What’s in a spoonful of rice?

Although rice is one of the most widely consumed grains in the world, off-late it has come under attack for being fattening or starchy. Let’s take a look at the nutritional content of rice.

Rice to the occasion

From biryani to dosa, risotto to sushi, rice is eaten in so many wonderful ways around the world. It is, after all, a staple for more than half of the world’s population. Principally consumed in Asia, rice provides 20% of the world’s energy supply, while wheat supplies 19% and maize 5%. In India, rice eating regions include eastern India – Assam, Sikkim, Meghalaya, West Bengal; Central India – Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand; and Southern India – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka.

India is the second largest producer of rice in the world after China. Being a tropical plant that grows well in hot and humid regions, it is a dominant crop grown in India. Rice growing regions in India are Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, eastern Uttar Pradesh and eastern Madhya Pradesh.

Nutritional content of rice

The nutritional composition of rice is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. Rice is easy to digest. It is low in fat, low in cholesterol and high in starch. Starch makes up 72-75% of the carbohydrate component of rice. Starch is a carbohydrate made of many glucose molecules, and it is the form in which all plants store their energy. Starch is found in high amounts in potatoes, rice, wheat and maize.

Starch is made of 2 types of molecules – amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is a polysaccharide made of many tightly packed glucose molecules, and hence is more resistant to digestion. Longer and superior grains of rice have more of amylase.

Amylopectin is a more soluable polysaccharide made of many branched polymers of glucose. Glutinous rice, or medium-grain rice, consists almost entirely of amylopectin and is therefore more sticky.

Longer rice is used in making biryanis and pulaos, while medium grain rice is used in making rice pudding like kheer, dosa, idli, and snacks like murka etc.

Glutelin is the principal protein in rice. The nutritive value of rice protein is superior to that of wheat and other cereal products. And like other cereal products, rice is deficient in the amino acid lysine, while pulses are deficient in amino acid methionine. When the two are used in together – for instance rice and dal or khichri – the protein quality of the final dish improves.

Most of the minerals present in rice are found in the pericarp and the germ. Polished rice is poor in calcium and iron.

Varieties of rice

36 varieties of rice are available in India,  the popular ones being Basmati, Seela rice, Pusa rice.

Rice is found in different colours like white, black, brown, red and purple. Coloured rice contain anthocyanins and carotenoids pigment, responsible for giving colour to the rice grain. The colour of the rice is also dependent on the nutrient content of the soil it is grown in, whether and how the rice is polished, the manner in which it is enriched and process used before its consumption.

Brown rice

Brown rice is the whole kernel from which hull has been removed. Brown rice is milled to remove the outer coarse layer of bran and germ that is high in fibre content, to produce unpolished rice. Brown rice is higher in fibre content which is why it also takes more time to cook.

Comparison between brown and white rice (per 100g of raw rice)

Nutrition Brown Rice White Rice
Energy (kcal) 357 383
Fat (g) 2.8 3.6
Protein (g) 6.7 7.3
Carbohydrate (g) 76 78
Fibre (g) 1.9 0.4
Thiamine (Vit. B1, mg) 0.59 0.41

Cooking rice

Rice is cooked by boiling or steaming, and it absorbs water during cooking. It’s very important to wash the rice before cooking. This is because often, the rice is polished with powders to make it whiter and washing rice helps remove this powder. Also, throwing away the starchy rice water reduces the starch content of the rice.

It is widely believed that starch-removed rice does not increase blood sugar levels. The truth is that although the starch is removed, rice contains simple carbohydrates that would still increase the blood sugar levels.

The best way to eat rice is with a lot of vegetables or cooked in the form of pulao with the vegetables thrown right in. This increases the fibre content of the rice and helps to release sugar slowly into the blood.  Remember to make it a habit to eat rice with plenty  of vegetables.

Popular rice products

India is rich in different types of rice dishes made out of rice and rice derivatives like chirwa (poha), puffed rice, rice powder etc. If you’re in the mood for a rice delicacy, simply take your pick from biryani, kheer, phirni, dosa, idli, murka, bhel puri (from puffed rice), poha, papad and many many more.

Written by Misha Sharma, Nutritionist

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