Brown Rice vs. White Rice

By: Courtney

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Today we are tackling the debate of brown rice vs. white rice. If you’ve researched this topic before, you’ve likely found many disagreeing articles diving deep into which is better and why. Today, we want to highlight some of the reasons for the debate and how to apply these thoughts to what works best for you!

photo of brown rice vs. white rice

What’s the difference between brown rice and white rice?

First, let’s talk about the components of rice. There are 4 parts to rice: the hull or the husk (the outer most layer), the bran, the germ and the endosperm (the innermost layer). Now, let’s see what makes brown and white rice different.

Brown rice is considered a whole grain; meaning it contains all parts of the rice grain. Processed brown rice likely has the hull/husk removed, but still contains the bran, germ, and endosperm. With the majority of the parts of the grain intact, all original nutrients of the grain are available.

In white rice, the outer layers of the grain (the germ and the bran) have been removed; so, all that is left is the endosperm. The endosperm is the little white grain of rice.

Rice can also be referred to as polished or unpolished. Polished rice is rice that has gone through the process of removing all parts except the endosperm — AKA white rice. Brown rice is often referred to as unpolished rice (referring to the other components still intact). For the sake of simplicity in this article, we will refer to the rice as either white or brown.

Nutrition of Brown and White Rice

The nutrition composition of brown rice versus white rice is very similar when it comes to protein, fat and carbohydrate content. However, there are some key differences in the nutrient composition between brown and white rice; these differences are the fuel for the debate of which is better.

Brown rice is known to be higher in fiber and has more vitamins and minerals than white rice. This is because the majority of the fiber and nutrients are found in the germ and in the bran of the rice, which is why white rice contains less fiber and nutrients.

brown rice, white rice, black rice, and wild rice in burlap bags on a wooden surface

So, is brown rice healthier than white rice?

Given the nutrition facts above, you may jump to the conclusion that brown rice is healthier than white rice, but there are a few different things to discuss on this matter before you decide which option is healthiest for you.

Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Brown rice is considered a whole grain since the whole grain is included. White rice is considered a refined grain as it has been milled and processed down to just the endosperm. Overall, whole grains have more fiber and are closer to the original form of the grain compared to refined grains — which is a bonus. However, while there is more fiber in brown rice, the ease in the digestion of certain grain-based fibers can be difficult to navigate which can leave the question – “is it really better?”. If we are getting a large majority of our fiber from grain-based fibers alone think cereal for breakfast, breads/crackers/etc. for lunch and pasta for dinner), for some people, it can be harder on the gut. White rice, due to the lower fiber content, is easier to digest and for some people with any digestive issues or gut issues, it may be a better option.

Phytates

You’ve probably heard the words antinutrients, phytates, or phytic acid. Antinutrients are exactly as they sound: compounds that bind the nutrients in the body and prevent their absorption (1). The degree to which antinutrients affect our nutrition is still being studied and isn’t super clear yet. Phytic acid is an antinutrient found in brown rice and the thought is that the brown rice (because of the phytic acid) may cause more harm than good during that meal due to the antinutrient activity of preventing absorption of nutrients consumed with that meal. Phytic acid specifically has been shown to decrease absorption with magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc (2). However, to muddy the water even further, phytic acid may have some health benefits as it is an antioxidant and it may be somewhat protective against certain cancers (3).

Arsenic Content

Arsenic is a known compound that is found in a lot of rice – this may or may not be new news to you. Either way, it is worth discussing. Arsenic is found naturally as part of the minerals in the earth’s crust and also found in fertilizers which then ends up in the soil and in water. Rice more readily absorbs arsenic compared to other grains (4). Arsenic is a known toxin. We know that high levels of arsenic intake over many years can increase the risk of several health problems including different types of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure (5). Brown rice is known to have higher levels of arsenic than white rice (4). However, both white and brown rice are known to contain some level of arsenic. Another area to consider is rice-based products. Since rice is gluten-free, many gluten-free products have been made with rice as their base. Therefore, this should make us consider how much arsenic we actually are consuming when we factor in other rice products we consume often (think pasta, crackers, milk, etc.).

Impact on Blood Sugar

The way brown rice and white rice impact blood sugar is largely different. To compare the impact of brown and white rice on blood sugar, a tool called the glycemic index (GI) is used. The glycemic index measures the effect of different carbohydrate intake and immediate impact on blood sugar after consumption. A higher score equals a more rapid rise in blood sugar.  White rice has a GI score of 89 and brown rice has a score of 55 (6), because the fiber present in brown rice helps the body to absorb the sugar more slowly. So, if you are diabetic or blood sugar is a concern to you, you may want to consider consuming brown rice more frequently than white.

So… which rice is right for you?

