One of my main concerns with hiking the A.T. gluten free is getting enough carbs. Besides the fact that gluten is hidden in a lot of processed foods, I can’t make myself sandwiches or wraps for easy meals, and cheap/easy options like ramen noodles are certainly off limits.
In my “real life,” I usually go with whole grains (as opposed to flours/meals) such as rice, oats, and quinoa. I especially rely on rice when my belly is feeling sensitive and needs settling (Have you ever heard of the BRAT diet? Yeah, that’s my go-to, except remove the T because of the gluten. Uh huh, say it out loud too.)
The needling little thing is that my belly can be even more sensitive when I’m super active, so I want to have a staple diet on the trail that doesn’t test it more than necessary. With that in mind, I decided right off the bat (once I changed my mind about a stove) that rice would have to be in the mix. And, of course, it would have to be the instant variety since raw rice requires 40 – 60 minutes of cooking (and fuel!).
Instant rice operates on the same premise as other dehydrated foods. First it is cooked and then dehydrated to remove all of the moisture. So, in essence, preparing instant rice does not actually require cooking. Instead, it requires rehydrating.
I contacted Minute Rice through the company’s website in mid-December and received a response that I needed to mail my sponsorship request to the company’s Houston office with six weeks advance notice. OK, sure, I can do that. It’s funny how writing letters has become so out of the norm. I scoured my drawers to find a stamp and finally asked a coworker to “lend” me one.
Right after the new year, I received a response from Riviana Foods, which owns Minute Rice, that the company would be glad to support my trek with a donation. Yay! Can I give you guys a hug?
Please let me know what rice you prefer to consume on your hike (Minute Brown or Minute White Regular Rice, or Minute’s sister brand, Success Rice’s boil-in-bag brown, white, or jasmine?
Oh man, so many options! And you know that I don’t take these decisions lightly.
So step 1, I looked on the Minute Rice and Success Rice websites to compare product preparations. I quickly decided that the boil-in-bag approach would create more garbage than I preferred, not to mention the potential for a mess as I attempt to get the rice out of the bag. Step 2 was deciding between Minute Rice brown or white.
I’ve always been a brown rice gal. Sure, when I go to an ethnic restaurant I get white rice because that’s usually what comes with the dish, but I’ve completely drunk the Kool-Aid about brown rice being healthier. The thing is that, having looked on the website at the cooking instructions, brown rice requires five minutes of actual boil time, whereas white rice only requires five minutes to let the already boiled water absorb (i.e. one less step). Five minutes may not seem like a lot of fuel use, but it was enough to make me hesitate.
I called up my friend Chris since she generally has a better handle on certain health-related topics. She told me that the only major difference in removing the germ and bran (i.e. the how you make white rice) is that it lowers the fiber per serving from 4g to 1g, especially because companies fortify white rice with nutrients. And actually, she pointed out, with the concern over arsenic showing up in rice, it’d be healthier to go with white as opposed to brown, especially since I’ll be eating so much.
OK, so this last comment obviously led me down another path, and this is what I found…
In November, Consumer Reports published their findings based on 200 samples of rice products (rice, baby cereal, rice pasta, etc.) purchased in retail grocery stores. They found that virtually every single product they sampled contains measurable levels of total arsenic.
Before anyone starts panicking, let me back up a step. (I’m in no way an expert. This is based on my own research.) Arsenic is in many of the foods that we eat. It’s a substance that is in our water supply and ends up being absorbed by crops. It comes in two forms: organic and inorganic. The organic form is not of concern. The inorganic (i.e. artificially created) is the problem.
The reason that rice contains such significant levels of inorganic arsenic dates back many decades. Three quarters of the rice grown in the U.S. is produced in the southern states of Arkansas (about 50% total here), Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, all of which spent many years growing cotton. During that period, farmers applied an arsenic-based pesticide to combat the boll weevil beetle. Even though the pesticide was banned in the 1980s, the inorganic arsenic has lingered in the soil. And rice is grown in flooded environments, which makes it more prone to absorbing the inorganic arsenic.
As far as Consumer Reports’ study, the EPA has no standard for inorganic arsenic found in food, but it does have a standard for inorganic arsenic found in water, which is 10 ppb (parts per billion). However, Consumer Reports based its metric on New Jersey’s standard of 5 ppb since it’s the strictest parameter in the country.
Although neither Minute Rice nor Success Rice was included in the study, I looked through the table of results, assuming that the white rice vs brown rice data would compare. What I found is that, in the vast majority of cases, the white rice tested did not exceed New Jersey’s drinking water limit for inorganic arsenic in water, and in none of the samples did the results exceed the EPA’s limit of 10 ppb. And in all cases, each brand’s brown rice measured significantly higher levels of inorganic arsenic than the same brand’s white rice option.
That decided it. Not only does the white rice require less fuel to prepare, but it also has significantly lower levels of inorganic arsenic. I’m not going to freak out about arsenic in my food, but I will take some precautions, especially since I’ll be eating so much rice.
When I confirmed my request for the White Regular Rice with the generous folks at Minute Rice, after a few back and forth emails (and several minutes of me staring at my computer disbelieving what I was reading), we decided that they would send me two cases of 28-ounce boxes. That’s 24 boxes of rice…42 pounds!
Some of you out there may be incredulous that I’ll eat that much rice, but besides oats, it’ll be my only other grain on the trail…and I am nothing if not a creature of habit. And, ya know, it’s probably a good thing that I’m a creature of habit since I have to do something will all this rice.