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Exploring the World of Grains: Rice, Millet, and More

Author: Yean Toh | Published date: May 17, 2024 | Category: Nutrition


Rice: A Gluten-Free, Low Anti-Nutrient Grain

Rice is one of the most "consumer-friendly" grains. It does not contain gluten. It also has very low levels of anti-nutrients like phytates and lectins. This makes rice the grain of choice for weaning infants.

Exploring Rice Varieties: From Short Grain to Glutinous and Parboiled

Among whole grains, unpolished brown rice has the least amount of fibre - about 3g for a typical Asian-sized serving (based on 80g uncooked rice). While brown rice is a relatively poor source of fibre, it is more palatable to people who are accustomed to eating refined grains. To obtain more fibre, eat brown rice with other grains like millet, oats and barley.

The Versatility of Rice: A Gluten-Free, Low Anti-Nutrient Grain

There are thousands of varieties of rice but only about 20 varieties are commonly eaten today. Unpolished rice is commonly called "brown rice" but the actual colour ranges from nearly white to beige, reddish brown, dark brown and nearly black. These might be classified into three broad categories:

  • Short grain rice is somewhat rounded. When cooked, the grains tend to clump or stick together. Such rice grows in colder climates and is most widely eaten in Northern China, Japan (in sushi), Korea, Italy (in risotto) and Spain (in paella).
  • Long grain rice is thin and often aromatic. When cooked, the grains are more fluffy and separated. Such rice grows in warmer climates and is commonly eaten in Southern China, Southeast Asia, India, Mexico and Central America. The best known long-grain varieties are Jasmine (Hom mali) from Thailand and Basmati from India and Pakistan.
  • Medium grain rice is in between short-grain and long-grain. This grows in sub-tropical climates such as in California and Australia. The best known is Calrose rice.

Unlocking the Nutritional Power of Glutinous Rice: White vs. Black

Glutinous rice is a separate category of rice. There are two types - white and black.

  • White glutinous rice is more commonly eaten and also known as sweet rice or sticky rice. This is even stickier than short-grain rice, even though there are short-grain and long-grain varieties of glutinous rice. It is commonly made into desserts, such as mochi in Japan and various types of kueh in Southeast Asia. In parts of Southeast Asia, this is the staple rice eaten in everyday meals. Despite its name, glutinous rice does not contain gluten. It has a higher content of protein compared to regular rice, which makes it suitable for growing children.
  • Black or purple glutinous rice is now gaining popularity because of its special black antioxidant anthocyanin, which is also found in other black-purple fruits like blueberry and blackberry, and in vegetables like purple cabbage and cauliflower. This powerful antioxidant helps prevent cancer, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration (retina damage resulting in vision loss).


Parboiled Rice: Retaining Nutrition and Lowering the Glycemic Index

Parboiled rice is rice that has been partially "boiled". This process drives some of the nutrients from the rice skin or bran into the starch. Only some of the B vitamins get destroyed but overall and dried in its husk before being polished. In reality, the rice is soaked, steamed parboiled rice has about 80 percent of the nutrition of unpolished brown rice. It also has a lower GI compared to polished white rice. This is commonly eaten in India and Pakistan, Southeast Asia, South Africa, parts of Europe and the United States. About 50 percent of the world's rice production is parboiled.

Discovering Wild Rice: A Nutty Alternative to Traditional Grains

Wild rice, despite its name, is not rice. It is a grain that grows in lakes in Canada. The grains are very thin and long, almost black in colour and they have a strong nutty flavour. Because of the strong flavour (and high price), wild rice is usually eaten as a side dish, or mixed with rice or other grains.

Millet: A Hidden Gem Among Grains for Health-Conscious Consumers

Millet, a small round seed, is not widely known. Yet it is one of the most widely eaten grains in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe. Millet is believed to have been the principal food for the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans before they started eating rice. It is also widely eaten in India, Africa, Russia and Germany. Incidentally, millet is also commonly used for brewing beer and other alcoholic beverages. Lately, two groups of people have gotten better acquainted with millet - the health conscious and those suffering from gluten sensitivity, since millet is gluten free. As a whole grain, millet has several advantages:

  • Millet is not chewy even though it contains moderate amounts of fibre – more than twice as much as brown rice, but less than wheat, oats or barley.
  • Millet cooks quickly in about 20 minutes, whereas other whole grains may require more than 40 minutes of cooking time.
  • Eating millet makes the body environment alkaline, whereas all other grains are acid-forming.

This content is adapted, with permission, from Book 1 of 2 : The Wonders of Nutrition by Dr Ang Poon Liat. MBBS, M.MED (PAED), MRCP (UK PAED), FAMS, MD.

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