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Arkansas is the No. 1 producer of rice in the U.S. In fact, Arkansas farmers plant an average of 1.3 million acres of rice and harvest over 200 million bushels each year. That means they produce more than 9 billion pounds of rice each year.

Good thing rice is versatile and economical. A half-cup serving of white or brown rice costs about 10 cents. For every pound of uncooked rice, you will get two pounds of cooked rice.

Cooked rice can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days or frozen for up to six months. Meal prep for the week by preparing big batches of rice ahead of time to use throughout the week. Reheat small quantities in the microwave by adding 2 tablespoons of liquid for each cup of cooked rice. Cover and heat about 5 minutes, or microwave on high for 1 minute, then fluff with a fork.

Proper rice storage depends on the variety you chose. Enriched white rice, when stored tightly covered, will keep almost indefinitely on the pantry shelf. Because brown rice contains natural oils in the bran layer, it will stay fresh in the pantry for about 6 months. Refrigerate or freeze for longer shelf life.

According to the USDA nutrient database, rice is low in calories, providing about 100 calories per one-half cup cooked serving and contains 2.5 grams of digestible protein. It is fat free, contains no cholesterol-raising trans-fat or saturated fat. It also provides 15 necessary vitamins and minerals, including B-vitamins, iron and zinc; just one cup of enriched white rice contains nearly 25% of your daily folic acid requirement.

Rice is naturally gluten-free, highly digestible, GMO-free and is the least allergenic of all grains. This makes it an important grain option for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or other food sensitivities.

Every grain starts life as a whole grain. The whole grain is the entire seed of a plant, including the bran, germ and endosperm. MyPlate recommends that a quarter of your plate be grains and that half of those grains should be whole grains, which provide more nutrients like dietary fiber.

Research shows that eating whole grains such as those found in rice may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers and may aid in weight maintenance. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains have been identified as a dietary component contributing to better health outcomes, particularly playing a role in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and colorectal cancer.

For more information, or a free printed copy of the article and recipe, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609. Our new address is 1007 Jefferson Avenue, Texarkana AR. We're online on Facebook and Twitter at MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.

After 24 years, this is my final column for the Texarkana Gazette. I have accepted the Ouachita District Director position and will be located in Little Rock. I appreciate you reading my column all these years and know you will support my successor as you have me.

Ground Beef and Rice Stuffed Peppers

1 pound ground beef

cup uncooked long grain rice

1 cup water

6 bell peppers

2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

teaspoon garlic powder

teaspoon onion powder

salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. F. Place the rice and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook 20 minutes. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the beef until evenly browned. Remove and discard the tops, seeds and membranes of the bell peppers. Arrange peppers in a baking dish with the hollowed sides facing upward. (To make the peppers stand upright, slice the bottoms of the peppers.) In a bowl, mix the browned beef, cooked rice, 1 can tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Spoon an equal amount of the mixture into each hollowed pepper. Mix the remaining tomato sauce and Italian seasoning in a bowl and pour over the stuffed peppers. Bake 1 hour, basting with sauce every 15 minutes, until the peppers are tender.

Nutrition information per serving of 1 pepper: 248 calories; protein 16g; carbohydrates 25.6g; fat 9.4g; cholesterol 45.9mg; sodium 563.6mg.

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