Many of the foods we eat on a daily basis contain far more nutrients than their completely natural predecessors. Rice is one of the best examples of this, as it’s a staple food packed full with artificially added nutrition.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing – far from it. Back in 1998, the US government realized that folate deficiency was a serious health problem. The best solution they came up with was to pass legislation requiring manufacturers to add folic acid (and a number of other nutrients) to rice, as well as pasta, breads, flour and cereals.
This attempt to improve the nation’s health was remarkably effective. It was initially hoped that the program would increase the average American’s folic acid intake by 100μg/day, but the actual figure turned out to be around 190μg/day. Rice is now one of the most important sources of folic acid in the US, and many other countries have since followed suit. A huge success!
Please note that for the purposes of this article, the words folate, folic acid and vitamin B9 are all interchangeable, so we’re going to stick with folic acid for simplicity. We’ve written about this in the past here if you’re interested.
So What’s The Problem With Washing Rice?
It’s not unusual to wash rice before cooking it. Some people do it to make the rice less starchy, some people do it because they’re not certain the rice is clean, and some people do it because they always have done and they’re not even sure why anymore.
But washing rice removes some of its nutritional content. All the good work done by adding extra nutrients to the rice in the first place is put at risk as soon as you hold that rice beneath the faucet.
Some of the folic acid will be washed away, along with a number of other vitamins and minerals. One study found that a single rinse could reduce the quantity of thiamin (vitamin B1) by up to 25%.
Cooking your rice in too much water that has to be drained away afterwards has the exact same problem.
Why Does Folic Acid Matter So Much?
Folic acid deficiency is a serious health condition. Many of the symptoms are similar to those of vitamin B12 deficiency, and the two vitamins generally work side by side.
High levels of B12 can mask folic acid deficiency, and high levels of folic acid can hide some of the symptoms of B12 deficiency. But that certainly doesn’t mean that no damage is being done inside.
For more information about how B12 and folic acid work together, take a look at this article we wrote a while back.
Low levels of folic acid are particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as the condition has been linked to a variety of very serious illnesses in children. Neural tube defects such as spina bifida are often caused by folic acid deficiency.
So washing your rice could contribute to a number of illnesses, some of which could be irreversible or even – in extreme cases – fatal. Fatigue, mouth sores, lethargy and diarrhea are not joking matters, and that’s without including the extra (arguably even more serious) problems faced by pregnant women.
What Can You Do About It?
The obvious answer is to stop washing your rice or boiling it in too much water, but that’s not particularly helpful.
Some rice does need rinsing, so check the package instructions first. But it’s best to buy rice that doesn’t need rinsing, and then store it well. Ideally you would store rice in a sealed container so there’s no need to wash it clean of dust or any other contaminants, as nothing will be able to get in.
Rice cookers are also a great idea, and they’re still hugely underused in the US. They come with guidelines on exactly how much water to use for different kinds of rice (so you won’t have to drain away excess water laden with nutrients), and you get perfect rice every time.
These are very small changes in the grand scheme of things, but they could have an enormously positive impact on your health. And with the consequences of not making a change being so serious, can you really afford to do nothing?