Some evidence suggests that eating white rice is bad for cholesterol levels. However, choosing whole grain varieties adds more fiber and nutrients to the diet and may help someone manage their cholesterol.

Rice is a food staple globally, with the average American consuming 27 pounds annually. However, there is conflicting evidence on the health effects of rice and if eating it can contribute to high cholesterol.

This article discusses the nutrient composition of rice and which types are most suitable for someone who needs to control their cholesterol levels. In addition, it gives advice on how much rice to eat and nutritious alternatives to include in everyday meals.

An overflowing bowl of white rice grains.Share on Pinterest
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Although rice does not contain cholesterol, it can affect the body in a way that may raise someone’s cholesterol levels or triglycerides.

In addition, there are several factors to consider to determine if rice can cause an individual to develop high cholesterol. These include:

  • the type of rice someone eats
  • how often they eat it
  • portion size
  • what they eat with it
  • if they have risk factors for high cholesterol such as having obesity, being inactive, or eating a diet that is not nutritious

Types of rice

The type of rice a person eats may determine if they risk raising their cholesterol. There are two types of rice grains — refined grains and unrefined grains.

Food producers make refined grains by removing the husk, bran, and germ of the grain, leaving them devoid of nutrients such as B vitamins and fiber.

White rice classifies as a refined grain, although manufacturers in the United States often enrich it with nutrients. However, it still lacks fiber.

In contrast, unrefined or whole grains, contain all the natural nutrients that the plant began with, including fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Unrefined rice includes:

White vs. brown rice nutrition

According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), a cup of cooked white rice and a cup of cooked brown rice contain the following amounts of additional nutrients and fiber:

White rice (unenriched)Brown rice
Fiber1.74 grams (g)3.23 g
Folate 1.74 micrograms (mcg)18.2 mcg
Choline3.65 mg 18.6 mg
Niacin0.505 mg5.17 mg
Protein3.52 g5.54 g

Learn more about the nutritional value of white rice versus brown rice.

Current research suggests that eating unrefined grains is better for overall health and managing cholesterol.

For example, a 2020 review of 25 studies suggested that consuming whole grains instead of refined grains for adults with or without cardiovascular risk factors can improve total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

In addition, a 2020 study involving more than 132,000 participants in 21 countries found that higher consumption of white rice has associations with an increased risk of diabetes, with the strongest correlation occurring in South Asia. The study suggests that the glucose index (GI) of processed white rice is similarly high to white bread and that consuming food with high GI levels is a risk factor for diabetes.

Additionally, excess sugar in the blood can also lead to high triglyceride levels, which can cause high cholesterol. The above study suggests that excess rice consumption can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

The American Heart Association (AHA) advises that one cup of cooked long-grain brown rice has more than 3 g of fiber versus under 1 g from one cup of cooked long-grain white rice. Therefore, choosing whole grain rice makes a better contribution to the 22–34 g of fiber that the AHA recommends people should eat per day, depending on their age and sex.

Dietary fiber from whole foods, such as brown rice, can lower total and LDL cholesterol and complement statin therapy to prevent heart disease, according to a 2019 review.

This research reflects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advice to eat foods naturally high in fiber to help prevent and manage high cholesterol.

The USDA recommends that adults consume 6–10 ounces (oz) of grains per day, depending on their age and sex. This amount includes rice and other grains such as bread, oatmeal, and buckwheat.

In addition, the USDA advises that half of the grains people eat should consist of whole grains. A 1-oz serving is equivalent to half a cup of cooked rice.

However, a person can help maintain a moderate weight and manage their cholesterol by eating fewer grains.
They can seek advice from a dietitian or health professional about how much they should eat.

Additionally, the AHA suggests that if someone chooses white rice, they can pair it with a lean protein source, vegetables, and nutritious fats for a more nutritious meal.

While eating white rice can provide added nutrients, such as B vitamins, people should generally limit refined grains to no more than half their daily intake. Therefore, someone can choose the following nutritious alternatives in place of white rice depending on the meal or recipe they are making:

  • brown rice
  • red rice
  • black rice
  • wild rice
  • quinoa
  • whole grain couscous
  • buckwheat
  • barley
  • cauliflower rice or parsnip rice, which a person can make by grating or preparing the vegetable in a food processor
  • millet
  • amaranth
  • bulgur
  • whole grain cornmeal

Learn more about substitutes for rice.

Some evidence suggests eating refined grains, such as white rice, may contribute to a person developing high cholesterol levels. Therefore, advisory bodies recommend that people consume at least half their daily allowance of grains in their whole, unrefined form.

Therefore, to manage cholesterol, someone can choose whole-grain types of rice to eat in moderate quantities suitable for their health goals and weight. Additionally, more nutritious alternatives to white rice include cauliflower rice, quinoa, and bulgur.

If someone needs advice about reducing their cholesterol levels, they can speak with a doctor or dietitian.