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Rice and Bread Dishes

Rice and Bread DishesRice and bread, in combination, are the foundation of life as we know it. The base starches of nearly every diet recorded worldwide, no two foods are eaten as consistently and on as wide a scale as rice and bread. They play an important role in a balanced diet, contributing fiber, B-vitamins, and brain fueling carbohydrates.


A type of grass, rice has been cultivated for thousands of years, archeological evidence supports the theory that rice has been processed in China for almost 7000 years, and recent discoveries in Southern Asian regions like Korea and Thailand may date rice cultivation even farther back. The Eastern tropical climate makes rice particularly suited for growing Asia, though it is a main agricultural crop in the United States and several other non-Asian countries. As of 2005 China, India, and Indonesia were the top rice producers in the world, with the largest exporting countries being Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States.

Rice isn't limited to the non-descript "white" varieties widely available in supermarkets. There are short grained or long grained choices, instant (already cooked and/or dehydrated) or converted (parboiled), brown (with the germ left intact) or white (germ and bran removed) and even glutinous (the "sticky" variety used in Asian cooking, especially in dessert dishes). There are regional rice variations, like India's Basmati, Thailand's Jasmine, and Italy's risotto, as well aromatic or fragrant varieties such as Wild Pecan, Texmati, or Popcorn.

Rice is the base of even the most humble subsistence diets, providing nourishment and energy. However, for the purposes of mainstream "healthy" eating, some varieties have a greater nutritional value than others. Brown rice, or rice that has been processed to leave the germ (outer covering) of the grain intact, is considered a whole grain, and is thus linked to lower levels of bad cholesterol as well as reduced instances of heart disease and some cancers. Higher in "good carbs" and fiber and lower in calories than white rice, it is also generally more satisfying as it is digested less rapidly. Brown rice tends to be recommended over white rice in "healthy" diets, and can be substituted easily in most recipes.

Some healthy rice dishes are as follows: 

- Brown rice with sauteed mixed vegetables and tahini or peanut sauce.
- Arroz con Pollo, a Spanish dish of chicken and rice flavored with sofrito.
- Jambalaya, a Cajun dish of seasoned meat, vegetables, and seafood with rice (added at the end of cooking).
- Stir-fried veggies, lean protein, and/or tofu over brown rice.
- Paella, a dish of continental Spanish origin; rice seasoned with saffron and cooked with olive oil, served with meat or seafood.
- Steamed rice with meat and vegetables.
- Coconut scented or Jasmine rice served with curried meats and vegetables. 
- Brown rice with black or red beans.


Bread is also a remarkably old meal item, dating back as far as the end of the Stone Age. It most probably began as a crudely prepared combination of ground grain and water, and was likely of a flatbread variety. This is not to say that leavened, or risen, bread is a recent invention: yeast, the microscopic organism that causes bread to rise, lives in the air and is essentially everywhere; any "dough" left uncovered in the open air, no matter how crudely made, will rise to some degree as the yeast lands on it and feeds on sugars. Bread was not intentionally raised with added substances until later in history, when beer and wine were added to dough to encourage leavening.

Bread has even more variations than rice, partially in thanks to the constantly changing innovations and creativity of the baking industry. There are the crusty, chewy white or wheat varieties associated with Italian and French cuisine, the pita breads of the Mediterranean, the steamed buns of Northern China, and the hearty ryes of Scandinavia and Germany, as well as a vast array of flatbreads native to India. Americans have historically preferred soft white bread rolls and slices, though whole-grain and whole wheat varieties are growing in popularity as their nutritional value is advertised to the public. Wheat breads, made with wheat flour rather than processes white, are also becoming popular with American artisan bakers looking to replicate the chewier offerings of Europe.

Whole grain breads are indeed a better choice for healthy eaters. They have fewer calories than white bread depending on the portion, and offer heart healthy whole grains and satisfying fiber (which keeps the digestive system running smoothly and fills you up). Diets rich in whole grains have been linked to lower instances of heart disease and cancer, and individuals who report eating diets rich in whole grains tend to weight less than individuals who choice white bread varieties. Identifying whole grain varieties isn't always easy, however. The word "wheat flour" listed on ingredients doesn't indicate a whole-grain offering, as is often assumed. The first ingredient on the list must include the term "whole-grain" or "whole" in order for the item to be counted as a healthier choice. Good options include: Whole wheat, whole grain, wheat germ, multigrain, flax, sunflower seed, or oat bran varieties.  
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