It’s dinner time and you realize you need a quick side dish for your main course. But when he opens the cabinet, he sees that he has a bag of white rice and a bag of brown rice already open. Which one do you choose? Over the years, white rice has gotten a bad rap, but we talked to dieticians to break down the difference between brown rice and white rice so you can confidently choose the best option for you.
The difference between brown rice and white rice.
The main difference between the two is that brown rice is a whole grain, explains Catherine Perez, MS, RD, registered dietitian and owner of the blog Plant-Based RD. “Whole grains keep both the bran and the germ, while processed grains typically have this coating removed.”
Plus, white rice tends to be a more convenient option for many people, as it requires less time to cook compared to brown rice, he explains. Tessa Nguyen, MEd, RD, LDN, professional chef, registered dietitian, and founder of Taste Nutrition Consulting. They can be used interchangeably in recipes, but white rice tends to be softer and fluffier, while brown rice is more substantial and slightly chewy, she adds.
White rice, like many other white grains, loses most of its nutrients when the coating is removed. These “white” foods (such as white bread, rice, or flour) are processed and many people associate them with “bad” foods that can raise blood sugar levels or contribute to diabetes and weight gain, Perez says. Brown rice is often considered a “healthier” alternative because it is not processed. But it’s not that simple.
White rice has gotten a bad rap over the years because diet training and many diet-related conversations have taught that non-fiber carbohydrates are considered “bad” foods, Nguyen explains. But the truth is that white rice is a staple food for many communities of color. and has received many judgments of “a basis in racism and whiteness because brown rice is seen as the elite choice for nutrition and is easily found in stores in wealthy areas,” she says.
Benefits of brown rice
Because brown rice is a complex carbohydrate, it tends to provide more fiber, vitamins and minerals (such as iron), and may provide more energy, compared to white rice, says Perez. It can also improve satiety or fullness after a meal. Plus, the whole bran and germ can provide antioxidants, he adds.
Research suggests that whole grains, such as brown rice, may help lower blood sugar levels and lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. By comparison, some research has indicated that white rice can potentially increase your risk of developing diabetes, likely because it can raise blood sugar faster than brown rice. Additional research has linked brown rice to a reduced risk of heart disease and lower body weight.
Benefits of white rice
Like any carbohydrate, white rice still provides energy and, if fortified, vitamins and minerals, says Perez. Some brands will add nutrients back to the grain that was originally removed during processing. “Because of this long-standing practice, the difference in nutrition between white rice and brown rice tends to be pretty negligible,” she says. And while the fiber isn’t added back into the grain, per serving, brown rice only provides a couple more grams of fiber.
In addition, the benefits of white rice go beyond what the nutritional label says. “One of the most important benefits of white rice is that it is integrated into many cultural cuisines,” adds Pérez. “White rice is surrounded by tradition, family and connection. It goes beyond simple physical nutrition. Being able to keep parts of your culture alive feeds you mentally and helps you feel fulfilled too”
Laura Iu, RDRegistered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor in New York City previously said Prevention., “White rice is a staple food in Asian cultures, but sadly it has become a demonized food by diet culture.” He added that although white rice is lower in fiber and digests faster than brown rice, “it can absolutely be part of a healthy diet.”
In fact, Iu pointed out that the lower fiber content found in white rice may actually be easier for people with some digestive conditions (such as irritable bowel syndrome) to digest.
Brown vs. White Rice Nutrition
The nutritional value of a cup of Integral rice it is:
- Calories: 238
- Fat: 1.87g
- Carbs: 49.5g
- Protein: 5.32g
- Fiber: 3.12g
- Thiamin: 0.345mg
- Niacin: 4.97mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.238mg
- Magnesium: 76mg
- Phosphorus: 199 mg
- Iron: 1.09mg
- Zinc: 1.38mg
The nutritional value of a cup of White rice it is:
- Calories: 204
- Fat: 0.442g
- Carbs: 44.2g
- Protein: 4.22g
- Fiber: 0.63g
- Thiamin: 0.256mg
- Niacin: 2.32mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.145mg
- Magnesium: 19mg
- Phosphorus: 67.9 mg
- Iron: 1.88mg
- Zinc: 0.774mg
Is white or brown rice healthier?
The bottom line is that both white and brown rice have their benefits, says Perez. When push comes to shove, he suggests choosing what you like to eat and making sure everybody items on your plate meet your nutritional goals.
White rice is rarely eaten on its own, and it has the opportunity to pack a ton of nutrients with the other ingredients, so the type of rice doesn’t make much of a difference, Pérez says. For example, a plate of white rice and fried chicken every day can leave you deficient in some essential nutrients and potentially overloading you with sodium and saturated fat compared to filling your plate with fruits and vegetables.
“If eating white rice helps you enjoy more of these other, healthier foods on your plate, then eat white rice,” she says. “If you love the nutty flavor of brown rice, definitely incorporate it into your meals.”
Perez suggests including lean protein options and plenty of produce in your white or brown rice when possible for a balanced meal. This has proven to be a completely healthy option for many people. For example, many cultures eat white rice with beans and add other nutritious foods to their plate. These people typically don’t have high levels of chronic disease and can still live very long and healthy lives, she says.
And if you’re monitoring your blood sugar, Iu previously suggested that Prevention combine white rice with protein and fat to help slow down digestion and lessen spikes in blood sugar. You can also refrigerate the rice to transform the starches into resistant starches, which act similarly to soluble fiber and will avoid being absorbed by the intestine, says Perez. These will feed your gut microbiome and lead to more stable and controlled blood sugar levels, even when the rice is reheated.
Whether you opt for white rice or brown rice, start with these delicious and healthy rice recipes:
Arielle Weg is associate editor of Prevention and loves sharing her favorite wellness and nutrition obsessions. She previously managed content at The Vitamin Shoppe, and his work has also appeared on Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Light Cooking, MyRecipes, and more. You can usually find her taking an online exercise class or making a mess in the kitchen, creating something delicious that she found in her cookbook collection or saved to Instagram.