Rice: benefits, properties, types, uses

Rice is a very ancient cereal that is widespread all over the world. Let’s see below what rice contains, what are its properties and what benefits it brings to our health.

Rice is a cereal belonging to the Graminaceae family and in particular to the Oryza sativa species. It is a very ancient cereal, presumably born in China and then spread throughout the eastern world first and then western. In Italy, the regions where there is the greatest production are Veneto, Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna. The plants are sown in spring, ripen in summer and the fruit is represented by grains.

There are so many varieties of rice, from Carnaroli, to Vialone Nano, to Arborio, to Basmati, just to name a few. Each of them is characterized by some peculiarities that make them suitable for different preparations and different needs.

As soon as it is harvested , the rice, called paddy or raw rice, is not edible, since the seed is covered with various rigid casings that protect the caryopsis, which represents the edible part, which must therefore be “freed” through drying and various processes industrial. The first process that the grain undergoes is husking, that is the elimination of these external layers: the result is the browned or hulled rice, usually called brown rice, which is already edible. If further treated to remove the outer husk, brown rice becomes white or refined rice. The polishing is a further process that follows that of whitening which consists in sprinkling the grains with a layer of talc and glucose in order to make it whiter and brighter. During the polishing process, a large part of vitamins, minerals, fibers and fatty acids are lost.

It follows that the quality of brown rice, preserving as much as possible the layers of the outer integument of the grain, has no comparisons with polished rice and is therefore the best nutritionally. Then there is the semi-brown rice which undergoes only a part of the bleaching process and therefore partially preserves the fibers and mineral salts.

Brown rice: calories and nutritional properties

The calories of rice are on average comparable to those of other cereals. Specifically, brown rice provides 364 kcal per 100 grams, most of which in the form of carbohydrates. Proteins are well represented and lipids are also present in the form of fatty acids, most of which are unsaturated. Fibers are also well represented.

Brown rice, unlike polished rice, also contains many minerals and vitamins that are lost in the polishing process. In fact, let’s see in detail the nutritional properties of brown and polished rice in comparison.

ComponentBrown RicePolished Rice
Kcal 364365
Carbohydrates 81.3 g87.6 g
Fat2.8 g0.6 g
Proteins 6.7 g7.0 g
Fibers 3.8 g1.4 g
Waterfall 13.9 g12.9 g
Iron 1.4 mg0.6 mg
Soccer 10 mg6 mg
Sodium 3 mg6 mg
Potassium250 mg110 mg
Phosphorus310 mg120 mg
Zinc1.8 mg1.3 mg
Vitamin B10.59 mg0.06 mg
Vitamin B2 0.07 mg0.03 mg
Niacin 5.3 mg1.3 mg
Vitamin B6 0.51 mg0.3 mg
Vitamin E 0.80 mg0.06 mg

Nutritional differences between brown rice and polished rice

We have seen that brown rice is the one that preserves almost all the outer shells of the grain, while polished rice or white rice is obtained not only after the elimination of the outer layers, but also from cleaning and bleaching processes. It is therefore natural that due to mechanical and chemical treatments, together with the layers of the integument, the grain loses part of its constituents, which are often fundamental nutrients.

One of these is represented by fibers, which are present in brown rice in higher quantities than in polished rice. The presence of a greater quantity of fiber lowers the glycemic index of brown rice compared to that of white rice, which is why, for example, brown rice is recommended to diabetics but not white rice, which has more available and assimilable starches. Specifically, the glycemic index of cooked brown rice is 50, while that of boiled white rice is 73.

Even the lipids and with them the fat- soluble vitamins are lost with the polishing process, as well as part of the minerals, which are found precisely in the layers of the outer integument of the grain of rice. Although, therefore, from the caloric point of view there are not many differences between the two types of rice, these are much more evident from a nutritional point of view.

Part of the nutrients that are lost in polished rice can instead be found in some types of rice that have undergone only part of the refining processes: this is the case, for example, of semi-brown rice. After husking, in fact, the brown rice can undergo a mechanical processing that allows to eliminate only a part of the bran, thus obtaining the semi-brown rice which, in addition to preserving some of the fibers, also preserves part of the vitamins characteristic of brown rice.

