The escalating obesity epidemic is a serious global health concern, and while it is clear there are no simple solutions or quick fixes to this complex issue, scientists are endeavoring to discover effective ways that could help lessen the problem. We need to eat to survive, but we are eating too much, so could there be a viable and practical food-based solution to this growing threat? New evidence suggests that this could be a possibility, with the development of a cooking trick that slashes the calories we get from rice by as much as 60%. The intriguing discovery is being presented at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
Rice is an extremely popular food worldwide and a staple in many countries, particularly within Asia where some 90% of all rice is consumed. It’s cheap, easy to cook, and goes with lots of other foods, which is probably why it’s eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner in some places. Unfortunately, rice isn’t particularly nutritious, and as the Washington Post points out, white rice is even thought to be associated with a higher risk of diabetes. Furthermore, like other high-starch foods, it’s fairly high in calories.
Starch is the most common form of carbohydrate in our diet, but if we eat too much food loaded with it, our bodies are often left with an excess of sugar as a result of its metabolism. This sugar will then ultimately get turned into fat, which can make us gain weight. That being said, this only happens if we consume too much of one type of starch, known as digestible starch, which the body breaks down in the small intestine. The other type of starch, called resistant starch (RS), takes a lot longer for our bodies to process as we can’t digest it and thus cannot convert it into sugar.
Researchers therefore hypothesized that if it were possible to transform the digestible starch in foods into the other form, then this could reduce the number of calories that can be used by the body. Thus, they started experimenting with different varieties of rice to find an easy cooking technique that could help improve the resistant starch content. Impressively, they found that all that was required was two simple changes: adding coconut oil to boiling water before putting in the rice, and cooling the rice for 12 hours before consuming it. This technique led to an RS content around 10 times greater than what is found in traditional rice.
So how does this work? Coconut oil adds fat to the water, which then enters starch molecules during the cooking process, altering its architecture and converting it into a form that’s more resistant to being broken down. Cooling the rice in the refrigerator also facilitates this conversion process. The team chose to add coconut oil since this is widely used in Asian cooking, but it is likely that other oils would achieve the same effect.
Although the scientists have only tested the method on certain rice varieties, which were the least nutritious, they observed around a 10% reduction in calories. If better varieties are used, they think that the technique could reduce calories by as much as 60%. Given the fact that rice is a staple food in many countries experiencing a rise in obesity, this could be a helpful solution to the growing problem.