Rice is one of the most commonly consumed foods, and the staple of many diets around the world.
The varieties of rice are endless, from jasmine, to basmati, parboiled, arborio, black, red cargo, sticky, wild….the list goes on.
This article will be focusing on two of the most commonly consumed rice varieties – white rice and brown rice.
While white rice is often favoured for its texture and flavour, brown rice is often selected as the healthier option.
So, does brown rice live up to this title? And, if so, what makes it healthier?
Let’s look at the differences between white and brown rice to see which is the healthier option, and why.
Difference Between White and Brown Rice
Brown rice is a whole grain, meaning it contains the three main components of the grain: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
White rice is the same grain as brown rice but with the bran and germ of the grain removed. This leaves only the starchy endosperm, which is the least nutritious part of the grain.
Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Nutrition
The bran of the rice grain contains many important nutrients and phytochemicals, making brown rice much more nutritious than white rice.
Brown rice is a great source of many important vitamins and minerals, especially phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, and selenium, as well as B vitamins, potassium, choline, copper, calcium, and zinc.
It also contains high amounts of dietary fibre, other complex carbs, protein, fat, and various bioactive compounds such as antioxidants and amino acids.
White rice on the other hand, contains very little nutrients and mostly consists of carbohydrates.
However, white rice is often enriched with nutrients such as B vitamins (thiamin, niacin, folic acid) and iron, to restore these nutrients that were lost during the refining process, making it a better source of folate and iron than brown rice.
According to the USDA:
1 cup (195g) of cooked, long-grain brown rice contains approximately 216 calories.
1 cup (158g) of cooked, long-grain white rice contains approximately 206 calories.
In other words, 100g of brown rice contains 111 calories and 100g of white rice contains 130 calories.
Brown rice has slightly higher calories because it contains more fat (and protein) than white rice, which is more energy-dense than just carbohydrates.
The glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar after consumption.
Brown rice has a glycemic index of around 68, while white rice has a glycemic index of around 73 (1). This means that brown rice does not raise blood sugar levels as much as white rice.
This is due to the higher fibre content of brown rice which helps slow down metabolism and regulate insulin production.
Brown rice contains more phytates than white rice. Phytates are known as anti-nutrients because these compounds bind to nutrients in the body, decreasing their bioavailability and impairing their absorption,
This means white rice has more readily available nutrients because of its lower phytate levels.
Note: phytates do not affect the amount of nutrients offered by the rice, they just affect the absorption of those nutrients in the body. Because of the much higher amounts of certain nutrients in brown rice, it likely still out-competes white rice when it comes to how much of these nutrients the body is getting in the end.
Arsenic is a compound that is toxic to humans. Arsenic can be absorbed and accumulate in rice, mostly in the bran of the grain, meaning brown rice is more likely to contain arsenic than white rice.
The potential arsenic content in rice poses a health risk for individuals who frequently consume rice, as well as pregnant women and young children.
Washing and cooking rice can help lower arsenic content.
Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Health Effects
Blood sugar and diabetes
Since brown rice doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels, it is a better option for keeping blood sugars low and reducing the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
Randomized controlled trials have shown that consumption of brown rice instead of white rice can help reduce glucose and insulin levels among overweight, hyperglycemic, diabetic, and healthy individuals (2, 3).
Additionally, studies continue to show that whole grain consumption is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (4).
One study (of about 200,000 participants) found that high white rice consumption (5 or more servings per week vs <1 per month) was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas high brown rice consumption (2 or more servings per week vs <1 per month) was associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes (5). These results suggest that replacing refined white rice which whole grain brown rice may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Another study also showed that higher white rice consumption is associated with higher risk of type 2 diabetes, especially within Asian populations (6).
Blood pressure and heart health
Brown rice contains low sodium and high potassium, which helps keep blood pressure down.
This is in line with the many studies that have found that whole grain consumption is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases (as well as other health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and all-cause mortality) (7).
One randomized controlled trial found that brown rice consumption significantly reduced inflammatory markers and other cardiovascular risk factors (such as weight, BMI, waist and hip circumference, and blood pressure) in overweight or obese women, in comparison with white rice consumption (8).
Brown rice contains a variety of antioxidants such as flavanoids and vitamin E.
These antioxidants prevent harmful oxidation in the body, effectively reducing cellular damage, inflammation, and associated health complications such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
So which is better?
It seems that whole grains have again proven themselves to be healthier than refined and processed grains, in terms of beneficial health effects.
However, there are still situations where white rice may be preferred, especially when enriched with important nutrients.
But I’ll leave it to you to decide 😉
That’s it for this article on brown rice vs. white rice! Which one do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below!