Brown rice: the health benefits

As we know, rice is the most widespread and consumed cereal in the East. In Western countries, and in particular in those of the Mediterranean area, it is less so since the use of wheat and therefore of pasta is more widespread, but among cereals, after wheat, it is certainly the most used also in our areas. In fact, rice offers various benefits to our health, in particular in the wholemeal version, so it is also suitable for those suffering from diabetes and hypertension. It is also able to prevent cardiovascular diseases and is an extremely digestible food, which is why it also lends itself well to the diet of children and the elderly.

Furthermore, brown rice also contains gamma oryzanol, a molecule with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, at the base of some of the properties of rice. Let’s now analyze in detail all the benefits of rice.

✓ Digestible

Rice is an extremely digestible cereal since the starch it contains is present in small granules and is also low in amylose, a carbohydrate present for example in pasta, which lengthens digestive times. Not fatiguing the stomach and intestines, it is therefore suitable for those who have digestive problems or are going through a period of convalescence from an inflammation of the digestive tract.

✓ Gluten free

Being a naturally gluten-free cereal, rice is suitable for the diet of celiacs. With rice flour it is also possible to prepare baked goods at home without necessarily resorting to prepackaged foods.

✓ Suitable for those with hyperuricemia problems

Rice is a cereal suitable for those suffering from hyperuricemia, which is a condition caused by the increase of uric acids in the blood. The starch contained in rice helps to eliminate uric acids.

✓ Useful against diabetes

As already mentioned, brown rice, unlike polished rice, is excellent for the diet of diabetics as the fibers it contains lower the glycemic index and modulate the absorption of glucose by the cells.

✓ Antihypertensive effect

Brown rice has an antihypertensive effect as it contains in one of its layers of the integument a molecule capable of inhibiting angiotensin II, a factor known to be responsible for the development of conditions such as hypertension and atherosclerosis.

✓ Antioxidant

As we have anticipated above, brown rice contains gamma oryzanol, a molecule with an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, which as such is useful in inflammatory states, including those relating to the gastrointestinal system, acting for example as a gastroprotector.

✓ Hypocholesterolemic

It would always be gamma oryzanol to give brown rice its cholesterol-lowering effect by inhibiting the expression of proteins related to the accumulation of fat, but also to the inflammation typical of the metabolic syndrome.

✓ Satisfying if whole

Brown rice promotes weight loss since it contains many fibers, has a notable satiating effect and for this reason it is widely used in low-calorie diets, where, although in small quantities, it gives a sense of fullness.

Types of rice: what are the differences

There are more than 100 different types of rice, each with unique characteristics that make it suitable for various types of nutritional needs and culinary preparations. It is possible to distinguish the various types of rice based on the length and shape of the grain (more or less elongated) and also on the basis of the processes undergone during processing. Let’s see some of them in detail.

1. Venus rice

Venere rice is a black rice, which, beyond what one might think, is an Italian rice, obtained from a cross between a rice of Asian origin and one from the Po Valley. This variety is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals with a good amount of fiber, in fact, like the wholemeal one, it requires a long cooking (about 40-45 minutes) and is perfect to combine with fish or for the preparation of rice salads.

2. Basmati rice

Basmati rice originates from India and Pakistan. It is a rice with a white, thin and elongated grain. It is also possible to find it in the integral version, but in any case its glycemic index is low , so much so that it is recommended, like the integral one, for the nutrition of diabetics. It has an almost fragrant aroma and since the grains remain well separated during cooking, it is excellent to accompany fish or meat dishes or for salads with vegetables.

3. Black Rice

Black rice is a brown rice of oriental origin, probably Chinese, which therefore has all the qualities and nutritional characteristics of brown rice. Rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, it requires long cooking times and since the grains remain quite firm, it is great for salads.

4. Red Rice

Red rice is a variety of brown rice, of oriental origin, rich in fiber and antioxidant compounds. It has elongated and red colored beans. It has an aromatic flavor that lends itself to both first courses and salads. It is not to be confused with fermented red rice which is, instead, a supplement used to lower cholesterol.

5. Parboiled rice

Parboiled rice is not a variety of rice, but is the result of a particular treatment that the rice grains undergo. The rice is heated through jets of steam which causes the nutrients to pass towards the inside of the grain, so that the husking, while removing the outer layers of the grain, preserves the nutrients. “Parboiled” is in fact the abbreviation for “partially boiled”, that is “partially boiled”. For this reason, compared to brown rice, it has shorter cooking times, while not releasing much starch and remaining firm. It is therefore suitable for salads and cold dishes.

