Comparison of rice and wheat: staples of indian diet

In India rice and wheat in diet are the major source of carbohydrates, as you know already. What may come as a surprise is that they are major source of proteins, some vitamins and minerals as well. These include vitamins B1, B3, B6 and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium. They also provide good fats: MUFAs and PUFAs and folate in good amounts

But both these grains are shrouded in a fair amount of controversy. While brown rice gets a lot of good attention, white rice is mostly considered unhealthy but debate is far from settled. The east Asian countries have heart healthy populations and low level of obesity despite their white rice eating habits. But in case of Indians rice seems to do some harm. Why is it so?

Similarly, whole wheat products get a lot of god attention by nutritionint, but in recent years the ‘Gluten Free Diet’ fad has lead to wheat being painted as a cause of gut upset. So what is the truth?

Find below more information on these two cereal grains:

Wheat in diet

Wheat is one of the healthiest cereal grains when consumed in the form of whole wheat products. These include roti, whole wheat breads, dalia etc. This grain has nearly the highest content of protein and fiber among cereals. It is also a good source of vitamins of B complex and minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium

Whole wheat products have the following health benefits (as compared to non-whole wheat products such as white bread, naan etc.)

  • Type 2 diabetes risk reduced by 21-30%
  • Heart disease risk reduced by 25-28%
  • Stroke risk reduced by 30-36%
  • Better weight maintenance
  • Reduced risk of asthma
  • Healthier blood pressure levels
  • Reduction of inflammatory disease risk

Rice in diet

After rice is harvested, its inedible hull is removed to produce brown rice. If rice is put through a second step of processing to remove the bran, it becomes white rice. Bran contains most of fiber, oils and oryzanole present in rice, which are lost during milling of rice. Removing the bran also makes glycemic index of milled rice high

Whole grain rice or brown rice has less of  protein, fiber and  minerals such as iron, zinc and selenium as compared to wheat. Further, after being processed  into white rice, it loses much of its fiber, vitamin and mineral content. Therefore, heavy rice eaters, who eat milled white rice, are at increased risk of diabetes or prediabetes, weight gain and metabolic syndrome

Unlike brown and white rice, the process of making parboiled rice begins before the hull is removed. The complete grain of rice is soaked, steamed and dried, then the hull is removed to make parboiled rice. Steaming enables the rice to absorb nutrients and changes the starch so that it cooks into a firmer, less sticky dish of rice than regular white rice.

Substituting milled rice with parboiled rice also has many health benefits, since parboiled rice has double the fiber than white rice, a low glycemic score (38, compared with a 89 for white rice)  and is a better source of calcium, potassium and vitamins of B complex

Brown rice in diet

Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health followed 39,765 men and 157,463 women as part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study I and II. They found out that replacing about two servings a week of white rice with the same amount of brown rice would lower diabetes risk by 16%. Also, there were significant reductions in weight, BMI and body fat in participants consuming brown rice, along with an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol and in antioxidant activity


Also check out: ‘Healthy cereals and pseudograins Indians should eat more of‘ and ‘Tips on making your cereal intake healthy

CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on diet