Poor white rice has a bad rap in the US. So much of the world depends on it as a core part of their diet, but somehow it’s been rumored as unhealthy with a stigma of little nutritional value and a cause of weight gain. Ayurveda believes otherwise.
There are a few foods that Ayurveda has established as good for everyone, year round, and rice is number one on the list. No matter what your prakriti (constitution, as everyone is unique) and no matter what season, rice has a place in the diet.
However, there’s a time for white rice, and a time for brown. Ayurveda doesn’t judge rice simply on its fiber content and calorie count, as a Western perspective might, but takes into account who is eating it, when they’re eating it, and what happens to the rice throughout digestion.
A grain of brown rice is encapsulated by the bran. This outer shell is full of fiber, B vitamins, and trace minerals. When the bran is removed through milling the rice is white. Inevitably white rice has less fiber than brown, but it still has nutritional value and provides protein and energy. And since its outer shell has been removed, it is much easier to digest.
For this reason white rice is recommended when digestive ability is low. According to Ayurveda this naturally occurs in the summer and warm months. At this time of year our agni, or digestive fire, is at its weakest. We should adjust our diets accordingly, choosing lighter foods that are easy to digest. This makes white rice a better choice than brown in the summer.
Since brown rice is somewhat heavy to digest it is best consumed in the cooler and winter months. This is when agni is at its strongest. The digestive system can handle heavier foods like brown rice better than it can in summer. No matter what time of year, brown rice can also be soaked for a couple of hours before cooking to help with digestibility.
Ayurveda takes into account not only the season but also the individual. For those who always have very good digestion and a strong agni, brown rice is generally a good choice. For those with more sensitive digestion and weaker agni, or in the case of illness, white rice is the way to go.
There’s one more factor to consider- how the rice is processed. Instant, precooked, and regular old white rice, which is often coated with glucose and oil, have little nutritional value. As for all foods, organic and minimally processed are always better. Aromatic, nutty flavored white and brown basmati rices are considered in Ayurveda as the best.
Minimally processed white rice doesn’t deserve its bad reputation. It’s all about when you eat it and who’s eating it. In general, think white rice in the warmer months, brown rice in the cooler. If you’re one of those people who can practically digest rocks then yeah, take advantage of brown rice’s nutritive value year round. If digestion is a little slower, go with white. As the rest of the world already knows, white rice is a good thing.
Tiwari, Maya. Ayurveda: A Life of Balance. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1995. Print.