White rice and brown rice are actually the same grain, but the amount of processing that goes into each product differs. The main difference between brown rice vs white rice is that white rice is more highly processed.
Brown rice only has the hull (the hard protective coating) of the rice grain removed, whereas white rice removes the hull along with the bran (the outer layer of brown rice under the hull) and the germ (the nutrient-rich core).
Therefore, white rice looks more “polished” but lacks the fiber, vitamins, and minerals found in brown rice.
Interestingly, while most people would naturally assume that brown rice is healthier than white rice because it retains much more of the nutrients, there are certain cases where it may be better to have white rice vs brown rice.
In this article, we will discuss the differences between white and brown rice, brown rice vs white rice nutrition, and whether it’s better to have white rice or brown rice.
We will discuss:
- Which Is Healthier, Brown Rice vs White Rice?
Let’s get started!
Which Is Healthier, Brown Rice vs White Rice?
So, is brown rice healthier than white rice? Let’s see check out the differences between white and brown rice and see for ourselves:
Brown Rice vs White Rice: Nutrition
Brown rice is considered a whole grain as the entire kernel of rice is intact. The rice grain is harvested from the hull and retains the fiber-rich bran outer coating, the vitamin- and mineral-rich germ, and the inner endosperm, which is rich in carbohydrates.
White rice is only the carbohydrate-rich endosperm without the high-fiber bran and nutrient-packed germ.
Not only are these nutritious layers stripped away, but white rice is further processed to make it look whiter and more uniform, have a longer shelf life, shorten cooking time, and “taste better.”
Unenriched white rice is really just simple carbohydrates with essentially no fiber, protein, fat, vitamins, or minerals.
However, since it’s such a popular staple grain in the diet of many Americans and in many other countries as well, most white rice sold in grocery stores is enriched with various vitamins and minerals, such as iron, folic acid, niacin, thiamine, and other B vitamins.
Brown Rice vs White Rice: Blood Sugar
As with all grains, there is a difference in the glycemic response between brown rice vs white rice in the amount of processing that has occurred.
Whole grains (like brown rice) almost always have a lower glycemic index (GI) than refined grains (like white rice), which means that brown rice causes a slower and less dramatic spike in blood sugar than white rice.
When comparing the glycemic index values of white rice vs brown rice, white rice has a glycemic index of 64, whereas brown rice has a glycemic index of 55. Therefore, white rice is a medium-glycemic index food, and brown rice is a low-glycemic index food.
Here, the takeaway is that brown rice is a lower glycemic index food than white rice, so it has less of an immediate impact on your blood sugar and will cause less of a dramatic rise in insulin levels.
Research has indeed suggested that diets high in white rice are associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
For example, a very large review that asked the data from over 350,000 people found that people who ate the most white rice had the highest risk of type 2 diabetes relative to those who ate the least white rice. In fact, for every serving of additional white rice consumed daily, the risk of type 2 diabetes increased by 11%.
There has even been research looking at the effects of consuming white rice vs brown rice on metabolic health risks.
For example, one massive study found that people who had a higher intake of white rice had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than people who consumed more brown rice, even after adjusting for other dietary and lifestyle factors.
The researchers estimated that replacing 50 grams of white rice intake, which is about equivalent to one-third of a serving of rice, with the same amount of brown rice, decreased the relative risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent.
Moreover, if that same portion of white rice was replaced with whole grains in general, including other non-brown rice-based whole grains, the relative disease reduction dropped by 36%.
Furthermore, research has found that people who regularly eat a lot of white rice are also at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that together can increase your risk of other health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
The factors that are presented in metabolic syndrome include hypertension, high fasting blood sugar levels, high triglyceride levels, low HDL (“good” cholesterol), and a large waist circumference, which is indicative of abdominal obesity.
Brown Rice vs White Rice: Heart Disease
Whole grains, in general as a group, have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease.
For example, one correlation study found that adults who consume the highest amount of whole grains have up to a 21% lower risk of heart disease than adults who consume the least amount of whole grains.
Furthermore, brown rice contains a plant compound called lignans, which has been shown to help reduce blood pressure, triglycerides, and arterial stiffness, all of which can improve cardiovascular health and function.
Although the research demonstrating a link between white rice and heart disease is still unclear, studies have shown that brown rice can decrease the risk of heart disease; however, as mentioned, white rice has been shown to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, both of which can increase your risk of heart disease.
Therefore, it is probably safe to assume that to reduce your risk of heart disease, it is better to have brown rice vs white rice.
White Rice vs Brown Rice: Weight Loss
In general, for weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, it is recommended that you eat whole grains rather than refined grains, meaning that it would be better to have brown rice vs white rice for weight loss.
The nutrients in brown vs white rice, fiber, and protein, tend to be more filling because they increase satiety, potentially helping you reduce your caloric intake relative to eating the same number of calories of refined grains.
Research has consistently found that diets high in whole grains, such as brown rice, can indeed promote weight loss and healthy body weight maintenance.
Interestingly, the research surrounding white rice and weight loss is inconclusive at best.
For example, while there has been plenty of evidence to suggest that diets high in refined grains, such as white rice, can increase the risk of obesity, weight gain, and belly fat, some of the dietary eating habits of countries that typically consume a lot of white rice on a daily basis have been associated with weight loss.
Of course, in these instances, there may be other factors in the diet that are counteracting any potential weight gain effects from eating a lot of white rice.
For example, in Japan, white rice is an everyday food, but the diet is also primarily centered around whole, highly-nutritious unprocessed foods aside from white rice, such as fish and soy.
Besides white rice, which is a refined grain that’s considered a processed food, the traditional Japanese diet includes very few other processed foods.
Therefore, it might be that the overall diet still promotes weight loss because the potential gaining effects of white rice are more than offset by the weight loss benefits of the rest of the diet.
The main takeaway is that it is likely better to have brown vs white rice for weight loss, though the differences might not be very significant. The caloric content between white rice vs brown rice is quite similar, but because brown rice is more nutrient-dense, it is likely more filling.
Brown Rice vs White Rice: Safety
The primary way in which white rice is healthier than brown rice is when comparing the arsenic levels between the two types of rice. The rice plant absorbs and accumulates arsenic from the soil and water sources more so than most grains.
The arsenic primarily accumulates in the bran, which is why there are much lower levels of arsenic in white vs brown rice. Certain types of rice, such as basmati rice and jasmine rice, have particularly low levels of arsenic.
It is generally recommended to limit your consumption of brown rice due to high arsenic levels. Consuming a variety of whole grains, including quinoa, oats, buckwheat, teff, wheat, and amaranth, can help provide the benefits of whole grains while reducing the contamination risk with arsenic.
If you are interested in learning about the nutritional facts in different foods to see which fit into your particular diet, check out our nutrition guide database. Here you will find helpful information about a wide variety of everyday foods.