Rice is an important part of the diet for many people around the world. With many varieties to choose from and a wide range of possible uses, rice can be a tasty, nutritious, and versatile ingredient.
The two main types of rice available in the United States are white and brown rice. Both types come from the same grain, but white rice goes through more steps to refine it during processing. Brown rice is a type of whole grain.
Read on to learn more about the nutritional differences between white and brown rice, which rice is better in certain situations, and the possible risks and considerations.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture National, a cup of medium grain, cooked, enriched white rice weighing 186 grams (g) provides:
- 242 kilocalories (kcal)
- 4.43 g of protein
- 0.39 g of fat
- 53.2 g of carbohydrate
- 0.56 g of fiber
A cup of cooked, long grain brown rice weighing 202 g provides:
- 248 kcal
- 5.54 g of protein
- 1.96 g of fat
- 51.7 g of carbohydrate
- 3.23 g of fiber
It also contains folate, iron, and other vitamins and minerals.
The table below shows how vitamins and minerals compare in a cup of cooked brown rice versus a cup of cooked, enriched white rice. It also shows the recommended daily amounts for an adult aged 19 years or over. Amounts vary by age and sex.
Measurements are in either milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg).
|Nutrients||White rice||Brown rice||Recommended daily amounts|
|Vitamin B-6 (mg)||0.1||0.3||1.3|
|Folate (mcg)||108||18.2||400 (with additional needs during pregnancy)|
White rice is brown rice with the bran and germ removed. The bran and germ both contain valuable nutrients. As a result, white rice is lacking in some antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals, fats, fiber, and a small amount of protein.
That said, manufacturers enrich many varieties of white rice to replace the nutrients lost during processing. In the U.S., they add B vitamins — including thiamin, niacin, and folic acid — as well as iron.
As the table above shows, brown rice contains more vitamins and minerals than white rice, except for iron and folate.
Most people tolerate rice well. Both white and brown rice are naturally gluten free.
Purple rice is also high in fiber and nutrients. Learn more here.
In some cases, one type of rice may be preferable to another. The following sections discuss whether white rice or brown rice is better for certain people with certain conditions or goals.
Brown rice contains more phosphorus and potassium than white rice. People with kidney disease may need to limit these nutrients in their diet.
This is because kidney disease makes the kidneys less able to properly regulate the levels of these nutrients in the body. If potassium levels become too high, for example, it can lead to other health concerns such as heart attack.
In this case, white rice may be better than brown rice.
A low fiber diet
Sometimes, a doctor recommends a low fiber diet.
People may need to adopt this type of diet if they:
- have diverticulitis
- have diarrhea
- have inflammatory bowel disease
- have a blockage due to colorectal cancer
- have had surgery involving the gastrointestinal tract
White rice contains less fiber than brown rice, so it may be a better choice for these people.
What else can people eat on a low fiber diet? Find out here.
A high fiber diet
Brown rice contains more fiber than white rice, making it a better choice on a high fiber diet.
The American Heart Association (AHA) suggest choosing whole foods over refined foods, such as white rice, to reduce the risk of:
What other foods can a person eat as part of a high fiber diet? Find out here.
Some people have raised concerns about whether or not rice is healthful to eat. Below, we look at some of these concerns.
Some people are concerned that arsenic in rice could lead to bladder or lung cancer.
A 2014 report by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that arsenic can be present in brown or white rice, but it is more likely to occur in brown rice, as it accumulates in the bran.
The FDA concluded that it might be better for women to avoid rice during pregnancy, and for children to avoid rice until the age of 6.
They called for further research to establish how much arsenic is present in rice and other foods, and to identify the exact risk to human health.
Rice is a starchy and high carb food. People who eat a lot of rice and exercise too little may find that they gain weight.
In a study of 437 Japanese factory workers, those who ate a lot of white rice for a year gained weight, whereas those who ate less white rice maintained their weight. Those who ate brown rice maintained their weight regardless of how much of it they consumed.
The researchers concluded that eating any amount of brown rice might help prevent weight gain.
One review of studies from 2012 looked at a possible link between white rice intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The authors found evidence to suggest that a higher intake of white rice could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, especially in Asian people.
Another study concluded that people who ate at least five servings (one-third of a cup each) of white rice per week had a 17% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In contrast, those who ate at least two servings of brown rice per week had an 11% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than people who rarely ate rice.
The researchers concluded that eating brown rice could help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, especially if people switch from white to brown rice.
Some of the beneficial effects may be due to the higher amounts of insoluble fiber and magnesium in brown rice.
Storing and reheating rice can entail a risk of food poisoning. To avoid this, people should only cook as much as they need for one meal.
If they need to keep rice for another meal, people should:
- Cool it as quickly as possible, preferably within 1 hour.
- Keep it refrigerated for no longer than 24 hours.
- Ensure that the rice is piping hot all the way through when reheated.
- Avoid reheating it a second time.
Overall, brown rice seems to be a more healthful choice than white rice, although white rice may be a better choice in some circumstances.
However, people will only reap the benefits of any kind of rice if they consume it as a part of an overall healthful diet. This includes favoring rice dishes that involve fresh vegetables rather than a meat sauce, for example.
Another consideration is that some types of rice suit a rice dish better than others. Rice desserts, paella, and sticky rice, for example, may only be successful with a white variety of rice.
Although brown rice contains more fiber than white rice, it has less fiber than many other whole grains.
This may make it a good option for people who want to add more whole grains to their diet but who wish to add fiber gradually. Adding high fiber foods to the diet too quickly can lead to bloating, constipation, and other forms of abdominal discomfort.
When buying white rice, it is best to choose enriched rice. This ensures that it has a higher nutritional value.
My family eats white rice with nearly every meal. Is this a good idea?
Rice is not an ideal carbohydrate to have with every meal due to its low fiber, mineral, and protein content, as well as the risk of arsenic. Other whole grains and carbohydrates — such as sweet potatoes, legumes, barley, wild rice, quinoa, rye, and others — are more nutrient dense.
If rice becomes a staple for a family’s meals, it is important to control portions. A serving of cooked rice is one-third of a cup. Large amounts of rice can increase blood sugar. Try to serve rice with protein, vegetables, and fat to provide more balanced nutrition and to slow down carbohydrate absorption.
Natalie Butler, RD, LD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.