Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Which One is Healthier for You?

Rice comes in thousands of varieties, but the most commonly used are brown and white. Which one is healthier? Let’s take a look at the brown rice vs. white rice debate.

brown rice vs. white rice

The two most popular types of rice are long-grain brown and white. Both are delicious, versatile, and economical forms of nutrition. Plus, they’re gluten-free, so they can be consumed by people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

September is National Rice Month in the United States, a time to celebrate the harvest of one of our favorite grains. Rice is a grain commonly consumed all over the world. Nearly half of the planet’s population consumes rice daily. There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice, and it ranks as the world’s second-highest-produced crop, right after corn. [1] The two most popular types of rice are long-grain brown and white. Both are delicious, versatile, and economical forms of nutrition. Plus, they’re gluten-free, so they can be consumed by people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. But which one is healthier for you? Let’s take a closer look at brown rice vs. white rice.

First, a little history. The origin of rice goes back thousands of year to as early as 2,500 BC, according to the University of California at Davis. First cultivated in China, rice later spread throughout Sri Lanka and India. For about 3,500 years, rice also was grown in Africa, but its cultivation there declined as Asian species were introduced. Rice was introduced later in Middle East, Europe, America and Australia.

Rice is an especially useful crop because it can grow in all sorts of climates and conditions, from wet and flooded areas to desert regions.

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Nutrition Matters: Brown Rice vs. White Rice

As for nutritional value, here’s a comparison of brown rice vs. white rice. According to the USDA, one cup of cooked, enriched, long-grain white rice provides:

  • 205 calories
  • 4.25 g of protein
  • 0.44 g of fat
  • 44.54 g of carbohydrates
  • 0.6 g of fiber

One cup of cooked, long-grain brown rice provides:

  • 248 calories
  • 5.53 g of protein
  • 1.96 g of fat
  • 51.67 g of carbohydrates
  • 3.2 g of fiber [2]

The following chart shows additional information about the nutrients found in white and brown rice:

Vitamin/Minerals 1 cup of white rice 1 cup of brown rice
Iron (mg) 1.90 1.13
Thiamine (mg) 0.258 0.36
Niacin (mg) 2.332 5.173
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.147 0.248
Folate (ug) 153 18
Phosphorus (mg) 68 208
Magnesium (mg) 19 79
Zinc (mg) 0.77 1.43

While white rice is lower in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, brown rice has more protein and fiber. Brown rice also contains more magnesium and zinc, but white rice contains more iron. So, is brown rice or white rice better for you?

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: The Benefits and Risks

While white rice has been somewhat vilified by nutrition experts, there are still a few advantages to this popular type of grain:

  • White rice is enriched with B vitamins and iron.
  • It’s easier to digest, so it can be consumed by those suffering from gut conditions like diverticulitis or diarrhea. White rice can be recommended for those who need to follow a low fiber diet due to problems with their gut. It also can be a better choice for those with kidney disease. [2, 3]
  • White rice takes less time to cook because it is stripped of its bran and germ.

Many nutrition experts, however, have concluded that the following risks outweigh the benefits:

  • White rice lacks dietary fiber.
  • People with diabetes should avoid white rice because it can rapidly increase the sugar levels in their blood. Studies have shown that compared to brown rice, eating white rice increases the risk of developing diabetes.

Where white rice has drawbacks in terms of nutrition, brown rice shines:

  • Brown rice is considered a whole grain because only the outer husk is removed while its bran and germ (which include additional fiber) are retained. Fiber can help with weight management and constipation. Whole grains like brown rice can help to maintain a healthy body weight, reduce your risk of certain types of cancer, reduce inflammation, balance your insulin levels, and lower your triglycerides. [2, 5, 6, 7]
  • It is a better source of antioxidants, such as vitamin E and selenium, compared to white rice. [4]

But, brown rice does have a couple of disadvantages:

  • Brown rice can be difficult to digest. Because of the amount of fiber, phosphorus, and potassium it contains, brown rice isn’t recommended for people with gut issues and kidney disease. [2]
  • Brown rice takes twice as long to cook than white rice.

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: The Contamination Question

One important factor to consider is that rice sometimes is contaminated with arsenic, a heavy metal that the grain absorbs from the ground as it grows. While an organic form of arsenic is naturally found in plants and animals, health experts are more concerned about the inorganic form, which is more toxic and may cause cancer, vascular disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

The inorganic form of arsenic is often found in the bran portion of the rice grain; therefore, brown rice contains slightly more of it than white rice.

