White Rice vs. Brown Rice
In the west we are taught that brown rice is healthy and white is not, but in Eastern nutrition it is not so simple, not so “brown and white,” if you will. In fact, white rice is used in many Chinese herbal formulas to protect the stomach from the harsh anti-inflammatory properties of other ingredients, and in spite of its own minimal nutrients, acts as a great aid in boosting the microbiome’s functionality, i.e. making us healthier.
One dish Chinese Medicine is most keen on is rice congee, and before the pandemic I used to love going to Congee Village on Allen Street between Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Congee is basically slow-cooked rice orridge. Instead of the typical 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice for 15 minutes we use 8 cups of water for 45 minutes. We can also add whatever ingredients to the pot we wish to enhance the nutritional and culinary value. Most common in winter are chicken, beef, scallions, garlic, or ginger—in summer I like celery, spinach, and sesame oil, often still with a dash of other seasonings. Another option is to make with dates and add honey at the end. Eat a small bowl of any of these variations and I challenge you to say you do not feel great, nourished, healthy.
I realize I am a broken record in this premise, but we do not judge all foods based solely on their literal nutritional constituency within the context of a science lab, but also on how they behave within the context of digesting guts. In Chinese Medicine we view the appropriate portion of white rice as the perfect agent to settle the stomach and maximize absorption of all other nutrients in the meal. Of course, this doesn’t mean to eat it every day. It just means it’s probably not be as bad as people say. And it’s gluten free!
Brown rice is considered healthier because of its bran and phytonutrients content, but those same phytonutrients are NOT DIGESTIBLE! This makes brown rice notoriously harder to digest (ever get bloated after a “super healthy meal?”), which begs the question: What’s the point? It also has higher levels of arsenic than white rice, so if you insist on eating it, be sure to rinse thoroughly. Personally, my approach to diet is to seek my nutrients more from vegetables and protein sources than from my rice, which is why I opt for the superior digestive aid over bran content.
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