Simple Rice Cooking Method May Drastically Cut Calorie Count, Scientists Say

PHOTO: A new cooking method for rice could dramatically reduce calories according to preliminary findings from the University of Sri Lanka.PlayGetty Images
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A simple method for cooking rice could someday reduce its calorie count by as much as 60 percent, the authors of a new research study say.

The technique involves boiling the rice with a small amount of coconut oil, placing it in the fridge for several hours to cool it down and then microwaving it briefly.

"The hypothesis is that we turn more of the starch into an indigestible form of starch, which reduces the amount of calories the body will absorb," Dr. Pushparajah Thavarajva, the researcher from the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka who supervised study, told ABC News.

The scientists looked at 38 varieties of Sri Lankan rice and chose to test the one with the lowest amount of naturally occurring starch resistant to digestion, explained Sudhair James, the graduate student who presented the preliminary research earlier this week at National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Denver. After trying out a variety of cooking approaches, they found adding oil during cooking and cooling the rice down worked best, he said.

“The beautiful piece is there was a fifteen-fold increase in the amount of resistant starch after using this method,” James said in a news conference earlier today. “This led to a 10 to 15 percent calorie reduction.”

Starch molecules are shaped like doughnuts, explained Thavarajva. The added oil seeps into the holes of the molecules during cooking to help block digestive enzymes. Cooling the rice then allows the rice molecules to rearrange and pack together more tightly to increase their resistance to digestion, he explained.

The technique shows such promise, James said, that one day it might be used in commercial preparations and could be a low-cost way to help fight obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“We as scientists believe that if we are going to do this process on the best varieties and if this method is going to work this could be a massive breakthrough,” James said. “We could lower the calories in rice by 50 to 60 percent.”

But Thavarajva was quick to point out that the cooking technique will not be effective with all varieties of rice. He said that they are not clear why it works with some types but not others and that the team needed to do more research to find out how well their experiment translated into the real world.

“We know that it will increase the amount of resistant starch and reduce calorie count, that’s true. But it might not lead to any real calorie reduction benefits depending upon how the starch is used by the gut bacteria,” he said.

There is precedence for this theory, Thavarajva added. Work done on potatoes at Harvard University and studies at Indian Universities using legumes and cereals noted similar starch-and-calorie reductions using similar preparations, he said.

“Could we do it with other starches like bread?” he asked. “That’s the real question.”

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