6. Rice Rome

Roma rice is a variety of rice, with white and rounded grains. It has a low cooking time as it contains a lot of starch and is therefore suitable for the preparation of risottos and rice creams.

7. Carnaroli rice

Carnaroli rice is a variety of rice that comes from the cross between two other varieties of rice. The grain is elongated and pearly in color, resistant to cooking, it absorbs the seasoning well without releasing too much starch. It is therefore well suited for risotto and first courses.

8. Arborio rice

Arborio rice is a variety of rice, coming from Piedmont, similar to Carnaroli, but unlike this one, it tends to release more starch and take less cooking, so it tends to flake. It is mostly used for the preparation of risotto.

9. Vialone Nano rice

Vialone Nano is a highly prized variety of rice, widely used for risottos. It has rounded medium-sized grains and releases enough starch during cooking.

Type of rice:Most suitable uses:
Venus riceTo combine with fish or for salads
Basmati riceTo combine with meat, fish or rice salads
Black RiceSuitable for salads
Red riceSuitable for first courses and salads
Parboiled riceSuitable for salads and cold dishes
Rice RomaSuitable for risotto and rice creams
Carnaroli riceSuitable for risotto and first courses
Arborio riceSuitable for risotto
Vialone Nano riceSuitable for risotto

How much rice to eat

Rice is a beneficial food that can be included in your diet even every day. A portion is comparable to that of other cereals and corresponds, in principle, to about 70/80 grams (weighed raw). This value, however, may vary depending on the composition of the dish, especially if we are following a specific diet.

Rice: how to cook and some practical advice

Rice can be cooked in many ways, just think of the different preparations it lends itself to in the world: from steamed rice in the East, to risotto, fried rice in Thailand, paella in Spain, to name just a few. However, each variety is suitable for a particular preparation.

The cooking method that maintains the properties of rice more than others and even the simplest one is certainly steamed, to which Basmati rice and Carnaroli for example are better suited.

It is advisable to soak the rice before preparing it and rinse it, so that it loses part of its starch and the grains remain well separated after cooking. For this type of cooking in the East a bamboo steamer is traditionally used, but if we don’t have it, we can use one in steel or silicone.

In the water, which is brought to a boil, the basket is placed in which the rice is placed and to enhance the flavor it is also possible to put spices or aromatic herbs in the water as desired. For the types of rice just mentioned, the cooking time will be about 20 minutes (however, check the times shown on the packages). Steamed rice can then be used as an accompaniment to meat and fish dishes.

A second typical method of cooking rice is boiled, to which Carnaroli for example lends itself well, also to prepare the classic white rice, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil. If, on the other hand, we want to use boiled rice to prepare tasty and rich salads, the most recommended types are Venere rice, Black rice or Red rice.

Of course, let’s not forget the classic Italian risotto, for which Italian rice will be suitable, such as Carnaroli, Roma or Arborio. The preparation of a good risotto involves roasting the rice, that is, cooking the rice in a pan for a few minutes with or without oil, then adding the broth and continuing to cook.

Basmati rice, on the other hand, lends itself very well to the preparation of pilaf rice, a recipe of Turkish origin, for which the rice cooks by gradual absorption of water. When the water boils in a saucepan, add the rice, previously washed, which will cook covered with a lid for 10-12 minutes without being turned, until it completely absorbs the water.

With these cooking methods it will therefore be possible to cook the rice which we can, naturally after cooking, also use for more imaginative preparations such as timbales, meatballs and flans with the addition of vegetables but also cheeses, meats or fish.

Let’s not forget that rice can be used for the preparation of desserts, using it in grains or using the flour instead of the classic wheat flour.

Contraindications of rice

Rice is a cereal that we can safely use as an alternative to wheat, as it has no particular contraindications. An always useful recommendation, however, is not to overdo the quantities because, although recommended in slimming diets, it cannot be used too abundantly since the calories of rice are not negligible.

It is essential to use good quality rice and try to choose a variety of rice in its whole form in order to use all its nutrients. Furthermore, when buying a whole grain cereal, it would be better to rely on an organic product , since, since the grain retains all its external integuments, it is good to make sure that it has not absorbed any pesticides. Of course, then, for what has been said, people with diabetes should always consume brown rice.


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