Is Brown Rice Really Healthier Than White Rice?

·6 min read
Photo credit: © eleonora galli - Getty Images
Photo credit: © eleonora galli - Getty Images

It’s dinner time and you realize you need a quick side dish for your main course. But when you open the cabinet, you see you have a bag of white rice and a bag of brown rice already open. Which do you choose? Over the years, white rice has gotten a bad reputation, but we spoke to dietitians to break down what the difference is between brown rice and white rice so you can confidently make the best choice for you.

The difference between brown rice and white rice

The main difference between the two is that brown rice is a whole grain, explains Catherine Perez, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and owner of Plant-Based R.D. blog. “Whole grains maintain both their bran and germ, while processed grains usually have this coating removed.”

Additionally, white rice tends to be a more convenient option for many people, taking less time to cook compared to brown rice, explains Tessa Nguyen, MEd, R.D., L.D.N., professional chef, registered dietitian, and founder of Taste Nutrition Consulting. They can be used interchangeably in recipes, but white rice tends to be softer and fluffier while brown rice is heartier and slightly chewy, she adds.

White rice, like many other white grains, loses the majority of the nutrients when the coating is stripped. These “white” foods (like white bread, rice, or flour) are processed, and many people associate them with “bad” foods that can elevate blood sugars or contribute to diabetes and weight gain, Perez says. Brown rice is often seen as a “healthier” alternative because it isn’t processed. But it isn’t that simple.

White rice has gotten a bad reputation over the years because dietetics training and a lot of diet-related conversations have taught carbohydrates without fiber are considered “bad” foods, explains Nguyen But the truth is, white rice is a staple for many communities of color and has received a lot of judgment from “a foundation in racism and whiteness because brown rice is seen as the elite choice for nutrition and is found readily in stores in affluent areas,” she says.

Benefits of brown rice

Because brown rice is a complex carbohydrate, it tends to provide more fiber, vitamins, and minerals (like iron) and can provide more energy, compared to white rice, Perez says. It can also improve satiety or fullness after a meal. Additionally, the whole bran and germ can provide antioxidants, she adds.

Research suggests whole grains, like brown rice, can help lower blood sugar levels and decrease the risk of developing type-2 diabetes. In comparison, some research has indicated that white rice can potentially increase your risk for developing diabetes, likely because it can increase blood sugar faster than brown rice can. Additional research has linked brown rice with a reduced risk of heart disease and lower body weight.

Benefits of white rice

Like any carbohydrate, white rice still provides energy and, if enriched, vitamins and minerals, Perez says. Some brands will add nutrients back into the grain that was originally stripped during processing. “Because of this long-standing practice, the difference in nutrition between white rice and brown rice tends to be pretty negligible,” she says. And though fiber isn’t added back into the grain, per serving, brown rice only provides a couple more grams of fiber.

Plus, the benefits of white rice go beyond what’s on the nutrition label. “One of the most important benefits of white rice is that it is integrated into many cultural cuisines,” Perez adds. “White rice is surrounded by tradition, family, and connection. It goes beyond just physical nourishment. Being able to keep parts of your culture alive absolutely feeds you mentally and helps fulfill you too”

Laura Iu, R.D., registered dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor in New York City previously told Prevention., “White rice is a staple in Asian cultures, but it’s sadly become a food demonized by diet culture.” She added that though white rice is lower in fiber and digested more quickly than brown rice, it can “absolutely be part of a healthy diet.”

In fact, Iu noted that the lower fiber content found in white rice may actually be easier for people with some digestive conditions (like irritable bowel syndrome) to digest.

Nutrition of brown vs. white rice

The nutritional value of one cup of brown rice is:

  • Calories: 238

  • Fat: 1.87 g

  • Carbohydrates: 49.5 g

  • Protein: 5.32 g

  • Fiber: 3.12 g

  • Thiamin: 0.345 mg

  • Niacin: 4.97 mg

  • Vitamin B6: 0.238 mg

  • Magnesium: 76 mg

  • Phosphorus: 199 mg

  • Iron: 1.09 mg

  • Zinc: 1.38 mg

The nutritional value of one cup of white rice is:

  • Calories: 204

  • Fat: 0.442 g

  • Carbohydrates: 44.2 g

  • Protein: 4.22 g

  • Fiber: 0.63 g

  • Thiamin: 0.256 mg

  • Niacin: 2.32 mg

  • Vitamin B6: 0.145 mg

  • Magnesium: 19 mg

  • Phosphorus: 67.9 mg

  • Iron: 1.88 mg

  • Zinc: 0.774 mg

Is white or brown rice healthier?

The bottom line is that both white and brown rice have their benefits, Perez says. When it comes down to it, she suggests choosing whichever you love to eat and making sure all elements of your plate meet your nutrition goals.

White rice is rarely consumed on its own, and you have an opportunity to pack in a ton of nutrients with the other ingredients, so the type of rice doesn’t make that much of a difference, Perez says. For example, a plate with white rice and fried chicken every day may leave you deficient in some essential nutrients and potentially overload you with sodium and saturated fat compared to filling your plate with fruits and veggies.

“If eating white rice helps you enjoy these other healthier foods on your plate more, then eat the white rice,” she says. “If you love the nutty flavor of brown rice, then definitely incorporate it into your meals.”

Perez suggests including lean protein choices and a lot of produce to your white or brown rice when possible for a balanced meal. This has been shown to be a completely healthy option for many people. For example, many cultures consume white rice with beans and add other nourishing foods to their plate. These individuals don’t typically see high levels of chronic disease and can still live very long, healthy lives, she says.

And if you are managing your blood sugar, Iu previously suggested to Prevention to pair white rice with protein and fat to help slow down digestion and lessen blood sugar spikes. You can also refrigerate the rice to transform the starches into resistant starches, which act similar to soluble fiber and will bypass being absorbed into the intestine, Perez says. These will feed your gut microbiome and lead to more steady and controlled blood sugar levels–even when rice is reheated.

Whether you opt for white rice or brown rice, get started with these delicious and healthy rice recipes:

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