Brown Rice Versus White Rice: Which One Is Better?

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

Rice has been a common ingredient in many dishes for centuries, but in recent years, a debate has sparked over the health benefits of white and brown rice. Many people say that white rice has little nutritional value and that brown rice is much healthier. But what makes brown rice so healthy? And is white rice really that bad for you? To answer these questions, it’s important to understand the difference between white and brown rice and the benefits they both offer.

What Is Brown Rice?

Brown rice is a whole grain, which is the healthiest type of grain you can eat. Other whole grains include:

  • Popcorn
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Oatmeal
  • Bulgur
  • Whole wheat

Whole grains are grains that are left in their natural state. They’re unrefined, which means that the bran and the germ haven’t been removed during the milling process. The bran and the germ are where most of the nutrients reside and are what make brown rice so healthy.

What Is White Rice?

White rice, on the other hand, is a refined grain so the bran and the germ have been stripped from it during the milling process. This prolongs the shelf life of the rice and gives it a finer, less gritty texture. However, without the bran and the germ, white rice does lose some of the nutritional value that brown rice retains. Other examples of refined grains include:

  • White flour
  • Degermed cornflower
  • White bread

Because refined grains lose some nutritional value during the milling process, many of them, including white rice, are enriched or fortified with B vitamins and iron.

Nutritional Value

When comparing the nutritional data for both brown and white rice, you may be surprised to see that brown rice isn’t much healthier than white rice. One cup of each type of rice contains about 200 calories and both are very low in cholesterol and sodium. Both are also low in fat, but white rice actually has less fat. One cup of white rice contains just one gram of fat while brown rice contains three grams of fat. However, when it comes to nutrients, brown rice edges out white rice because of its unrefined state.

Here are more reasons why brown rice is healthier than white rice:

  • Selenium: Brown rice is a good source of selenium, a vitamin that can repair DNA and regulates the thyroid hormone and boosts immune system function. One cup contains 27 percent of the recommended daily value while one cup of white rice contains 17 percent.
  • Magnesium: Brown rice is also a good source of magnesium, a mineral that’s essential for bone health. One cup contains 21 percent if the recommended daily value whereas one cup of white rice contains just five percent of the daily value.
  • Manganese: By far, brown rice is the best source of manganese, which plays a key role in the antioxidant process. Just one cup contains 88 percent of the recommended daily value while one cup of white rice contains only 37 percent.

In the race for better nutrition, there is one category where white rice does beat out brown rice – B vitamins. White rice is actually a good source of folate, a B vitamin that white rice is fortified with during the enriching process. Unfortunately, white rice is not fortified with fiber, of which brown rice is chocked full. Brown rice also has a fullness factor of 2.3 versus white rice’s 2.1, which means that brown rice will keep you fuller for a longer period of time.

Health Benefits

Because brown rice is so full of nutrients, it offers the following benefits:

  • Protects against heart disease
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Can help lower blood pressure
  • Reduces the risk of developing metabolic syndrome
  • Reduces the risk of childhood asthma
  • Prevents the formation of gallstones
  • Can help prevent weight gain

But these are just a few of the benefits that brown rice has to offer. For instance, brown rice also contains phytonutrients, plant lignins that act as antioxidants and fight free radicals. Because phytonutrients are found in the bran and germ, white rice does not contain them. On the other hand, brown rice does not contain B vitamins, specifically folate, which is an important nutrient, especially for pregnant women. Therefore, a mixture of brown rice with a little bit of white rice, on occasion, is ideal for a nutritional diet.

However, white rice should be consumed with caution. Some studies show that white rice can actually increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Refined grains can also lead to weight gain, an increase in insulin resistance and the development of metabolic syndrome.

Bottom Line

When all is said and done, brown rice does edge out white rice when it comes to nutrition and health benefits, but white rice isn’t as bad as many people think. It has the same amount of calories, fat, sodium and cholesterol and is a great source of B vitamins. Since it has been linked with an increase in health problems, it’s best not to eat too much of it. If you have five to six servings of rice a week, make three to four of those servings are brown rice to get a good balance of nutrients that can protect your health.


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