When you were growing up, you probably remember seeing images of the food pyramid with grains at the bottom comprising the largest portion of a so-called healthy diet.
Nowadays, you might notice that you are urged to eat “healthy whole grains” if you are going to eat grains.
That means forgoing heavily processed white rice in favor of brown rice.
But two questions remain.
The first is, “Is brown rice healthier than white rice?”
The second is, “Should I be eating rice at all?”
There are two issues at stake: nutrition and carbohydrate content. In this article, we will compare and contrast white rice and brown rice with reference to both so that you can decide what to eat and not eat on a healthy diet.
But first, let’s make sure you know what brown rice and white rice are.
What is Brown Rice?
Brown Rice is one variety of whole-grain rice. Although it is the most common one, you might also sometimes encounter other types of whole-grain rice including red rice, black rice, and gold rice.
When rice is harvested, it has an outer hull which cannot be consumed. So, the outer hull is removed regardless of the type of rice you purchase.
Underneath the inedible husk are two additional layers surrounding the inner endosperm. These are the bran and the germ.
When you purchase brown rice, the bran and the germ remain intact for you to eat.
Key Point: The bran and germ remain intact in brown rice. Only the outer hull has been removed.
What is White Rice?
White rice is a more heavily processed type of rice. After the outer hull is removed, the bran and the germ are removed as well.
All that remains is the endosperm.
Key Point: White rice has the outer hull, bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm.
Chances are good that this is the type of rice that you mainly grew up eating.
Issue 1: Nutrition
Now that you know what the difference is between brown rice and white rice, we can talk about the nutrition which is lost by removing the bran and germ.
The easiest way to do this is to compare the nutritional data for brown rice and white rice.
1 cup of brown rice contains:
- 1.8 g of total fat (3% of your daily value)
- 5 g of protein (10% of your daily value)
- 0.2 mg of thiamine (12% of your daily value)
- 3 mg of niacin (15% of your daily value)
- 0.3 mg of vitamin B6 (14% of your daily value)
- 7.8 mcg of folate (2% of your daily value)
- 0.6 mg of pantothenic acid (6% of your daily value)
- 19.5 mg of calcium (2% of your daily value)
- 0.8 mg of iron (5% of your daily value)
- 83.9 mg of magnesium (21% of your daily value)
- 162 mg of phosphorus (16% of your daily value)
- 83.9 mg of potassium (2% of your daily value)
- 1.2 mg of zinc (8% of your daily value)
- 0.2 mg of copper (10% of your daily value)
- 1.8 mg of manganese (88% of your daily value)
- 19.1 mcg of selenium (27% of your daily value)
1 cup of white rice contains:
- 0.4 g of total fat (1% of your daily value)
- 4.2 g of protein (8% of your daily value)
- 0.3 mg of thiamine (17% of your daily value)
- 2.3 mg of niacin (12% of your daily value)
- 0.1 mg of vitamin B6 (7% of your daily value)
- 91.6 mcg of folate (23% of your daily value)
- 0.6 mg of pantothenic acid (6% of your daily value)
- 15.8 mg of calcium (2% of your daily value)
- 1.9 mg of iron (11% of your daily value)
- 19 mg of magnesium (5% of your daily value)
- 68 mg of phosphorus (7% of your daily value)
- 55.3 mg of potassium (2% of your daily value)
- 0.8 mg of zinc (5% of your daily value)
- 0.1 mg of copper (5% of your daily value)
- 0.7 mg of manganese (37% of your daily value)
- 11.9 mcg of selenium (17% of your daily value)
To make it easy for you to run comparisons between these two sets of nutritional data, I have gone through and bolded in each list the higher amounts of nutrition.
You will notice that white rice wins out in only three categories: iron, thiamine, and folate.
Brown rice contains higher amounts of fat, protein, niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.
As for why the white rice in this example contains higher amounts of iron, folate, and thiamine, the only reason is because this white rice was enriched to replace lost nutrition.
If it had not been enriched, it would be nutritionally inferior with respect to these as well.
So, you can see that brown rice is significantly more nutritious than white rice, especially if that white rice has not been enriched.
So, if you must eat rice, from a nutritional standpoint, it always sense to choose brown rice over white rice.
Key Point: Brown rice is a superior source of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals than white rice.
Issue 2: Carbohydrates
There is another aspect of nutrition which we must discuss with regards to rice, however, and that is the matter of carbohydrates.
Diets which are low in fat and high in carbohydrates can increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
Eating a diet which is low in carbohydrates can boost cardiovascular health and promote weight loss.
You can also improve insulin sensitivity, which may be helpful if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
So, with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the carb count for brown rice and white rice.
Referencing the same nutritional data as before, one cup of white rice contains 44.5 g of carbohydrates, 0.6 g of which are dietary fiber.
One cup of brown rice contains 44.8 g of carbohydrates, 3.5 g of which are dietary fiber.
These are very similar carb counts. At a glance, it might look like brown rice is just marginally worse than white rice with respect to carbs, but that is actually not the case.
If we look at net carbs, the carb count for brown rice is actually slightly lower because it has more dietary fiber than white rice.
In either case, though, you are getting quite a lot of carbohydrates by eating rice.
If you are on a low-carb diet (i.e. 150 g of carbs or less each day), you could occasionally have some rice, but it is going to eat up a big chunk of your allotted carbs each day.
If you are on a very low-carb diet (i.e. a keto diet with 50 grams of carbs or less per day), rice isn’t a food which is going to fit into your diet to well at all.
Key Point: Brown and white rice have very similar carb counts, although brown rice contains slightly more fiber than white rice.
Brown Rice is More Nutritious Than White Rice, But Still High in Carbs
You have now had a chance to analyze the nutritional data for brown rice versus white rice in detail.
Because both types of rice are similarly high in carbohydrates, you are best off avoiding rice on a keto diet and saving it for an occasional treat on a low-carb diet.
It is recommended that you do follow a diet low in carbs for the sake of your cardiovascular health.
Anytime you do eat rice, you should consider choosing brown rice over white rice because of its superior nutritional content. Enjoy your brown rice, and good luck achieving your dietary goals.