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White Rice or Brown Rice: The Healthier Choice

Want to get more fiber and nutrients out of your rice choice? Find out which one you should pick next time you grocery shop!

Wheat remains one of the primary staple grains in the United States, and the glycemic load of processed wheat is a likely contributor to America's obesity epidemic. Rice-based diets have been used historically to address a number of medical conditions, and have gained some popularity as a means to help lose weight.

The health benefits of unpolished, brown rice outweigh those of white rice, as its whole grain provides more fiber, iron, B vitamins and other nutrients. (There are 1.5 grams of fiber per half cup of brown rice - almost three times the fiber in the same amount of white rice.) So next time you are making a rice dish, opt for brown - your body will thank you!

Can Fiber Promote Weight Loss?

A new study from the University of Illinois suggests that adding fiber to the diet can influence the growth of two kinds of bacteria in your gut (known collectively as the microbiome) toward a ratio typically seen in lean people.  Unfortunately, the researchers observed, most Americans consume only 12 to 14 grams of fiber a day, which is half the recommended amount of 25 to 38 grams. The investigative team had previously studied whether adding fiber to the diet would cause gut bacteria to shift toward "lean." They gave snack bars to 20 men whose reported daily fiber intake was about 14 grams a day. About one third of the men received snack bars with no fiber; another third were given bars containing 21 grams of polydextrose, a common fiber food additive, and the remainder of the participants received bars with 21 grams of corn fiber. The researchers reported significant positive shifts in the ratio of gut bacterial populations toward more bacteriodetes (associated with being lean) and fewer firmicutes (associated with overweight and obesity) with the addition of fiber. However, they also found that the beneficial changes didn't last when the participants went back to their normal diets. Earlier research had shown that a high fiber diet is protective against obesity. The take-home message from lead researcher Kelly Swanson is that if you want a healthier gut and hope to lose weight, you have to make lasting changes to your diet.

My take? It's well established that a diet high in fiber influences health for the better: it prevents constipation, and reduces the risks of colon cancer, heart disease and diabetes. We've also known for some time that fiber helps to maintain ideal weight. This new study adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the importance of fiber in the diet, and especially as it pertains to weight. I recommend getting 40 grams a day from bran cereals, beans, vegetables, fruit and whole grains. Freshly ground flaxseed and psyllium seed are also excellent sources of fiber.

Dried Beans vs. Canned Beans: What’s Healthier?

Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiberThe health benefits of beans are numerous: they are an excellent source of protein and fiber, are high in folic acid, and are a low-glycemic-index food. Buts some beans - both the varieties and the way they are cooked - are actually healthier than others. When choosing beans, consider the following:

  1. The most nutritious varieties of beans are black, red, kidney and pinto beans. Black beans have the most antioxidant activity of any bean choice.
  2. To get the most soluble fiber from your beans, choose navy beans: one cup of cooked navy beans provides 19 grams of fiber!
  3. When using dried beans, don't simmer them in water until done and discard the liquid - up to 70 percent of the antioxidants that beans provide end up in the simmering liquid. Instead, simmer the beans until they are done and then let them soak the nutrients back in by leaving them in the liquid for an hour.
  4. Consider pressure cooking - dried beans that were soaked and then cooked in a pressure cooker were shown to retain the most antioxidant value.
  5. The easiest (and healthiest) route? Buy canned beans. Canned kidney and pinto beans are two of the most antioxidant-rich foods you can eat, as the heat of the canning process enhances the availability of nutrients in the beans. Choose low- or no-sodium versions of canned beans when possible.

I recommend one to two servings of beans and legumes per day - easy to do if you swap out meat for beans in salads and sandwiches, and make hummus or bean dip part of an afternoon snack.

Learn more about healthy eating from Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging.