White rice (and even brown) are getting a bad rap, especially with the popularity of the Paleo diet. Some are cutting out rice all together as its rumored to have little nutritional value and to cause weight gain, while others are convinced that only brown rice should be eaten. Ayurveda (ancient India's timeless science of life) believes otherwise, and looks not only at the quality of the rice itself, but who's eating it and when.
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 holds 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's eating it, when they're eating it, and what happens to the rice throughout digestion.
White and Brown
White and brown are obviously quite different. 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. White rice inevitably 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.Â 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, white rice is the way to go.
How to prepare your rice?
There's one more factor to consider- how the rice was 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 who's eating it and when. The general rule is to go for white rice in the warmer months and brown rice in the cooler. If you're one of those people who could practically digest rocks then yes, 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, there's definitely a place for rice in the diet.