Rice is an important staple of any healthy diet. This food is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and complements protein alternatives to saturated fat-laden meat dishes very well.
Rice is the dietary backbone for over half the world's population. In Asian countries, each person consumes, on average, 200 to 400 pounds a year. Americans eat about 21 pounds per person, per year.
Rice is one reason why Asian diets are so low in saturated fat. While Americans tend to view rice as a side dish to a meat-centered diet, Asians view rice as the focus of the meal. Increasing the amount of rice and decreasing the amount of meat served helps reduce saturated fat intake.
Brown rice, a whole grain, provides three times the fiber of white rice and is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of selenium, magnesium, many B vitamins, and fiber. The fiber and selenium in brown rice may work together to reduce colon cancer risk. Research reported in 2005 showed that rice bran oil (rather than fiber) reduced blood cholesterol levels.
Whole grains eaten daily helped postmenopausal women slow the progression of heart disease. One reason may be linked to the lignans found in whole grains, which have been shown to help reduce heart disease, as well as prevent hormone-dependent cancers such as breast cancer. In addition, whole grains help prevent weight gain, and eating whole grains is correlated with a lower body weight, says a study that followed over 74,000 female nurses for 12 years.
Selection and Storage
Long-grain rice is the most popular variety in the United States. Cooked, the grains are fluffy and dry and separate easily. Medium-grain is popular in Latin-American cultures. Though fairly fluffy right after cooking, it clumps together once it cools. Short-grain, or glutinous rice, has nearly round grains with a high starch content. When cooked, it becomes moist and sticky so the grains clump together, which is perfect for eating with the chopsticks of Asian cultures.
Brown rice is the whole grain with only the outer husk removed. It is tan in color and has a chewy texture and a nutlike flavor. It is more perishable than white rice but keeps about six months, and longer if refrigerated. White rice keeps almost indefinitely if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place. Expensive wild rice is not rice at all but a member of the grass family. It has a rich flavor and is higher in protein than other types of rice.
Preparation and Serving Tips
If rice is bought from bulk bins, it must be washed to remove dust and dirt. Packaged rice bought in the United States doesn't need to be washed. If it's fortified, rinsing washes away some of the B vitamins. However, it is a good idea to rinse imported rices. They may be dirty and are not enriched, so nutrients won't be washed away.
Cooking times for rice vary by variety and size of grain. Long-grain white rice takes about 20 minutes to cook. Long-grain brown rice takes longer, about 30 minutes. Short-grain brown rice takes about 40 minutes.
Wild rice takes the longest, up to 50 minutes. Water isn't the only cooking medium you can use to prepare rice. Try seasoned broth, fruit juice, or tomato juice for a change of pace. Dilute it to half strength with water. Be aware that when you add acid to the cooking water, as with juices, the rice takes longer to cook.
Though rice is often served alongside a main dish, it is better stir-fried and mixed with plenty of vegetables and a little lean meat or tofu. Or try it as a cold salad with peas, red peppers, and a warm, low-fat vinaigrette dressing.
Through the centuries, rice has proven its versatility as a healthy weight-loss menu offering.
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