If you consume rice occasionally, your risk of exposure will remain low. However, those who eat rice and rice products on a daily basis— people following a gluten-free diet—are at a higher risk.

Following these tips can help reduce your exposure:

  • Choose white or aromatic varieties of rice, such as jasmine or basmati, over brown rice.
  • Always rinse rice before cooking.
  • Avoid rice that is grown during the dry season.
  • Choose rice that is grown in the Himalayan region.
  • Children and pregnant women should consume limited portions of rice.

For more information about arsenic, check out our posts 4 Worst Heavy Metals for Your Heart and Is Arsenic in Wine a Cause for Concern?

How to Prepare Perfectly Cooked Rice at Home

No matter which type of rice you cook, sometimes it takes a little trial-and-error before you find the perfect method for preparing it. Here are some tips, according to Today.com:

  • Boil it. Long-grain rice is believed to be best for boiling or used in pilafs. When making boiled rice, it’s important to treat it like pasta. After adding rice to the boiling water, always stir right away so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. White long-grain rice takes about 12 minutes and for brown long-grain rice it takes about 35 minutes.
  • Bake it. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2 1/2-quart baking dish and pour rice into the prepared baking dish. Stir water, butter, and salt in a saucepan and bring to boil. Bake in preheated oven until the water is absorbed and the rice is tender (20 to 25 minutes).
  • Steam it. Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in white rice and salt. Reduce heat and simmer covered for about 16 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand covered for 10 minutes.
  • Cook it in the rice cooker. The best kind of rice to cook in the rice cooker is short-grain sticky white or brown rice. Follow the instructions that come with your rice cooker.
  • Microwave it. Cooking rice in the microwave may save you time, but it can also affect the flavor and texture. Also, not every microwave cooks food at the same rate.

VEGGIE-LOADED BLACK BEANS AND RICE

  • Prep time: 10 mins
  • Cook time: 19 mins
  • Total time: 29 mins
  • Servings: 4
  • Calories: 360 kcal

Ingredients

  • 15 oz black or red beans
  • 1 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup dry quick cooking brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chili powder – divided
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cumin – divided
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground sea salt – divided add more or less as desired
  • ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper add more or less as desired
  • 1 medium onion – chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper – removed and chopped
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 1 teaspoon of avocado or extra virgin-olive oil or 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth
  • ½ cup of chopped cilantro (optional)
  • Lime wedges (optional)

Instructions

  1. Drain and rinse the beans and put them in a medium sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil at high heat, once the water is boiling reduce the heat to simmer. Add 1 tablespoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, turmeric, and ground pepper and stir well to combine. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the sea salt at the end.
  2. In a large skillet with a lid, heat the oil, or, 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth if you don’t cook with oil, on medium heat. When the oil/broth is hot, add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until tender. Pour the 1 and ½ cups of vegetable broth over the vegetables and bring to a boil. When the broth is boiling stir in the rice, cover, and reduce the heat to simmer for the amount of time directed on the package. Usually 20 minutes.
  3. When the rice is done, remove the lid, add the spinach, and put the lid back on. Let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Use a slotted spoon (to avoid adding extra water) to add the beans to the vegetables and rice, sprinkle on the remaining teaspoon of chili powder and ½ teaspoon of cumin and grind more sea salt and black pepper on top if desired. Fold the beans and spices into the rice and veggies until well combined. Serve with fresh cilantro and lime wedges.

Recipe Notes

The nutrition calculations are only an estimate. They will change depending on whether or not you use oil or broth to sauté the vegetables, and whether your measurements are exact.

Recipe courtesy of Veganosity.com


[1] http://ricefest.com/all-about-rice/facts-about-rice/
[2] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319797.php
https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/20037
https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/20045
[3] https://www.healthline.com/health/diverticulitis-diet-list-of-foods-to-avoid#foods-to-avoid
[4] https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/03/health/is-rice-healthy-food-drayer/index.html
[5] https://www.livestrong.com/article/548124-does-brown-rice-raise-triglycerides/
[6] https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/brown-rice-vs-white-rice#key-nutritional-differences
[7] https://www.livestrong.com/article/486634-digestion-of-brown-rice
[8] http://www.thinkrice.com/national-rice-month/
[9] http://ricepedia.org/culture/history-of-rice-cultivation
[10] https://wellnessmama.com/2123/white-rice-healthy/

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Comments
  • Cynthia P.

    Rice grown in California is also lower in arsenic.

  • Great article and excellent recipes. Thanks, Vicky Markstein

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