White Rice vs Brown Rice Nutrition—the Shocking Truth
When wondering what is the healthiest rice to eat, the answer may seem cut-and-dry—brown rice, right? Not so fast. In this article, a registered dietitian reviews white rice vs brown rice nutrition facts and uncover which rice is best for optimal health. The answer may surprise you!
Difference between white rice and brown rice
The main difference between white rice and brown rice is in the method of processing. Brown rice is simply whole rice that hasn’t undergone the milling process to produce white rice, during which the majority of the outer layer of the rice kernel—known as the bran—and some of the germ (embryo) are removed.
Although these parts make up only ~10% of the rice kernel, they house the majority of its fiber content along with numerous micronutrients and phytonutrients. That said, the endosperm—the large, white interior of the rice kernel that is essentially white rice—isn’t without nutrients.
White rice vs brown rice nutrition facts
Let’s take a look at the nutritional differences between white rice and brown rice.
Calories in white rice vs brown rice
White rice and brown rice provide about the same amount of calories per 1/4 cup (dry) serving. According to the USDA Food Database, long-grain versions both provide approximately 170 calories per serving.
White rice nutrition facts
Per 1/4 cup (dry) serving, long-grain white rice provides:
- 169 calories
- 0.3 g fat
- 37 g total carbohydrate
- 0.6 g fiber
- 3.3 g protein
- 0.4 mg iron
- 12 mg magnesium
- 0.03 mg thiamin
- 0.74 mg niacin
- 3.7 µg folate
Brown rice nutrition facts
Per 1/4 cup (dry) serving, long-grain brown rice provides:
- 170 calories
- 1.5 g fat
- 35 g total carbohydrate
- 1.7 g fiber
- 3.5 g protein
- 0.6 mg iron
- 54 mg magnesium
- 0.25 mg thiamin
- 3 mg niacin
- 10.7 µg folate
As you can see, when comparing white rice vs brown rice nutrition facts, they’re pretty similar. Brown rice provides a whopping gram more of fiber per 1/4 cup (dry) serving and they provide about the same amount of protein. There are also negligible discrepancies in vitamin and mineral content—although brown does win out for most, especially when it comes to the B vitamins. That is, unless you purchase enriched white rice, which is readily available.
Enriched means that some of the nutrients lost during processing, like iron and B vitamins, were added back to the rice.
Ultimately, the white rice vs brown rice nutrition showdown shows brown rice having a marginal edge over white rice, even less so when comparing it to enriched white rice. With other grains, like pasta and breads, there’s a larger nutritional difference between their whole and refined versions, which is why we recommended mostly choosing whole for those.
White rice vs brown rice glycemic index
A major concern with white rice among many is its glycemic index. Simply put, the glycemic index (GI)—which ranks foods on a scale from 0 to 100—is a measure of how quickly a food causes blood sugar levels to rise. The higher a food ranks on the glycemic index scale, the higher and more rapidly it will raise blood sugar levels. The average glycemic index of brown rice is 55, whereas the average glycemic index of white rice is 64—higher, but not by much. And it’s worth mentioning that both rice types show a large range of GI values due to inherent botanical differences in rice from country to country.
Although white rice intake has been positively associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in epidemiological (aka observational) studies, evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) does not support that substituting brown rice for white rice significantly improves markers of glycemic control—like fasting blood sugar and HbA1c levels—in individuals both with and without diabetes.
This may be due, in part, to the fact that longer cooking times are generally required for the preparation of brown rice. Longer cooking time allows for higher starch gelatinization, which influences digestibility and can increase the postprandial glycemic response.
If you have diabetes, it’s true that higher GI foods can make it harder to control your diabetes. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t include these foods in the diet. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should always choose brown rice over white rice as its marginally lower glycemic index level doesn’t appear to yield much benefit over white rice in terms of glycemic control.
And ultimately, we rarely eat rice—white or brown—on its own as it’s usually just one component of a larger meal that includes protein, fat, and/or fiber sources, which help dampen the blood sugar response. In one small study, co-ingestion of white rice with protein and fat reduced the glycemic response by nearly 50% (compared to white rice alone).