After reading all of this, you may find yourself questioning- which is best for me? As you can see, there is a lot of back and forth between brown rice and white rice – the benefits and the potential negative aspects of each type. Deciding which one is best for you depends on your personal health goals, which one you like or enjoy eating more than the other and what makes sense for your life/lifestyle. Are you eating a lot of rice and rice products? Do you eat it on occasion? Which one do you like better? It’s also important to look at how both products impact both your digestion and your blood sugar. Consider all of the information presented to you above and consider which one fits in best.

Regardless of which type of rice you decide to eat, we recommend making sure you pair it with some great heart-healthy fat and yummy protein to it to help balance out the meal to both increase the nutrients you are getting and help curb the blood sugar surge that can happen after eating either type rice. As this is a common trend, moderation is a key player in this debate – too much of either one (or really of anything) we know can likely be harmful than helpful.

Fed and Fit Podcast Episode 110: White Rice vs. Brown Rice

Fed and Fit podcast graphic, episode 110 brown rice vs. white rice with Cassy Joy

If you prefer to listen over read – check out this episode of the Fed and Fit Podcast!

Find us HERE on iTunes and be sure to “subscribe.”

Episode 110 Sponsors

  • Aaptiv – be sure to enter the promo code “FEDANDFIT” (one word, all caps) at checkout, and your first 30 days are on the house!

Fed + Fit Podcast #110 Transcript

References

  1. McDonell, Kayla. “Brown vs White Rice — Which Is Better for Your Health?” Healthline, 2016, www.healthline.com/nutrition/brown-vs-white-rice.
  2. “Are Anti-Nutrients Harmful?” The Nutrition Source, 16 Sept. 2019, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/.
  3. Arnarson, Atil. “Phytic Acid 101: Everything You Need to Know.” Healthline, 28 June 2018, (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/phytic-acid-101#section5).
  4. Consumer Reports. “How Much Arsenic Is in Your Rice?” Consumer Reports, 2014, www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm.
  5. Arnarson, Antil. “Arsenic in Rice: Should You Be Concerned?” Healthline, 2017, www.healthline.com/nutrition/arsenic-in-rice.
  6. “Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods.” Oregon State Extension Service, 2008, extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/1/glycemicindex.pdf.
  7. Greenwood, Darren C., et al. “Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, Carbohydrates, and Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Association, 1 Dec. 2013, care.diabetesjournals.org/content/36/12/4166.
  8. Whelan, Corey, and Natalie Butler. “Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Which Is Better for You?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 10 July 2017, www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/brown-rice-vs-white-rice#takeaway.
  9. Thomas, Liji. “Should We Eat Polished Rice?” News, 27 Feb. 2019, www.news-medical.net/health/Should-We-Eat-Polished-Rice.aspx.
  10. Freuman, Tamara Duker. “No, You Don't Need to Avoid Anti-Nutrients.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 2019, health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/what-are-anti-nutrients-and-should-i-avoid-them
Comments

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  1. Julie says:

    Cassy,
    I love your podcast and found this rice episode very interesting. I’ve just done the DNA/blood test with Habit.com (personalized nutrition) and my biology results are that I am much more carb tolerant than I am with fat (and normal tolerance with protein). So the company is saying that my ideal daily macro intake is 60% carbs, 20% protein and 20% fat. My LDL is also elevated. So 60% carbs and only 20% of the other two is a huge mental shift from what I thought was best (and what’s trendy?) =) and from living more low carb, high fat/high protein. I wondered about your suggestions to transition to this new macro percentage lifestyle. Also, I thought you mentioned recently that you’re less tolerant to fat intake as well and more carb tolerant. So I wondered what that looks like. Thank you!

    1. Cassy says:

      Hi Julie! I don’t actually track my macros, instead I really just try to keep my plates of food as intuitive as possible (adding in what I believe my body needs at the time). As for transitioning, I recommend slowly! Start a few weeks halfway to the new macro recommendations and take careful note of how you’re feeling (bloated, tired, energized, etc.). Continue if you’re feeling good. I hope that was somewhat helpful!

  2. Cassie,
    Thank you for sharing great content with the public. I thought this episode was very interesting. I am a health coach and this will make for interesting conversation with clients. 🙂 I have three questions for you: 1. If you purchase sprouted brown rice does the sprouting process reduce the effect of the phytic acid? I was under the impression that it did, but would like to hear your opinion. 2. What causes the germ to go rancid? Is there a way to tell if it is rancid? 3. Do white rice and brown rice produce the same blood sugar response? I am just thinking about a situation where a client would be eating a lot of grain and be struggling with blood sugar/insulin issues. If they were unwilling to completely give up grain, I am wondering if white or brown would be better for overall blood sugar and insulin. (Sometimes I have to take baby steps with my clients.) Thank you ahead of time for answering these questions for me. Have a great day!

  3. Cassy,
    I apologize for misspelling your name in my previous comment/question. I haven’t gotten my first cup of coffee down yet. 🙂

    Thanks!