Precious Rice

By Dr Dhanya Nambiar
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Photo by Pille R. Priske on Unsplash

Rice is one of the few whole grains that we can grow and source locally, and easily cook and digest, writes Dr Dhanya Nambiar

One silver lining that has emerged from the pandemic is the global focus on health and wellbeing, particularly markers of inflammation and immune health. The recent Global Burden of Disease study published by The Lancet paints a worrying picture of our health, with a 50% increase in body mass index, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol since 1990. All these symptoms are linked with a higher risk of chronic disease, disability and death.

On the flipside, in many developing countries, we are paying more attention to our health and wellbeing than ever. This is reflected in the burgeoning trends of supplements, superfoods, diets, devices to track our health and fitness, apps for mindfulness and meditation, and high impact exercise regimes.

But like many chronic diseases, many of these health trends and technologies are novel, and their long term effects remain unknown. If we are discerning about the brand and efficacy of new COVID vaccines, we should also be inquisitive about the impact of protein shakes, meat replacements, collagen creams and wearable devices.

Perhaps when making healthy choices, we can reflect on how local communities ate and lived before the explosion of chronic disease, to understand what has changed in our diets and lifestyle. While the list is long and we don’t need to revert back to living in mudhuts, the process can help us find some simpler, more sustainable solutions rather than adding expensive, processed foods and screen time for the sake of our health.

One health trend that literally goes against the local grain is to stop eating rice.

Rice is a type of grass that humans domesticated over 10,000 years ago in Asia, and in many Asian languages, rice is synonymous with food; “to eat rice” means to have food. There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice (Oryza Sativa), grown everywhere in the world other than Antarctica. Rice grown in Australia is often the medium grain variety which is suited to the local climate, and most of it is grown in the Murray-Darling region of New South Wales.

However, the consumption of rice is slowing as incomes rise and people diversify their diets, consuming more meat and vegetables, as well as processed grains such as pasta, bread and noodles.

 

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Why make a case for eating rice?

Rice is a better source of energy, carbohydrates, calcium, iron, thiamin, pantothenic acid, folate and vitamin E, compared to corn, wheat and potatoes. It is easy to digest, absorbs water to cook quickly, cools the body and provides a sense of satiation because of its natural sweetness. In tropical Asian climates, a wide variety of rice is grown regionally, and there are a range of preparation methods available, making it an ideal grain to store and consume.

Whatever your taste and cuisine, there is a variety of rice to suit you. Brown rice has gained popularity, as the bran layer contains minerals, vitamins and fibre which are beneficial, although this also means it takes longer to cook, more effort and energy to digest and becomes rancid more easily due to the oil stored in the bran layer. Black, purple and red rice are also examples of unpolished rice with high levels of antioxidants, while golden rice is a yellow coloured polished rice, owing to the presence of beta carotene (Vitamin A). Parboiled rice, which is common in South Asian communities, is a polished rice that is processed to retain a higher portion of proteins, vitamins and minerals that are usually lost milling. Basmati rice has a lower glycemic index than most common rice varieties, making it a suitable grain for people with diabetes or a sensitivity to sugar.

Rice is one of the few wholegrains that we can grow and source locally, and easily cook and digest. Food is more than just calories and nutrients—it is our connection to our environment, and it is meant to build our physical bodies in a way that adapts us to our local environment, as well as bring us a sense of mental balance and wellbeing. A simple way to assess the quality of our food is to reflect on the quality of our minds and bodies. A holistic approach to health recognises that we need to harness a connection between our bodies, minds and souls to experience real health and wellbeing.


Dr Dhanya Nambiar is an Ayurvedic Health Consultant at Prana Ayurveda in Melbourne. She can be contacted at hello@pranaayurveda.com.au and via Instagram @prana_with_dhanya

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