Even with the election over, there’s still tough choices to make. But … your choice of rice isn’t one of them. If you thought choosing between Trump and Hillary was a choice of choosing the ‘ lesser of two evils’, you’ll appreciate what I’m about to say.
There’s no significant difference between white and brown rice. That is, once you get past the color.
Yes, white rice is more popular. It’s great for sushi and for weddings. Pigeons love it.
No, brown rice is not a total health solution to your diet issues. But health foodies love it. Why?
Because there are subtle variations in the nutritional impacts of brown rice and white rice. And I’ll talk about what those are a bit later. But before we split hairs over grains of rice, let’s talk about rice in general.
✅ Rice is Nice
First, you should know that rice is technically a seed of the grass species. It doesn’t contain gluten (winning!) and it comes in many varieties. Here’s a handy macronutrient breakdown for 1 cup of cooked rice:
- ~ 200 calories
- ~ 45 grams of carbohydrates
- ~ 4-5 grams of protein
- < 1 gram of fat
Now, if you’re about to trip about the carbs, please don’t. Carbs are neutral and must not be avoided, but enjoyed in moderation. Rice has been a dietary staple for thousands of years. When it’s paired with beans, it creates a flawlessly healthy complete protein for vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores alike.
This is rice. Before white rice goes through it’s refining process, both types actually look just like brown rice. Unlike it’s pearly counterpart, brown rice has retained the side hull and the outer layer of bran. These outer layers are what give brown a slight micro-nutritional advantage over white rice.
To know your rice, know these areas:
- Bran | The outer layer of the grain contains the fiber, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and any phytochemicals in rice.
- Endosperm | This middle layer that contains any protein, carbs, plus small amounts vitamins and minerals.
- Germ | The inner nugget inside the grain contains fats, vitamins, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.
✅ White rice is like white bread. Only better.
All white rice packaging has a label that says “enriched.” Since the hull and bran of white rice are removed, any iron, zinc, magnesium and other nutrients have been taken as well. Manufactures then add synthetic vitamins and iron so their product can be sold as a “nutritious food.” Though fortified, white rice is essentially benign.
“Well, while it’s generally a good idea to eat a diet rich in relatively unprocessed foods, that doesn’t mean you should avoid white rice.” — Mike Matthews, Muscle for Life
Because there are these things called antinutrients which block the absorption of vitamins and minerals.
One such antinutrient is phytic acid, also called phytate. Brown rice contains way more than white rice. And this means that phytic acid can inhibit the micronutrient absorption of zinc, iron, magnesium, and calcium in the digestive system.
A study by Osaka City University found that brown rice decreased the digestibility of proteins and fats – and white rice didn’t. Other studies confirm that phytic acid does indeed impair the functioning of some digestive enzymes.
That said, these impairments are incredibly minor.
✅ Brown rice contains more micro and macronutrients.
After all, it’s hull and bran are intact because it’s unprocessed. Here’s a handful of macronutrient differences between white and brown rice:
- Brown rice yields 43 more calories per cup than white rice.
- Brown rice contains 7g more carbohydrates per cup than white rice.
- Brown rice has 43% more protein than white rice
But what about micronutrients?
✅ Brown rice has more micronutrients. But only some matter.
- Brown rice has 21% of magnesium, white rice has 5%.
- Brown rice has 23% DV of phosphorus, white rice has 13%.
- Brown rice has 88% DV of manganese, white rice has 31%.
If you’re experiencing high levels of inflammation or bone loss, the magnesium in brown rice will be of assistance to your diet. The phosphorous is important or protein synthesis, cellular repair and bone health – so healthy individuals must get their full daily value. Manganese is essential for metabolic functions, creating connective tissues, calcium absorption and proper functioning of key sex and thyroid hormones. It also helps the body synthesize fats and maintain proper nervous system functions.
Beyond these benefits:
- Brown rice has 17.9 mg of choline, white rice has 3.7 mg.
- Brown rice has 3.0 mg of niacin, white rice has 0.5 mg.
- Brown rice has 1.2 mg of vitamin K, white rice 0 mg.
- Brown rice has 425% more omega-3 fatty acids than white rice.
However, these numbers are pretty much irrelevant. These above nutritional amounts are so minimal in terms of daily value that they’re effectively nonexistent. Apart from these differences, there’s not a big difference in the vitamin quality between white and brown rice.
All things considered, rice should never be what you eat for vitamins or minerals. That’s what we have fruits and veggies for.
✅ But…brown rice has more fiber.
That’s 105% more fiber than white rice.
Recommended daily value of fiber is 25 grams. At 3 grams per serving, brown rice brings you 14% of your daily intake. White rice only brings you 4%.
More fiber means brown rice will move through your digestive system more slowly, keeping your body fuller for longer. So if you’re keen to lose weight, brown is definitely the recommended option.
Fiber also keeps your colon clean. Toxins and cancer-causing materials can build up in the colonic walls and contribute to serious health problems. Regular bowel movements are a sign of a high fiber diet and predict a healthy colon.
As an FDA labelled “whole grain,” brown rice also helps reduce the buildup of arterial plaque, limit high cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease. These benefits all arrive from the hull and brain being intact.
✅ Brown rice has a low insulin index. White rice does not.
Brown rice helps stabilize blood sugar levels because it is a low glycemic index food.
It doesn’t spike glucose levels and is therefore not a contributing factor to diabetes. The glycemic index is a measure of how fast a particular food raises blood glucose levels. Highly variable blood glucose levels are not healthy and predict type 2 diabetes.
A Harvard School of Public Health study found that a diet which included brown rice reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16%. This is significant since white rice consumption in the US has increased in recent years – all while diabetes rates climb. Almost 18 million Americans – and climbing – suffer from type 2 diabetes today.
If you want the lowest glycemic index, opt for basmati rice instead.
So what now?
Brown rice is slightly more nutritious than white rice, but when taken in perspective with the rest of a daily diet, it is not a mandatory choice for “healthy eating.”
While it’s true that brown rice contains more nutrients, they arrive in such negligible amounts that they’re not worth considering. And if you’re reading this article, odds are you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables to offset the minor gains you’ll get by choosing the most nutritionally dense of rice options.
If you’re keen to really up your fiber intake, go for brown rice over white.
If you’re trying to stabilize your blood sugar, are pre- or diabetic already, definitely go for brown rice.
The point is this: eat what type of rice you like.
It’s not going to make a grain of difference if you’re eating in moderation. Neither is better or worse. But what is certainly great is that you care about health enough to read this article. That will make all the difference – and is the true seed of healthy living.