Rice has become an integral part of our daily lives and is often considered the staple food of Asia. The popularity comes largely from the versatility of the grain; this is a food that can be added to pretty much any dish, and which is cheap, filling, and easy to cook.
As you sit down to tuck into a tasty risotto, have you ever given any real thought as to where your rice started its journey.
We took a deep dive into the world of rice, exploring the origins, benefits, and history of this simple grain, and how it has evolved and emerged to become such a key part of our lives and our diets in the modern world.
What Is Rice?
We should start our exploration by taking a general overview of just what rice is, and the types that it comes in.
Rice is one of the oldest cultivated crops on Earth. It’s believed that domesticated varieties were first grown around 7,500 years ago in China.
Rice was then spread throughout South-East Asia, India, and Africa. In fact, it was only after European colonization of these continents that rice became more widely known across the globe.
The word “rice” actually refers to many different species of plants. There are two main types of rice: short-grain (or glutinous) and long-grain (or non-glutinous). Short-grain rice is used for making sushi, while long-grain rice is used in most other dishes.
The grains themselves come in three basic shapes: round, oval, or flattened. Round grains are best suited to cooking methods like steaming and boiling, while flat grains are better suited to stir frying and sautéing. Ovals are somewhere between the two.
Where Does Rice Come From?
Several countries produce rice, but the majority of the world’s supply comes from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.
Thailand produces about 30% of the global total, followed by Vietnam at 20%. Other major producers include Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos.
The History Of Rice
Rice is an ancient crop that originated in Asia. It’s believed that rice cultivation began around 8,000 years ago in China.
It wasn’t until about 3,500 years ago that rice was first cultivated in India. By this time, rice had spread across much of Southeast Asia and the Middle East.
Today, rice is grown on every continent except Antarctica.
In its natural habitat, rice is often grown using flooded fields. This means that water is pumped into the ground to create paddies, or ponds, in which the plants grow.
These paddies are usually lined with plastic sheets to keep out weeds and insects.
In order to ensure that the rice grows well, farmers will use fertilizers and pesticides to help boost yields. Farmers also use crop rotation to prevent pests from building up over time.
Is Rice Good For You?
Rice is versatile, delicious, and nutritious, and also offers a number of health benefits. These include:
Low In Calories
One of the key advantages of rice is that it contains very few calories. A cup of cooked rice provides approximately 100 calories, compared to 400 calories in a cup of white pasta.
High In Nutrients
Rice is rich in nutrients, including vitamins B1, B2, B3, C, E, and K, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium. It also contains small amounts of protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and fat.
Good Source Of Energy
Rice is an excellent source of energy. One cup of uncooked rice provides about 441kJ (100kcal), which is roughly equivalent to half a slice of bread.
Rich In Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells against damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals can cause cell damage, leading to cancer, heart disease, and premature aging.
Antioxidant activity has been found in all parts of the rice grain, including the husks, bran, and germ. The antioxidant content increases as the rice matures, so older rice tends to have higher levels than younger rice.
Reduce Risk Of Stroke
Research suggests that eating whole grains may reduce your risk of stroke, and this benefit is largely pertinent to women, as opposed to men.
Lower Blood Pressure
Whole grains contain soluble fibers called beta-glucans that bind to cholesterol and other fats in the digestive system. This reduces their absorption and lowers LDL cholesterol levels.
Brown rice contains more antioxidants than white rice, making it a good choice for lowering cholesterol levels.
The insoluble fiber present in whole grains helps to bulk up stools, helping them pass through the digestive tract more easily.
The antioxidant properties of whole grains may help to prevent certain types of cancer. Studies suggest that diets high in whole grains may be linked to a decreased risk of colon cancer.
Other Health Benefits
Opting for whole-grain rice provide many other health benefits too, including:
Protects Against Type 2 Diabetes
Diets high in whole grains have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which means they may help to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Whole grains are rich sources of minerals like potassium and magnesium, which are essential for bone growth and maintenance. They also contain vitamin D, which helps maintain healthy bones.
Improves Mood And Mental Wellbeing
Whole grains are packed full of nutrients, including B vitamins, folic acid, and selenium, which are important for brain function.
In addition, whole grains contain complex carbohydrates that give us sustained energy throughout the day, without causing spikes in blood sugar levels.
Whole grains are a great source of dietary fiber, which supports immune function.
Are There Any Downsides To Rice?
Rice is a healthy and nutritious food, but there are a few downsides that it is important to consider, and these include:
Can Cause Bloating
Rice is often recommended as part of a low-FODMAP diet (fructose-restricted diet) because it contains fructose.
However, some individuals experience bloating after consuming rice. If you find this happens to you, try substituting brown rice for white rice when cooking.
High Glycemic Index
White rice has a relatively high glycemic index, meaning it causes a rapid rise in blood glucose levels.
Brown rice has a slightly lower GI value, so it’s better suited to those looking to control their blood sugar levels.
How Much Should I Eat?
There’s no specific recommendation on how much rice we should eat each day.
The World Health Organization recommends adults consume between 400g and 500g of whole grains daily for best results, while the American Heart Association recommends at least three servings of whole grains per week.
Rice is a key element of many dishes around the world, but there are plenty of ways to make it healthier.
Opt for brown rice over white whenever possible, swap refined flour for wholemeal flour, and choose whole grain varieties instead of instant ones.