The theme for this year’s World Food Day is “Our actions are our future – healthy diets for a #ZeroHunger World.” Improving food and nutrition security in Africa, where rice has become a strategic commodity for food security, is an integral part of the mission and work of AfricaRice.
“Rice is West Africa’s single most important source of dietary energy and the third most important for sub-Saharan Africa as a whole,” stated AfricaRice Director General Dr Harold Roy-Macauley. “Thus, improvement of the nutritional quality of rice-based diets is crucial to improving the health of African populations.”
Over the years, food security efforts have, in general, aimed at enhancing the availability of food by increasing production. Equal attention has, however, not been given to improving the quality of food. The Zero Hunger goal, or SDG2, specifies not only the need to end hunger by 2030 but, also, the need to improve access to nutritious food while using sustainable agricultural methods.
With the rise in food insecurity and obesity due to unhealthy diets, not only in developed countries, but also in low-income countries, this year’s World Food Day theme draws attention to the need for addressing malnutrition in all its forms.
In this context, it is interesting to note that a new international study by Japanese researchers, presented at the 2019 European Congress on Obesity, reveals that obesity levels are “substantially lower” in countries where rice consumption is high (150 grams per day) compared to countries with lower average rice intake (14 g per day).
The authors suggest that eating rice seems to protect against obesity, because the fiber, nutrients and plant compounds found in whole grains may increase feelings of fullness and prevent overeating. Rice has less fat and is rich in resistant starch, which can have several health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood sugar levels, and various benefits for digestion.
The authors caution, however, that people who overeat rice are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome and diabetes. To prevent obesity, therefore, an appropriate amount of rice intake might be necessary.
As part of its mission, AfricaRice seeks to develop healthier and more nutritious rice. The Center has developed an improved rice parboiling technology called GEM in short for ‘Grain quality enhancer, Energy-efficient and durable Material,’ which produces rice of high physical and eating quality compared with the traditional technology. It is more economical, less time-consuming and safer to operate, particularly for female and younger processors.
Parboiling of rice or partially boiling rice in the husk, is done in general to reduce the breakage in milling. AfricaRice researchers have found that if it is properly carried out, rice parboiling significantly improves the physical, eating and nutritional quality of the milled rice compared to non-parboiled rice.
The nutritive value of the milled rice is enhanced by parboiling, because the micronutrients present in the bran, which is usually removed in the whitening process in the rice mill, are carried into the endosperm.
This special processing renders parboiled rice a better source of fiber, protein, calcium, potassium, thiamine, niacin and vitamin B-6, with a lower glycemic index and higher resistant starch content than regular white rice. Parboiled rice is therefore more nutritious than white rice.
In addition, parboiled rice has been shown to possess some unique cooking, flavor, and textural characteristics, which are appealing to certain groups of consumers. It is less liable to insect damage than milled raw rice and has an improved storage life.
Slower-digesting rice is a healthy option to help people with diabetes. AfricaRice is exploring the development of rice-based products with slower digestibility through processing.
AfricaRice recognizes, however, that rice cannot meet all nutritional needs and is therefore actively supporting dietary diversification in rice-based systems.
“We are immensely pleased to join the rest of the world in celebrating the World Food Day and contribute to its goal of healthy diets for a #ZeroHunger World,” Dr Roy-Macauley stated.