All Rice: A fine-grained look at the Filipino staple

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Second of two Parts

Data from the 2019 Food Consumption and Nutrition Report of the Philippine Statistics Authority indicate that among the reference agricultural commodities, rice remained to be the prime source of calories.

Is a cup of rice per meal really healthy? Or are there better alternatives. | Photo from FreeImages

It provided 1,162.09 grams of calories per day per person in 2018.

For comparison, about 267.66 grams of calories per day were sourced from corn. Among the commercial crops, coconut contained the highest daily quantity of calories per person at 34.82 grams. Pork and chicken were among the livestock and poultry respectively that were the major sources of calories in 2018. Pork, chicken (dressed) and chicken egg contained 192.48 grams, 97.42 grams and 74.99 grams, respectively. (READ also: All Rice: A Fine-Grained Look at the Filipino Staple – Part 1)

Higher daily protein supply was, likewise, sourced from rice at 24.41 grams per person in 2018. For comparison, the protein content of corn was 7.14 grams per person per day. Other primary sources of protein were pork at 18.32 grams, chicken (dressed) at 11.95 grams and chicken egg at 5.78 grams.

In 2018, the daily per capita fats supply of rice was 5.86 grams while corn had 3.23 grams. Coconut contributed 3.29 grams of fats per person per day. Other good sources were pork, chicken (dressed) and chicken egg with corresponding fat contents at 12.45 grams, 4.58 grams and 5.28 grams respectively.

According to the Nutrition data website, which gets its data from United States Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, these are the nutrients contained in 100 grams, roughly close to a cup of cooked rice.

NutrientsWhite rice, unenrichedWhite rice, enrichedBrown rice, unenriched
Calories123123111
Protein2.9 grams2.9 grams2.6 grams
Carbs30 grams26 grams23 grams
Fat0.4 grams0.4 grams0.9 grams
Fiber0.9 grams0.9 grams1.8 grams
Folate1% of the RDI20% of the RDI1% of the RDI
Manganese18% of the RDI18% of the RDI45% of the RDI
Thiamine5% of the RDI14% of the RDI6% of the RDI
Selenium13% of the RDI13% of the RDI14% of the RDI
Niacin12% of the RDI12% of the RDI8% of the RDI
Iron1% of the RDI10% of the RDI2% of the RDI
Vitamin B68% of the RDI8% of the RDI7% of the RDI
Phosphorus6% of the RDI6% of the RDI8% of the RDI
Copper4% of the RDI4% of the RDI5% of the RDI
Magnesium2% of the RDI2% of the RDI11% of the RDI
Zinc2% of the RDI2% of the RDI4% of the RDI

The nutritional content of rice is so high that it is enough to provide a human being enough needed for survival (think of tales you have heard where growing up kids subsist on rice and a little salt – bet those persons are still alive). Of course the body needs other food groups to survive as non-variance of diet is actually unhealthy.

But in most poverty-ridden places in the countries (think the urban poor areas here), rice, salt and soy sauce plus water are the only food sources.

This may also have been the rations in wars where food got scarce.

Rice has many different types, the most common and accessible other type of rice is brown rice. Brown rice is whole grain and white rice is refined grain.

Whole grains are unrefined grains and had not had their bran and germ parts removed by milling, therefore, all of the nutrients remain intact.

A farmer looks over the ricefields in a farm in Bago. Rice has been a staple food for Filipinos, but the grain is also posing serious health risks to heavy eaters. | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

In contrast to whole grains, refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and longer shelf life.

There is such a thing as fortified or enriched grain (or enriched food in general) in which after processing, lost nutrients are processed back.

A 100 gram serving of brown rice has fewer calories and carbs than white rice and twice as much fiber. Brown rice also has higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than white rice.

Brown rice also contains more antioxidants and essential amino acids. However, enriched white rice is higher in iron and folate.

Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, but most white rice in the market are enriched to increase its nutritional value.

