice is sold as is. Sometimes customers will find white rice that is “enriched” or “fortified” with vitamins and minerals like the ones that once were in the germ and bran. This is an improvement over standard white rice but these reintegrated vitamins and minerals generally do not work as well in the body as those that were there to begin with. It’s preferable to get these nutrients in their natural forms – by eating whole grains like brown rice, as well as other foods that have not been processed.

For those who are open to trying brown rice, I offer the following advice: Transition slowly.

For a couple of weeks, one should cook a combination of ¼ brown rice and ¾ white rice. Then make the switch to ½ brown and ½ white, staying with that combination for two weeks. Then change it to ¾ brown and ¼ white. And after two more weeks of that, finally, try 100% brown rice. Usually, making the move this way gives a person enough time to adjust, and the less drastic change is one that sticks.

And in case you’re wondering, no, a little white rice from time to time is not a big deal for the average person in fine health. But if white rice is a staple part of a diet that generally includes lots of processed carbohydrates and other foods, making the switch to brown rice could be an easy step toward improving your health.

One simple brown rice dish I made a while back with a Bread for the City cooking class is called mujadara. This is a Syrian Jewish recipe that always receives excellent reviews:



2 cups of long-grain or basmati brown rice
1 cup of brown or green lentils, preferably French green lentils
2 medium onions
Olive oil

Cook rice and lentils according to package instructions. If cooking time is same, do it in one pot; if different, you’ll need to use two pots.
Pour olive oil in pan, just enough to coat the bottom.
Lightly sautee 2 medium onions in pan until caramelized.
Mix in 2 t of cinnamon and a dash of salt with onion sautee.
Combine rice, lentils, and onion sautee, adding more cinnamon to flavor if desired.

So as I say to my clients: give it a shot. You might enjoy the heartier texture. And maybe the best part is: brown rice actually keeps you full longer than white rice. One of the many benefits of whole grains…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ha, I was going to suggest a gradual switch and then you went there yourself. We used to stick to white but started making brown occasionally after we had kids. Now, more often than not, we do a mix of white and brown and throw in some other crazy rice mixture from Trader Joes. Or spices. Fun with rice!