Everyone has heard claims of red or brown rice being healthier than white. Many have also begun to reduce their consumption of white bread, instead opting for whole wheat. Considering the significant role of grain-based food (one of the only constants in the culturally diverse Indian diet) in our daily lives, it’s great that each variety’s health implications have started coming into focus over the past few years.
However, in a world where labels can be misleading and information, skewed, it’s also imperative to truly understand the nutritional differences between each.
That’s when we can make informed choices that lead us to a healthier and, consequently, happier lifestyle.
1. White Bread versus Whole Wheat Bread
White bread is generally made from refined wheat (or maida). Refined flour gained popularity in the late 1800s because removing the husk (outer covering) and germ (inner nutrient rich part) of wheat before grinding increased the shelf life of the flour. At that time, the importance of vitamins was still not known, and no attention was given to the loss of nutrition.
Breads made from whole grains are generally healthier and more nutritious than white bread, but have roughly the same calories. However, pay careful attention to labels – it’s not uncommon for white bread to be coloured brown with caramel, misleading us into thinking that we’re making a healthy choice! Bread in general tends to raise blood sugar, whether white or refined, and is best consumed in limited quantities.
While selecting a bread, stick to whole, multi-grain options which include not just wheat but also other more nutritious grains.
2. Comparison of Grains in Rotis and other Flatbreads
Roti, bhakri, phulka, khulcha, paratha and chappati are just some variants of flatbreads that are common in Indian cuisine. Whole wheat flour is the most common grain used to make rotis, but refined flour is often used as well.
While whole wheat flour is a healthier choice as far as wheat is concerned, regional cuisines make use of healthier grains including Nachni/Ragi (finger millet), Jowar (Sorghum) and Bajra (pearl millet), which are not just more nutritious than wheat, but also lower calorie (and some may argue, tastier!).
Including a variety of grains is a simple way to improve the quality of nutrition in your meals. You can also try experimenting with making your own multi-grain flour blend using the various whole grain flours available.
3. White Rice versus Brown Rice
To most of us, rice is a simple, white grain that is an integral part of every regional cuisine in India. However, there are literally hundreds of varieties of rice found in India, with each state having its own favorite kind.
White rice is rice that has had its husk, bran and germ removed to prevent spoilage. This leads to a loss of valuable nutrients. Brown rice, or whole grain rice, is more nutritious than white rice and makes for a healthy alternative with a completely different flavour.
Brown and red rice, common in various regional cuisines are healthy, delicious alternatives to standard white rice.
Moving beyond basic grains is a simple way to add valuable nutrients to your diet and help you in your journey to good health.