Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Rice and wheat constitute the two major staple food grains that divide the world when food consumption profiles are used as the criterion. Both are excellent foods containing nourishing macro and micro nutrients. The growing conditions for each of these grains differ significantly and historically the food consumption habits are also influenced by the climatic conditions that allow their cultivation. Sadly there is also a great divide between countries which are rich and others not so rich and this economic segmentation is telling on the grains consumed by each group. Thus wheat consumption is more common in rich countries while rice is the staple in less richer countries, Japan being an exception. Looking at the rice scenario, depending on annual per capita consumption, countries can be fitted into 3 categories. Under the Asian model comes countries like India (80 kg), China (90 kg), Indonesia (150 kg) and Myanmar (200 kg) consuming 80 kg or more per capita annually. Countries like Brazil (45 kg), Colombia (40 kg) and Ivory Coast(60 kg) constitute the second group under the subtropical model consuming between 30 kg and 45 kg per capita annually. There are a few countries coming under the west model taking less than 10 kg per capita yearly which include France (4 kg) and USA (9 kg). World average is 86 kg per capita per year which is a 40% increase compared to consumption 30 years ago.

World production of rice is about 400 million tons (MT) a year, out of which China and India, accounting for almost 35% of world population, produce more than 50%. While China produces about 130 MT of rice, Indian out put is around 90 MT. That the food consumption habits can be subtly changed by economic and other factors is borne out by the popularity of wheat rising in many predominantly rice consuming countries during seventies and eighties due to aggressive promotion of wheat by countries like USA, Canada, Argentina and Australia where large surpluses were available for export. Wheat production, driven by modern agricultural technologies, has crossed 600 MT and this reflects the imbalances in supply of food in rice consuming and wheat eating populations. Even in India wheat is increasingly becoming popular with the younger generation, probably due to the tremendous technological advantage this grain enjoys over rice, in terms of modern innovative and convenient products. Breads, pastries and cookies, pasta products, pizza products, hamburgers, subs, sandwiches, hot dogs etc are the favorite choices amongst the children and youngsters while there is not even a single rice based modern product that has been popularized, at least in India. Rice based products popular in South East Asia are based on their traditional food cultures and it is less likely that they will become popular else where in the world. Thus there is a large technological gap vis-a-vis products as far as these grains are concerned. But this does not deter the value of rice as one of the most nutritious foods, consumed over thousands of years of human evolution, sustaining large populations in several continents.

Economic considerations do play a role in castigating rice as an inferior food and implicating it in some of the serious health disorders through sustained campaigns. There are many dubious claims by vested parties, implicating rice in practically every disease mankind has known! But the facts are totally different and world must recognize the fact that rice is not only equal to wheat in food value,but also it has several positive advantages compared to other grains. Rice eaters consume more nutrients like folic acid, potassium and iron, are less likely to be over weight, have 34% reduced risk of having high blood pressure and 21% lesser risk of metabolic diseases. It has fairly good levels of Manganese, B-complex vitamins, Selenium and Magnesium. Sodium content is practically nil being less than 5 mg per 100g. It has been shown that rice, especially the brown version, decreases dramatically the risk of cancers in colon, throat, thyroid, pancreas,rectum, stomach, breast, mouth and uterus. Selenium present in rice protects the cells from free radical damage, enables thyroid to produce thyroxine in optimal quantities and reduces risk of joint inflammation. In contrast those eating bread, pasta and similar wheat products are reported to be at greater risks of kidney disorders according to Italian researchers. Gluten present in wheat is allergic to many people, so much so, all labels have to declare the presence or of absence of this constituent of wheat in any processed foods. When wheat is milled to white flour, the most nutritious part, the germ, is removed, leaving only the starch and gluten as major edible materials. In contrast during rice milling, germ is not removed and even the bran layer is only partially removed leaving substantial nutrition in tact.

The only fault with rice, if at all one can call it that way, is its high glycemic index which is responsible for the release of glucose in less time into the blood, possibly not desirable for diabetic patients but it is an added strength since normal consumers can derive faster energy by digestion and absorption. Rice based weaning foods are universally recommended to infants due to this unique quality. With development of low glycemic rice, (less than GI 50) which is now available in the market even Type II diabetic consumers can eat rice with practically no risk of glucose surge. New varieties are also in the market with higher contents of iron, protein, fat, dietary fiber etc and it is time for all misconceptions about rice, probably orchestrated by anti-rice lobby, are removed from the minds of consumers and rice is restored to its preeminence as the "LIFE SUSTAINER" in this planet. Long live rice, long live homo sapiens!.


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