It was an interesting experience to travel in Thailand this past year. Very few Thai people know about the Paleo diet as Thai cuisine is anything but low carb. Fruits, veggies and yes, white rice are a central part of Thai cuisine. White rice is eaten every single day and often at every meal. It’s also considered a sacred food and is a part of many religious ceremonies and festivals. This holds true for many other Asian countries as well.
If white rice is so bad for us, as many proclaim, then why are billions consuming it every day and staying relatively thin? This is known as the Asian Paradox. In fact, I never saw an obese native Thai person in Thailand.
Not a single one.
In recent years, as a Nutritional Therapist, I’ve softened my approach to the Paleo diet and now often recommend white rice for many of my clients. This often surprises them as most have been led to believe that brown rice is healthier because it is unrefined and contains more nutrients. Well, not necessarily.
Here’s 5 reasons why white rice can actually be good for you….
That may be odd to hear as white rice is mostly starch and fairly high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index is commonly used to rank foods based on how they affect blood sugar. High glycemic foods such as sodas, fruit juices, sweetened breakfast cereals, candy, white bread and yes, white rice, can spike blood sugar levels more easily than other foods. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to weight gain and type II diabetes.
But there’s something no one tells you about the glycemic index. It’s a measurement of how a particular food affects the blood sugar when that food is eaten without other foods. Here’s the key point…
No one sits down to a meal of white rice and white rice only.
At least, not in Thailand. It’s ALWAYS accompanied by other food – meats, vegetables, fats and bone broth. This will slow down the body’s digestive process thus preventing blood sugar spikes that come from eating high glycemic foods on their own.
Please understand, I’m not making a blanket statement that everyone should eat white rice. Certainly, type II diabetics and others with metabolic issues, might do better with brown rice. But as someone who works with people with chronic digestive issues, this is one area where white rice is often a much better choice.
Most people don’t know that whole grains can be hard for the body to digest (including most doctors) if they’re not properly prepared. The outer layer of all grains, including brown rice contains something called phytic acid which is an anti-nutrient and can cause digestive distress if it’s not neutralized.
Nature does this when a grain (which is essentially a seed) hits the earth and sprouts into a new plant. Moisture, warmth and other soil conditions will naturally release the bran. Traditionally, cultures all around the world learned to mimic Nature by soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains. These proper preparations neutralize phytic acid (as well as other anti-nutrients in the bran) and make grains much more digestible.
But few people do this anymore because of the time involved and few food companies do this for the same reason (time is money when you’re a business). But this is not a problem with white rice as the bran has already been removed.
People with chronic digestive issues will have a much easier time digesting white rice than brown rice.
To belabor the point…
Or any of the other possibly problematic compounds that are a part of the three main sources of gluten – wheat, barley and rye. No one knows exactly why gluten is causing so many health problems today. It could be that gluten itself is a complex and difficult protein for the body to digest. It could be that it’s in so much junk food and that we eat so much of it. It could be the new modern hybrids of wheat which are thought to be higher in gluten than more historical strains. It could be the chemicals that are sprayed on wheat. Or it could be a combination of all those things.
Whatever the reasons, it’s a food that more and more people are becoming sensitive to. However, white rice is a very hypoallergenic food and presents none of those issues and is perfectly acceptable if you’re on a gluten-free diet.
Beyond its digestibility, many eastern healing systems look at white rice as having certain qualities or energetic characteristics that can be beneficial. For example, both Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, consider it a Yin or cooling food that can help clear excessive heat and thus settle digestive upset in its many forms.
Those from Asian countries know this well. Congee, a simple meal of white rice and bone broth, has countless variations throughout Asia and has been used for thousands of years for healing gut issues.
Speaking of bone broth…
Perhaps this is why so many Asian soups are served with either white rice on the side or directly in the soup as it easily absorbs and soaks up the flavor in broth. Its natural sweetness also complements other flavors in soups, especially spicy, salty and sour flavors. It also gives substance and heartiness to soups which makes them much more satisfying, especially when consuming them as a full meal.
I’m also in the process of writing my next book about Thai bone broths and soups!
Thai soups have so much to offer people with chronic digestive issues as so many are naturally gluten and dairy free. And no, not all Thai soups are spicy and heavy (as is the case with say coconut curries). In fact, of the forty or so recipes I’m planning, most will emphasize bone broth, rice and a variety of meats and veggies with classic Thai flavors from things like lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal and Thai basil (all of which have digestive health benefits).
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.