Which is the better staple - Rice or Wheat?

Since decades, there is dilemma between which is the better staple

-a steaming pot of white rice or

-a hot fluffy whole wheat phulka

Both are equally tatsy and without them (either one or both) any meal in India is incomplete. Down South, people are happy eating white rice with dals, curd, curry and vegetable while wheat constitutes the staple food for people from North India eaten usually in the form of phulka, roti, parathas, etc

Rice has earned a bad reputation because of its high starch content and relatively less illustrious nutritional profile compared to wheat. But, what we are forgetting is that the starch content of rice gets diluted 2-3 times by addition of water for cooking make it less calorie dense than chapatti which requires lesser amount of water for preparation.

Recent research has shown that consumption of Rice leads to a smaller increase in the blood glucose levels compared to same amount of whole wheat chapatti  in normal healthy individuals.

The science behind it?

In a first of its kind experiment in India, Dr Pooja Singhania (Senior Nutritionist, eKincare) under the guidance of Dr Kasturi Sen Ray (Retd Ass. prof. S.N.D.T. Women’s University, Mumbai, India), conducted a series of experiments to determine as to how does the blood sugar respond to intake of different Indian foods (Singhania & SenRay 2014 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3907653/ ). Their path-breaking study has been slowly gaining recognition in the Nutrition community with Nestle recently nominating their research paper for the prestigious Nestle Research Award.

What makes this study unique is that equal amounts of foods in their cooked form were fed to normal healthy individuals and then their blood sugar and insulin response to the same was recorded at every half hour upto 2 hours. The 2 hour blood glucose response to foods is termed as postprandial glycemia and is a very important parameter to be considered while choosing foods for obese as well as individuals with diabetes.

Often foods that can lead to increased blood glucose response are avoided because the high levels of sugar floating in the body for prolonged periods can increase fat storage and also cause serious damage to several organs such as kidney, eye, heart, etc.

Assuming that since white rice has more carbohydrates than wheat it will lead to increased blood glucose response ; Doctors and Nutritionists often eliminate/ restrict its intake in the diet of weight-watchers and diabetics. But, when the actual physiological response to the cooked white rice was observed, it was evident that during cooking a lot of water is added to rice (74% moisture) which reduces its energy density and thereby its glycemic response. White rice has a higher volume:mass ratio .

Whole wheat definitely has had an upper hand over rice because it contains many nutrients such as fiber, proteins, vitamins and minerals in addition to carbohydrates. But, the cooked whole wheat chapatti is a starch dense product with lesser moisture (only 33 %) and hence is more energy dense than white rice. The consumption of 2 medium chapatti will induce much higher postprandial glycemic response than one bowl of rice.

Concluding remarks

So, if someone is counting calories in the diet (read overweight individuals), for them Rice is a better option than Chapatti. Also, among those suffering from diabetes, consuming rice will elicit a more favourable blood sugar response than chapatti . Having said that, we like to emphasize that nutrient density of whole wheat chapatti is more than that of polished white rice (i.e. more nutrients per gram weight of the food).

We suggest that those eating rice as a staple since childhood can continue to do so but try to enhance its nutritional value by adding lot of vegetables, dals , nuts etc to it (e.g. vegetable khichdi, bisibilebhath, pongal, idlis, soy pulao, etc)

There is good news for the wheat lovers too. Don’t give up on your staple! Addition of certain other flours (such as jowar, soy flour, oat flour, chana flour, etc) to the regular chapatti atta will help to reduce the prolonged increase in blood sugars and you will be satisfied with consuming smaller amounts as well

 

To each his own… but own your rice and/or chapatti by making it healthy and nutritious

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Stay healthy with eKincare – your personal health manager!

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Dr. Pooja, Senior Nutritionist @eKincare.com
REFERENCE –

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3907653/

Written by drpoojachhawcharia

Dr Pooja Chhawcharia is the Senior Nutritionist at eKincare with over 7 years of experience in Nutrition education, diet counseling and research. She is a Registered Dietician with the Indian Dietetic Association and Certified Diabetes Educator recognized by the International Diabetes federation . She is also interested in ancillary sciences such as Yoga and Naturopathy.

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