Is (unli)-rice the enemy of a fit lifestyle?

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A recent pronouncement by Sen. Cynthia A. Villar raising the possibility of banning unlimited-rice promos in various fast-food chains in the country led to a thunderstorm of criticism from Filipinos who seemingly tend to enjoy the privilege of having their meals sans anyone limiting their rice intake.

To be fair, the lady legislator has since pulled the plug on the idea. Besides, the entire idea was cloaked in good intentions—a desire for Filipinos to make healthier meal choices in order to prevent or lessen the diabetes rate in the country. Which raises the following questions: Must we avoid rice when dieting? Will rice consumption derail us from meeting our fitness objectives?

White rice would seem to be a perfectly healthy food. Unlike packed processed foods, it contains less, if not zero, harmful additives and preservatives. It is composed mostly of carbohydrates, which we need to utilize as a source of energy for our daily activities, and a small amount of protein. As with most food choices, the danger with white rice lies in consuming more than what our bodies need—and imbibing copious amounts is made easy with tasty, saucy Filipino fare that go well with, yes, rice. There is something about rice that will make Filipino dieters lose all self-control and go on a calorie surplus.

If our ultimate goal is to lose weight by shedding body fat, it is not required to avoid white rice altogether. What we must avoid is the consumption of too much rice, which we are unable to burn. After we consume rice, our bodies will convert this carbohydrate into glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream. Insulin is then released by our bodies to facilitate the transfer of glucose to cells. Our bodies then turn glucose into glycogen, which is stored as energy. The problem starts when we have too much stored energy from eating too much rice and other simple carbohydrates. Instead of using this as energy, this is stored by our bodies as, you may have guessed it—fat. So yes, too much carbohydrates can and will make us fat. This is aside from increasing chances of getting Type 2 diabetes.

It is important to find out our specific nutritional needs in order to determine the quantities we ought to consume. Elite cardio athletes, for instance, will need to consume what may seem as excessive amounts of simple carbohydrates—rice included—when they are training for competition. The same amounts, when consumed by weekend warrior types would most certainly lead to unhealthy weight gain.

So no, rice is not the enemy, if we are able sensibly work it into our diets and combine it with a healthy lifestyle. And yes, it can become the enemy when consumed with reckless abandon and in combination with other unhealthy food choices consumed in excess.

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