Advantages Of Rice As Food
( Originally Published 1913 )
Millions of people in eastern Asia, India, and the Indian Archipelago live almost exclusively upon rice, and with this diet they possess such indefatigable energy and industry as is scarcely to be found among those who subsist on other food. The reason for this great capacity for work lies in the nature of their staple food. Rice contains such a large amount of carbohydrates (about 80 per cent.) that it heads the list of vegetable foods in this respect, and we know that muscular work is principally accomplished through the agency of the carbohydrates. While, however, the rice-eaters—the majority of the Chinese, according to Kintaro Oshima about 75 per cent. of Japanese, and most of the Hindoos live almost exclusively upon rice—are untiring in their work, they are not characterized by very robust health. We observe that the Hindoos, for instance, are thin and withered looking, and they have no powers of resistance. Just as is the case with insufficiently or not at all manured plants and badly nourished animals, the Hindoos fall a ready prey to all kinds of infectious diseases. Epidemics are prevalent among them, and they offer no resistance to their inroads. This is due to the fact that their food, the rice, is very poor in the most important component part of our food, the albumin, of which it contains 5.56 per cent, together with only 0.3 per cent. of fat; it also contains but little of the nutritive salts. This is a result of the unhappy condition which likewise prevails in the preparation of our other cereals, namely, the robbing of grain of its shell, which contains appreciable quantities of phosphorus and other inorganic nutrients. I may mention, in illustration, that the rice sent to Paris from the French colonies contains when unshelled a maximum of 0.35 per cent. of phosphorus. Shelled and polished rice, as it is usually eaten, contains a maximum of 0.07 per cent. The same was stated by Jebbink, who found in unpolished, uncooked rice o.26 per cent. phosphoric acid, while in the polished and cooked rice there was less than the half-o.12 per cent. In order to make rice more digestible it is not only deprived of its shell, but another fine membrane, the "silver skin," is also lost, which is, rich in nutrient salts, particularly in organic phosphorus. Eikmann states that it contains as much nutrient salts as the rice-kernel itself, so that with this membrane the content is about doubled. This fine skin also contains much nitrogen, so through the polishing process the rice loses greatly in nutritive value. We, unfortunately, eat only such rice. It is sent to us with the shell on—otherwise it would lose all taste during the transport—and in the rice-mill it is then robbed of its shell and, unfortunately, also of its "silver skin" by the polishing process. We shall now show the nutrient salt content of the shelled and polished rice according to E. Wolff.
We see from the above analysis that rice, even though it is but poorly mineralized as we eat it, has the advantage of belonging to the class of foods containing but little common salt, and that owing to its content of potash and soda less salt is required to be added in flavoring it. This makes it a very desirable food for diabetics, since its decomposition products have no injurious action upon the kidneys. Among all foods rice and milk are the least injurious for the kidneys. Rice, owing to its easy digestion and assimilation, is, when well prepared, a very good food in stomach and intestinal diseases. When insufficiently cooked it is rather hard and is not so well digested ; when too much cooked it takes up too much water and loses all taste. The best way is to steam it for a long time. In Italy, prepared as risotto, it is not very digestible ; in Spain I have eaten it colored with saffron and containing sea-mussels; it is called arroz à la Valenciana, and I found it very palatable. In England rice is often used as a cold pudding, in which form it is very good. In my country it is frequently mixed with raisins and cinnamon, which increases its palatable and nutritious properties. Since rice contains but little fat, butter should be added to it. Sugar also improves its taste ; and when sugar-peas are added, in which form—"risi-bisi"—it is a food much used in Austria, the otherwise rather limited albumin content is considerably increased.
Rice, as a food, is very useful in diseases of the liver, and in affections of the blood-vessels and heart. It is also to be recommended in gout, as it does not form uric acid. For persons who prefer a vegetable diet, rice should never be absent from the bill of fare. Obese subjects and diabetics should strictly avoid its use. It is a peculiar fact that this food, which is very useful for us, often proves injurious for the in-habitants of oriental and tropical countries. It is not the rice itself, that valuable gift of Providence, which is hurtful, but the manner in which it is prepared and eaten. The Orientals, like the Japanese, are in the habit of adding the strongest kinds of spices to the rice, which is somewhat tasteless of itself. While visiting patients in Holland who owned sugar plantations in India, I have eaten rice prepared in this way. Many dainty dishes are served at their table, but the rice was cooked with so many strong spices, including black and red pepper, that my mouth fairly burned after eating it. In tropical climates such highly flavored foods are doubtless less injurious, since, owing to the very great activity of the skin, they are probably eliminated through it rather than by the kidneys. The beneficent design pervading all the creations of Nature is shown by the fact that it is in just these hot climates, or with us in summer, that such spices grow; their use in a damp, cold climate such as that of Holland would be very injurious. While the rice itself is advantageous for our kidneys, spices added to it are very detrimental.
Because the natives of the countries in which rice is cultivated constantly eat it in the shelled and polished form, they are subject to a terrible disease with marked nervous symptoms,—beriberi. As has been proven in the Japanese navy, the sailors are immune to this disease when they can get plenty of meat. Eikmann's experiments upon chickens show that when they were fed upon polished rice they were usually affected by polyneuritis, the cocks more so than the hens. When the rice still had the "silver skin" the chickens never became dis-eased, and when raw meat was added they were in fine condition. He ascribes the disease to the absence of the "silver skin," causing a lack of valuable nutrient salts. An interesting fact reported by Vordermann is that in Java, among the occupants of 52 prisons, beriberi occurred in 72 per cent. of those fed upon polished rice, while in 37 prisons in which the unpolished rice was furnished as food only 2.7 per cent, were affected. Without devoting any further space to the discussion of this important subject we may still briefly mention that experiments made by Hulshof Pol, Nocht, and Schaumann con-firm the opinion, which has recently been further strengthened in a recently published dissertation by Jebbink, that beriberi is caused by a lack of phosphorus. We might also add that a one-sided diet, as was stated in referring to pellagra in a previous chapter, diminishes the protective resistance against infectious diseases, and also causes a lack of phosphorus.
We should consider the lack o,f phosphorus as a predisposing factor, since Aron and Hodgson have shown, in their experiments upon monkeys, that it diminishes the resisting power against infection. This deficiency might also be accepted as a direct etiological factor, as it produces nervous symptoms which are improved by the absorption of organic phosphorus in the food. Thus, Hulshof Poi obtained very favorable results in the prophylaxis and treatment of beriberi by the administration of kaljang-idjoe, an Indian variety of bean, containing considerable phosphorus.