Is Brown Rice Actually Healthier Than White Rice?

by Danny Cullen

Common belief says that brown rice is healthier than white rice. But is that really the case?

For the most part, healthy eaters are probably limiting their rice intake, as it’s high in carbs and low in protein, but that doesn’t mean rice is bad. Cultures around the world have proven it as a staple of a various healthy diets. It’s cheap, easy to cook, and even small amounts are filling, helping you limit your caloric intake.

So despite the obvious caveat that rice shouldn’t be eaten at every meal, what’s the plan for when you find yourself at the grocery store, trying to decide between white and brown rice? 

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The Nitty Gritty

In order to solve the mystery of which rice is a healthier option, we’ve got to start with the facts.

On a macronutrient level, both varieties of rice are very similar. They both have about 200 calories per serving, about 40 carbs per serving, about 5 grams of protein per serving, and about a gram of fat per serving. But as you know, the macronutrient side of things only tells a part of the story.

The big difference between brown and white rice is in the processing of the grain: white is heavily processed, while brown is largely untouched.

When white rice is going through processing, the outer layers of the seed (the bran, the germ and the hull) are removed, leaving behind only the soft white center.

With brown rice, on the other hand, only the outer, inedible layer is removed, while the germ and bran remain, giving it its brown appearance. 

As you can probably guess, brown rice is nutritionally superior. The nutritional goodness in brown rice remain intact due to minimal processing. The outer layers that are not removed contain much higher amounts of fiber, manganese, magnesium and niacin, when compared to its white counterpart.

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Furthermore, the outer layers of brown rice give it a lower glycemic index, meaning it takes longer for your body to break down the carbohydrates in the rice. With a low GI, you avoid that lightheaded sugar rush which is always followed by a devastating crash.

If you’re looking at just the bare nutritional value of brown rice, it appears that it’s much better for you. But that’s not the whole story…

What Lies Beneath

Brown rice has a terrible secret: phytic acid.

Phytic acid is referred to as an “anti-nutrient,” because it’s a compound that inhibits the processing and digestion of the nutrients in your food.  This takes down brown rice’s stock a bit. 

How much does phytic acid affect the nutritional value of brown rice? A lot, apparently. The science says that despite the higher nutritional value of brown rice, phytic acid inhibits the absorption of these nutrients so profoundly that the two are nearly indistinguishable.

And The Winner Is…

Neither. It’s a draw. Despite the nutritional superiority of brown rice due to its minimal processing, it’s filled with phytic acid that prevents those nutrients from easily being absorbed into the body. 

Since they have very similar statistics in terms of protein, fat and carbohydrates, this difference between the two is negligible. So if you’re going to eat rice, eat whichever one you like best. The key, as is the key with any carbohydrate, is to consume in moderation.

Watch on Z Living, Healthy Gourmet: A Z Living show that follows nutritionist Julie Daniluk and chef Ezra Title as they carry the ongoing battle of taste vs. nutrition in the real world.

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