White Rice can be manipulated for slower digestion and cut down on calories

By Dr Harold Gunatillake - Health Writer

There is no question, unprocessed brown or red rice is better for your health, and the environment, too.

Rice goes through a variety of processes before it’s ready for cooking. After harvesting, the seeds are run through a rice huller/husker for milling to remove the outer grain husks. After this process, you're left with brown rice. The light brown colour is due to the presence of the bran layers and the embryo or germ. Red rice also contains bran. Bran contains pigment compounds which imparts the colours. The term parboiled rice is used in optional processing step prior to milling. To create white rice, there are added steps. The germ and the inner husk (bran) are removed the grain is then polished, usually using glucose or talc.

The hulls of the paddy seeds can be reclaimed and used as fuel or turned into many abrasives, animal feed and other products.

So, brown rice is a ‘wholemeal’ food and white rice minus its nutrients and added synthetics (enriched with B1, B3 and iron) is called ‘fortified’ rice. The latter is also named milled white rice. In Sri Lanka such enriching of the white polished rice is unlikely to be carried out as in countries like the U.S. The same type of thing happens to wholesome brown bread and white bread.

The loss of nutrients is substantial, vitamin E, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folacin, Potassium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Selenium Iron and many other nutrients are removed in white rice. The amount of fibre in white rice is about a quarter of brown rice.

There is a way to make white rice healthier, and this was discovered by an undergraduate student at the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka by ingeniously reducing the calorie content as much a 50 per cent, by manipulating the chemistry of the starch.

The process is simple. When the water is boiling and before adding the raw well washed rice, a few teaspoons of coconut oil is added into the boiling water. Sudhair James presented this paper as his preliminary research at National Meeting & Expositions of the American Chemical Society. He further said that the boiled rice is kept in the fridge overnight which gives a dense coating, resulting in slow digestion and less calorie intake.
The concept is that oiling the surface of the white rice through the modified way of cooking converts the starch to resistant starch. Further chilling in the fridge overnight reduces the calorie content by 50 percent.

White rice Pilaf
Without inserting the rice to boiling water following the adding of coconut oil, one could jazz it by adding the uncooked rice and lightly stir frying after heating the oil in a saucepan and sautéing the diced fine onions until soft, for about 2-3 minutes. Then to spike the flavour one could add cumin, saffron, cinnamon, thyme, mint and parsley. Instead of water, now stock and red or white wine is added.

By this process of cooking you tend to form a dense oily coating on the surface of the grain, which helps in much slower digestion and absorption in the small gut. There is no chance of spiking blood sugar levels as when ‘uncoated’ boiled white rice is eaten.

Dr Pushparajah Thavarajah who is supervising the work said, “If you can modify the digestible starch in something like steamed rice, you can reduce the calories”.

James and the professor Thavarajah tested eight different recipes on 38 different kinds of rice found in Sri Lanka. They found that by adding a lipid like coconut oil before adding the raw rice, and then chilling that cooked rice overnight, they were able to drastically change its composition for the better.

What this means is that this process of adding oil before the rice being cooked changes the architecture of the starch, and less calories are absorbed much slower.

This observation I have noticed for many years. I used to write and also say that diabetics should eat lumprai and biriyani for better control of blood sugar. Fattening is a disadvantage, but extra bit of exercise may compensate. Remember, today eating fat is considered okay, and the sugar that is harmful.

This theory applies for indiappans (string-hoppers), too. Break the steamed string-hoppers into tiny pieces by squeezing with hand. Then stir fry in oil and other spices, onions, etc. That would slow down the absorption of the sugars in the string-hoppers giving better blood sugar levels. Starches in food are not the same in terms of digestion and absorption in the gut. Soluble digestible starches as in normally cooked white rice, potatoes, and other carbs get absorbed fast in the gut. On the other hand resistant starches when food is modified in the cooking process can delay absorption and reduce calorie content.

Sri Lankans are mainly white rice eaters. The rice is malleable, tasty, and pleasurable to eat, producing quick energy for the day’s work. It is a necessity for the working class people with lesser earnings. They naturally exercise more by walking to the bus stands, changing buses daily to go for work and return home. Purchasing white rice street “Bath packet” available for about Rs 100, on the way to work provides them with sufficient energy to go through the day. The incidence of diabetes type 2 is less common among these working class people, unless genetic factors affect them.

The rich and the affluent travelling in motor vehicles to work should eat brown or red rice, or modified white rice as discussed earlier. The incidence of diabetes type 2 and obesity are high among this class of people.

So, eating fried rice, biriyani at places like the DBU would be part of their solution to control and prevent diabetes and not obesity.

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