Fun fact: When rice is cooled overnight after cooking, some of its starch content is converted into resistant starch—a type of starch so named because it resists digestion, like fiber—essentially making some of the available carbs unavailable to the body and lowering the glycemic response. Even more interesting, reheating the leftover cold rice does not lower the resistant starch content, it may even increase it a bit. In fact, the ingestion of cooked then cooled then reheated white rice has been shown to produce a lower glycemic response compared to the ingestion of freshly cooked white rice.
White rice vs brown rice for weight loss
The link between higher whole grain intake and lower risks of weight gain and incident overweight or obesity has been well established. But when it comes to rice specifically, the effects of consuming white rice vs brown rice on weight are unclear.
For example, higher white rice consumption was associated with weight gain in a Japanese cohort but was associated with weight loss in a Chinese cohort. Two recent meta-analyses of RCTs found a benefit of brown rice compared with white rice on body weight; however, the authors of both studies noted the findings should be cautiously interpreted, noting that the certainty of evidence was low.
As it stands, there is no clear evidence to suggest that white rice has either a positive or negative impact on weight. Ultimately, an excess of calories from any food—white and brown rice included—will lead to weight gain.
Remember, white rice and brown rice aren’t so different from a nutritional perspective. Incorporating both into a balanced and varied diet that’s rich in other whole grains is unlikely to sabotage your weight management efforts.
Disadvantages of eating brown rice
Arsenic is a natural element found in air, water, and soil. It can also be released into the environment by certain agricultural and industrial processes. Arsenic comes in two forms (organic and inorganic); the inorganic form tends to be more toxic and harmful than the organic form and has been linked to cancer.
Interestingly, rice tends to absorb inorganic arsenic more readily from the soil and irrigation water than other crops. And brown rice retains significantly more inorganic arsenic than white rice because the arsenic collects mostly in the outer portion of the rice grain known as the bran, which is removed when producing white rice.
According to data from the FDA and Consumer Reports on arsenic levels in rice, the brown rice samples tested contained almost 70% more inorganic arsenic on average than the white rice samples, with white basmati rice having the lowest inorganic arsenic content among all rice types. For adults, as long as a variety of grains are included in the diet, the arsenic content of brown rice and rice, in general, shouldn’t be an issue. Although, it may not be a bad idea to swap in some white rice if all the rice in your diet is brown.
Arsenic exposure is more concerning for young children, as they have greater food intakes (in relation to what they weigh) and less varied diets than adults. Additionally, more than half of infant rice cereals meet or are near the limit of 100 parts per billion for arsenic. Therefore, rice products may represent a significant source of arsenic exposure for children.
To help reduce arsenic in a child’s diet, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends feeding a variety of foods to decrease the amount of arsenic in the diet and offering non-rice-based infant cereal grains, like oatmeal, barley, and multigrain, avoiding processed foods containing brown rice sweetener.
Cooking rice similar to how pasta is cooked—cooking rice in excess water by using 6 to 10 parts water to 1 part rice and then draining the excess—can reduce 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content. However, this can also result in some lowering of the nutritional value, as some nutrients are lost in the cooking water.
Bottom line: is brown rice healthier than white rice?
When comparing the white rice vs brown rice nutrition facts, the nutritional value of brown rice is marginally better than white rice—even less so when comparing brown rice to enriched white rice. That said, brown rice also contains higher levels of inorganic arsenic than white rice.
There’s also no compelling evidence that substituting brown rice for white rice will lead to significant improvements in blood sugar control, or that the opposite will sabotage your weight management efforts.
So, which should you choose? When it comes to refined vs whole grains the answer is usually to make most of your grains whole. Rice is the one exception here as it appears to matter less which you choose from both a nutritional and health outcomes standpoint; and, from a contamination standpoint, it may actually benefit you to choose the refined version.
If you’ve always felt the need to choose brown rice over white rice, no need to do so—enjoy both!