Is brown rice healthy or not?

I’ve been thinking for a year or two now about my relationship with rice, in conjunction with reading about paleo diets. I’ve been eating rice, white or brown, for most of my life, and am now considering make some further changes to my diet (beyond giving up oatmeal for an entire month now).

So what now with rice?

White rice

When I was a kid, I ate white rice often, because it was something my mother provided for most meals. Actually, it was present for me at almost all meals, until I decided I wanted to eat, all the time, the sweet breakfast cereals I saw on TV.

When I went off to college, I drastically changed my diet, being dependent on cafeteria food and also being tempted by opportunities to eat pizza and chicken wings and the like outside of the provided meals. I ate much less rice then.

While in grad school at CMU, I got back into eating white rice, as a result of developing the habit of eating Indian food for lunch: I would buy lunch from either the Taste of India present on campus or from Sree’s food truck.

Brown rice for five years

For many years, I kept hearing that brown rice was healthier than white rice, and this advice was based on the idea that white rice has lost many of its nutrients and fiber during the refinement process. But I never ate brown rice because every time I tried making it, it came out unpalatable. Eventually I learned that I was making it wrong.

In 2006, after hearing too often from a friend that white rice was “white death”, I took the plunge and bought a fancy Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker, to be able to make good brown rice as well as start eating steel cut oatmeal (which my friend also advocated eating). So it’s been over five years since I have been eating a lot of oatmeal (recently stopped) and brown rice (still going). And I have to confess that if one is going to eat steel cut oatmeal or brown rice, the Neuro Fuzzy cooker is the way to go, with its timer functions that make it trivial to generate really good results!


Enter the paleo movement.

I started reading that maybe brown rice isn’t so healthy after all. Sources such as Mark Sisson and the Jaminets argue that brown rice is harmful because of phytic acid that binds to nutrients and makes them inaccessible to us. I don’t know how true this is. But if it is true, it is worrying.

Sisson suggests soaking and fermenting brown rice. Having sort of tried this, I was disgusted by the results. Stephan Guyenet suggested a whole complicated-sounding protocol for soaking brown rice. Looking at the comments gave me a headache.

What now?

So what am I to do?

I eat brown rice in part to get fiber and in part to get (carb) calories. I have experimented with eating less brown rice lately, but am now considering doing an experiment in which I actually give it up for two weeks or so, to see how I feel. Giving up oatmeal has largely been a good thing for me; I rather enjoy eating a lot of veggies and more protein for breakfast. But getting rid of brown rice is much more radical. Should I really go back to white rice? I don’t know right now.

(Update of 2012-10-24)

On Food Day in 2012, I wrote more about some dilemmas with rice.

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