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

Rice has been a culinary staple for thousands of years in cultures around the world, especially in some Asian countries including China, India, Japan, and South Korea. But the popularity of these grains has become global as this grain takes up permanent residence in many pantries across America.

Historically, white rice was the traditional choice, however, brown rice has become a go-to choice as well, thanks in particular to its reputation for having more health benefits than white rice. But what are the nutritional advantages of brown rice compared to white rice? How do white and brown rice differ from each other, and how do those differences affect our health (if at all)? Is it really healthier to swap white rice for brown rice when ordering takeout or deciding what to make for dinner? Time to unpack all your burning rice nutrition questions.

Nutritional Comparison Between White and Brown Rice

How do these relatives differ on a physical and nutritional basis? Physically, white rice contains only a fraction of the normal anatomy of a rice grain because of the refining process that removes the two main components of the whole rice grain, explains clinical dietitian Caitlin Carr, MS, RD .

Whole grains, including whole grain rice (aka brown rice), are made up of three structures, or layers—the bran, germ, and endosperm. White rice is made by removing the bran and germ from brown rice leaving its starchy core, the endosperm.

Brown rice provides less fiber than white rice.

This gives rise to some important nutritional differences between the two types of rice. In two-thirds of a cup, brown rice contains about two grams of fiber while white rice contains only about 0.5 grams.

Brown rice contains more vitamins and minerals than white rice.

Additionally, brown rice has more important minerals like manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and magnesium, along with B-vitamins like niacin and folate when compared, per cup, to white rice, Carr says.

Brown rice offers more plant compounds than white rice.

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

Brown Rice Nutrition and Health Benefits

Bahareh Niati

Brown rice is digested more slowly and produces less 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 longer to digest than white rice, Carr explains. The longer digestion time of brown rice provides more stable energy levels and also has a positive effect on blood sugars through a more gradual rise and fall of sugar levels. This benefit is particularly significant for those with metabolic concerns such as type 2 diabetes, as it can make blood sugar management easier.

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

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

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

Nutritional and Health Considerations of White Rice

Cara Cormack

As we have already begun to see, white rice is not quite a bit measure nutritionally in brown rice due to its lower fiber and micronutrient content. White rice’s lower fiber content also equates to a higher score on the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly a given food will raise blood sugar. This index ranks foods on a scale of zero to 100, where the higher the score, the faster a food is digested in the body, and the faster our blood sugars rise.

As a refined, or simple, carbohydrate, white rice has a glycemic index of 70 while brown rice reaches 50. Because of this, too frequent consumption of white rice can put us at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, according to a 2019 review.

This does not mean, however, that white rice cannot be part of a balanced, healthy diet especially when it is eaten in combination with healthy, high fiber and high protein sources. Brown and white rice are both naturally gluten-free and low-FODMAP foods, Carr notes, For individuals with celiac and/or trying a temporary elimination diet for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), 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 these two grains is similar, and they are often easily interchangeable however, there are some notable differences. White rice tends to offer a softer texture and a more neutral, mild flavor. Brown rice has a chewier texture and nuttier flavor. These differences may take some getting used to if white rice is always your go-to, but that doesn’t stop brown rice from being a delicious swap-out for white rice in most recipes.

The 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 a leg up in terms of beneficial fiber, micronutrients , and plant compounds. And while white rice enjoyed in moderation can still fit into a healthy, balanced lifestyle, switching to brown rice every so often can certainly provide some beneficial benefits.

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

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