Extra Rice: What amount is too much rice?

The International Diabetes Federation reveals that the Philippines is on the list of 22 countries with a high number of people with diabetes.

That is over 159 million cases.

By 2045, that number is expected to rise to 183 million. In 2017 alone, 3,721,900 cases were recorded in the country. Possible culprit? You guessed it.

A 2012 study by Emily A Hu and co-authors published in the British American Journal on White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes states that higher consumption of white rice is associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in Asian populations. Note that type 2 Diabetes is more often than not linked with obesity.

Fortunately there is one way to keep enjoying rice while significantly lowering the health risks – changing to brown rice.

A 2017 study by T Nakayama published in the United States National Institutes of Health found that Glutinous Brown rice was well tolerated for 8 weeks and improved glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how fast your body converts carbohydrates into sugars that can be absorbed into your bloodstream.

A 2009 study by Gabriela Radulian and co-authors published in the US National Institute of Health state that Foods with a lower GI appear to be better for people with type 2 diabetes, as they cause a slow but gradual rise in blood sugars. Higher GI foods may cause rapid spikes.

White rice has a GI of 64, while brown rice has a GI of 55. As a result, carbs in white rice are turned into blood sugar more rapidly than those in brown rice.

What’s more, each serving of rice eaten per day raised the risk of type 2 diabetes by eleven percent (11%).

A change to brown rice may be beneficial to persons with or have risks for diabetes, although a disease like diabetes cannot just be controlled by simply changing the type of food a person eats. Ultimately, anybody with diabetes must consult his or her physician for a personalized recommendation on diet and nutrition.

To be fair with white rice, it does have its benefits.

The low fiber and easier digestibility means it is an option for people with digestive problems, especially those frequently suffering from nausea or heartburn.

Brown rice, while definitely healthier, is not cheap, and it has lesser shelf life than white rice.

Most white rice in the markets are also fortified and enriched, as mandated by International health authorities who are trying to combat worldwide malnutrition problems such as iron or folate deficiencies.

“Ubusin mo yan; maraming bata ang nagugutom sa labas.”

Who among us have not been guilt-tripped into finishing our rice because somewhere in Africa, a child is starving?

Finishing that final spoonful of rice might be a struggle for as as kids but as adults, Filipinos are rice eaters.

A day in the life of an average Filipino consists of at least three cups of rice eaten, one for every meal if there are three meals per day.

This is in contrast to the Filipino’s pre-colonial ancestors who viewed rice as luxury and eaten only occasionally. While contemporary scientific evidence have suggested that this everyday lifestyle has detrimental effects to health, one cannot easily change this especially in the context of other factors such as poverty and availability, besides culture and choice.

For some, rice is the only food commodity they can afford which is also readily available to them.

In 2011, scientists at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice) said that diversifying carbohydrate intake may save money on the long term, suggesting alternatives such as camote (sweet potatoes) and bananas once in a while.

But a generationally trained mindset (and gut) poses a problem for change, especially if it is on a nationwide scale.

A study by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute shows that a Filipino wastes an average of three tablespoons of rice each day, which costs at least 23 million pesos overall everyday.

The factors in this study included the tendency for Filipinos to cook rice incorrectly leading to wastage and how a “clean plate” would usually contain left-over grains.

Still, rice is here to stay.

But there is nothing in literature that states a lifestyle of three rice meals a day for the rest of their lives is healthy.

Fortunately this may be alleviated, not instantly for the whole population, but maybe individually – slowly but surely.

For those who may be able to afford to, a switch to a healthier type of rice is a good start, and then diversifying carbohydrate intake like bananas, potatoes, and corn are good alternatives.

Culturally, these alternatives might be considered viands – or accompaniment — in a typical Filipino meal, (it does for the author), with the help of health authorities, policies, and us citizens, may we someday see a healthier Filipino nation – with its citizens not worrying if they missed a meal when their lunch has no traces of rice.

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