Rice is a versatile grain consumed by people around the world. It serves as a staple food for many people, especially in countries like China, Japan, India, Indonesia, and South Korea.
There are more than 7,000 varieties of rice and several colors, shapes, and sizes. The most common varieties in the United States are white rice and brown rice. White rice is the most commonly consumed type, but brown rice is also a popular option.
This article looks at the benefits and drawbacks of both white rice and brown rice.
The difference between brown rice and white rice
All rice consists primarily of carbs, with small amounts of protein and practically no fat.
However, brown rice is a whole grain. That means it contains all parts of the grain — including the fibrous bran, the nutritious germ, and the carb-rich endosperm. It’s chewy and takes a while to cook due to its tough bran exterior.
White rice, on the other hand, has had the bran and germ removed. Because these are the most nutritious parts of the grain, white rice is left with very few essential nutrients. However, white rice is softer and tends to cook quicker.
Summary: Brown rice is a whole grain that contains bran and germ. These provide fiber and several vitamins and minerals. White rice is a refined grain that has had these parts removed, making it softer and more quick-cooking.
Brown rice benefits
Brown rice has several advantages from a health perspective.
Brown rice is rich in nutrients
Brown rice has a slight advantage over white rice when it comes to nutrient content. It has more fiber and antioxidants, as well as more vitamins and minerals. However, these differences aren’t hugely significant.
For comparison, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cooked brown rice provide 1.6 grams of fiber, whereas 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of white provide only 0.4 grams of fiber.
The list below compares other vitamins and minerals in terms of their percentage of a person’s recommended daily intake:
- Thiamine: Brown rice 15%, white rice 14%
- Niacin: Brown rice 16%, white rice 9%
- Vitamin B6: Brown rice 7%, white rice 5%
- Magnesium: Brown rice 9%, white rice 3%
- Phosphorus: Brown rice 8%, white rice 3%
- Iron: Brown rice 3%, white rice 7%
- Zinc: Brown rice 6%, white rice 4%
Positive effects on blood sugar levels
Brown rice is high in magnesium and fiber, both of which help control blood sugar levels.
Research suggests that regularly eating whole grains, like brown rice, helps lower blood sugar levels and decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Even just replacing white rice with brown has been shown to lower blood sugar levels and decrease type 2 diabetes risk.
On the other hand, eating lots of white rice has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes.
This may be due to its high glycemic index (GI). The GI measures how quickly a food increases your blood sugar.
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Brown rice has a GI of about 50 and white rice has a GI of about 89, meaning that white rice increases blood sugar levels much faster than brown. Still, both are very high in carbs, which will cause your blood sugar levels to rise.
However, you can lower the GI of white rice by cooling it. This forms resistant starch, which moves through your digestive tract unchanged and works similarly to soluble fiber.
If you can, cook your rice the day before you want to consume it. Then, store it in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat when you are ready to eat it.
White rice that has been boiled, cooled, and reheated has a GI of 53.
You can also combine rice with foods like vinegar or oil, which can lower the GI. Furthermore, you can try other varieties of rice with lower GIs, such as:
- basmati rice
- red rice
- black rice
- wild rice
Brown rice may reduce heart disease risk
Studies suggest that eating brown rice helps reduce several risk factors for heart disease.
An analysis of 45 studies found that people who ate the most whole grains, including brown rice, had a 16–21% lower risk of heart disease than people who ate the fewest whole grains.
Whole grains like brown rice may also lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Brown rice has even been linked to an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol. But these findings aren’t consistent across all populations.
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Brown rice is rich in antioxidants
The bran of brown rice contains many powerful antioxidants, which can help neutralize harmful free radical compounds and reduce inflammation in the body.
Studies show that due to their antioxidant levels, whole grains like brown rice may help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Brown rice aids weight control
Eating brown rice instead of white may also significantly reduce weight, body mass index (BMI), and circumference of the waist and hips.
In one study including 29,683 adults and 15,280 children, researchers found that the more whole grains people ate, the lower their body weight.
Additionally, a randomized controlled trial in 40 women with overweight and obesity found that brown rice reduced body weight and waist size, compared with white rice.
Summary: Brown rice contains more nutrients than white rice, and it may also be more favorable for blood sugar levels, heart disease risk, and weight control.
White rice benefits
White rice is a staple in many traditional types of cuisine and has been for many centuries — so it’s not without its benefits.
Brown rice contains antinutrients
Antinutrients are plant compounds that may reduce your body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients. Brown rice contains an antinutrient known as phytic acid, or phytate, which makes it more difficult to digest.
While phytic acid may offer some health benefits, it also reduces your body’s ability to absorb iron and zinc from food. Soaking rice before cooking can help retain some of the nutritional value.
Over the long term, eating phytic acid with most meals may contribute to mineral deficiencies. However, this is very unlikely for people who eat a varied diet.
Brown rice contains arsenic
Brown rice tends to be higher in arsenic than white rice.
Arsenic is a toxic heavy metal that is naturally present in the environment, but it has been increasing in some areas due to pollution. Significant amounts have been identified in rice and rice-based products.
Long-term consumption of arsenic may increase your risk of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
However, this should not be a concern if you eat rice in moderation as part of a varied diet. A few servings per week should be fine.
If rice is a big part of your diet, you should take some steps to minimize the arsenic content.
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Summary: Brown rice contains the antinutrient phytic acid and is higher in arsenic than white rice. This can be a concern for those who eat a lot of rice. However, moderate consumption should be fine.
While white rice and brown rice are high in starch, brown rice contains more fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. When eating white rice, add legumes and vegetables to ensure that you are having a balanced meal.
That said, either type of rice can be part of a healthy diet — as evidenced by the long history of white rice in the traditional cuisine of many cultures. Brown rice may have a more favorable nutrition profile, but there’s nothing wrong with having white rice as a part of a balanced diet.