Is Brown Rice Really Much Healthier Than White Rice?

My friend and I disagree when it comes to rice: she loves brown rice for health reasons, and I love white rice for delicious reasons. I know brown rice is supposed to be “healthier” than white rice, but is it that much healthier that I need to switch to it?

Brown rice and white rice are really the same grain, with the only difference that the white rice was minced more to remove everything except the white endosperm of the grain. Bran and germ remain on brown rice in addition to the internal endosperm. This leaves the grain brown, and as we all know, people think brown food options are more nutritious : brown rice, wheat bread, wheat pasta, etc. But am I really ruining my diet by choosing white rice over brown, When am I in line at Chipotle? Not really! Let me explain.

Brown rice contains more fiber and protein than white rice , which is good, but brown rice also has more calories, more carbohydrates, and more fat than white rice. If you’re just looking at numbers, white rice seems a little more useful. However, white rice has a higher glycemic index, which means your body breaks it down faster, creating higher blood glucose levels and promoting a higher insulin response. This may be of concern to those at risk for type 2 diabetes , but not much to others.

Brown rice is rich in nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, copper and potassium. But a lot of white rice is fortified, which helps close the nutrient gap. In general, these two versions of the same grain are neck and neck. In fact,one 1996 study from Portugal found that there is no “evidence that a brown rice diet is better than a white rice diet,” despite the higher nutrient content of brown rice.

Now let’s talk about phytate – brown rice has something, but white rice doesn’t. Phytic acid is considered an “anti-nutrient” that reduces your body’s ability to absorb beneficial nutrients because it has a strong affinity for binding important minerals. For example, when iron and zinc bind to phytic acid, they become insoluble and difficult to absorb in the intestines.According to one study from Japan, phytic acid also affects nitrogen levels and protein absorption:

“The nitrogen balance was negative on both diets, but more negative on the brown rice diet. The phosphorus balance on the brown rice diet was significantly negative, but other minerals were not affected by the diet. Plasma cholesterol and mineral levels were not significantly different between the polished rice diet and the brown rice diet. Comparing these results with data on standard protein intake (Miyoshi, H. et al (1986) J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol., 32, 581-589.), We concluded that brown rice reduces protein absorption and nitrogen balance “.

There is also the problem of arsenic in rice. According to Consumer Reports, brown rice contains more arsenic than white rice of the same origin . There are still traces of arsenic in white rice, but in brown rice in general there is more. Too much arsenic, if you weren’t sure, is not good for you. Keep in mind, however, that these phytate and arsenic levels will not kill you or completely ruin your diet after a few bites. The FDA notes that eating a reasonable amount of any kind of rice is perfectly fine as long as you’re trying to maintain a well-balanced diet.

In the end, brown and white rice were stumped. Each has very minor advantages over the other, but there is nothing that stands out and says that one is better than the other in terms of your health. If you’re at risk for diabetes, research shows that choosing brown rice over white may reduce that risk , but otherwise it isn’t. So, eat whatever rice you want, but in moderation. After all, too much of any type of rice will not benefit you in the long run. As for me, I’ll stick to my delicious white rice when it’s meal time!

This story was originally published in 2017 and has been updated with new information on 02/19/2020.

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