Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Which is the Healthier Choice?

Rice has been a culinary staple for thousands of years in different cultures all over the world, especially in several Asian countries such as China, India, Japan and South Korea. But this grain’s popularity has since gone global, with this grain taking up permanent residence in many pantries across America.

Historically, white rice has been the traditional choice, but brown rice has also become a popular choice, especially due to its reputation for having more health benefits than white rice. But what are the nutritional benefits of brown rice over white rice? How are white and brown rice different, and how do these differences affect our health (if at all)? Is it really healthier to switch white rice to brown rice when ordering takeout or deciding what to make for dinner? It’s time to demystify all your burning rice nutrition questions.

Nutritional comparison between white and brown rice

How do these relatives of rice differ physically and nutritionally? Physically, white rice contains only one part of the normal rice grain anatomy due to the refining process, which removes two key parts of the whole rice grain, explains clinical nutritionist Caitlin Carr, MS, RD.

Whole grains, including whole grains (a.k.a. brown rice), consist of three structures or layers: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. White rice is made by removing the bran and germ from brown rice, leaving behind its starchy core, the endosperm.

Brown rice contains slightly more fiber than white rice.

This produces important nutritional differences between the two rice varieties. In two-thirds of a cup, brown rice contains about two grams of fiber, while white rice only contains about 0.5 grams.

Brown rice contains more vitamins and minerals than white rice.

Plus, brown rice has more essential minerals like manganese, phosphorus, selenium and magnesium, as well as B vitamins like niacin and folate, compared to white rice on a per-cup basis, Carr says.

Brown rice contains more plant compounds than white rice.

Brown rice is also a good source of plant compounds such as flavonoids. These nutrients in brown rice help support better gut, bone, heart, immune system and metabolic health.

Nutritional and health benefits of brown rice

Bahareh Niati

Brown rice breaks down more slowly and produces lower blood sugar spikes.

Because of its fiber content, brown rice is a complex carbohydrate, while white rice is a simple carbohydrate. This means that brown rice takes a little longer to digest than white rice, Carr explains. The extended digestion time of brown rice provides more stable energy levels and also has a positive effect on blood sugar through the gradual rise and fall of sugar levels. This benefit is especially significant for those with metabolic problems such as type 2 diabetes, as it can make blood sugar control easier.

The soluble fiber in brown rice supports a healthy gut and digestion.

Brown rice also contains soluble fiber, which is helpful for maintaining bowel regularity, lowering cholesterol levels, and feeding our gut microbiome, Carr says. When microorganisms in the gut microbiome metabolize soluble fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids that are absorbed into the gut lining, initiating a cascade of events that is thought to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body.

This benefit is part of the reason why a thriving gut microbiome is linked to a better immune system, gut and brain health, among other impressive benefits.

Nutritional and health aspects of white rice

Cara Cormack

As we have already begun to see, white rice does not quite is equivalent in nutritional value to brown rice due to its lower fiber and trace element content. White rice’s lower fiber content also means a higher glycemic index value, a scale used to measure how quickly a certain food raises blood sugar. This index ranks foods on a scale from zero to 100, where the higher the score, the faster the food is digested in the body and the faster our blood sugar rises.

As a refined or simple carbohydrate, white rice has a glycemic index of 70, while brown rice has a glycemic index of 50. Therefore, very frequent consumption of white rice may increase our risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a 2019 estimate.

However, that doesn’t mean white rice can’t be part of a balanced, healthy diet, especially when eaten with healthy, high-fiber, protein-rich sources. Brown and white rice are both naturally gluten-free and low-FODMAP foods, Carr notes, for individuals with celiac disease and/or trying a temporary irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) elimination diet, rice [of either variety] can be a good carbohydrate option to include in their meal plans.

Comparison of taste and texture

The eating experience between the two grains is similar, and they are generally easy to substitute for each other, but there are significant differences. White rice usually offers a softer texture and a more neutral, mild taste. Brown rice, on the other hand, has a tougher texture and a nuttier taste. These differences may take some getting used to if white rice has always been your favorite, but that doesn’t stop brown rice from being an equally delicious alternative to white rice in most recipes.

Bottom line

White rice is a delicious, traditional, and nostalgic comfort food for many of us, but when you dig into the nutritional details, there’s no denying that brown rice has benefits in terms of beneficial fiber, micronutrients, and plant compounds. And while white rice consumed in moderation can still fit into a healthy and balanced lifestyle, substituting brown rice every so often can provide some health benefits.

“I love that both white and brown rice are inexpensive sources of carbohydrates that can be used in so many dishes, made in batches, and stored easily,” says Carr. Some tasty ways to enjoy rice, both white and brown, include stir fries, fried rice, sushi, curry, rice and beans, rice pilaf, jambalaya, fried rice, soups, chicken and rice dishes, and stews.

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