Rice and pasta are two of the most popular grains. They are both versatile, inexpensive, and great sources of carbohydrates.
But is rice healthier than pasta, or is pasta healthier than rice? And what’s the difference in nutrition between rice vs pasta?
In this article, we will discuss the nutritional differences between rice vs pasta and factors to consider when choosing whether it’s better to eat rice or pasta for your personal dietary needs.
We will cover:
- Rice vs Pasta: Nutrition
- Which Is Healthier: Rice or Pasta?
Let’s dive in!
Rice vs Pasta: Nutrition
Comparing the nutrition of rice vs pasta is difficult because there are numerous types of rice and numerous types of pasta.
Different varieties of rice and pasta each provide different nutrients, not only in terms of vitamins and minerals but also in regards to calories per serving, grams of carbohydrates, fiber, and protein content.
Comparing white rice to whole wheat pasta, for example, is much more of an “apples to oranges comparison” than considering white rice vs white pasta or brown rice vs whole wheat pasta.
The following is the basic nutritional analysis of 100 grams of unenriched white rice and white pasta according to the USDA:
|100 grams of white rice||100 grams of white pasta|
|Fat||0.3 grams||0.9 grams|
|Protein||2 grams||5.8 grams|
|Carbohydrates||28 grams||31 grams|
|Fiber||0.4 grams||1.8 grams|
Now that we have the nutrition facts squared away, is pasta healthier than rice? Or is it the other way around? Let’s see!
Which Is Healthier: Rice or Pasta?
When comparing the nutrition of rice vs pasta, it’s important to remember that the nutrition facts above are for white rice and white pasta that have been unenriched.
Most dry, boxed pasta, even when using refined white pasta vs whole wheat pasta, is enriched. This means that various vitamins and minerals are added during the manufacturing process to boost the nutritional content of the pasta. Some white rice is also enriched.
When comparing rice vs pasta nutrition, it can be seen that, at least with the unenriched white pasta vs rice, there isn’t actually all that much difference in the nutritional profile of each grain.
Both rice and pasta are starches that provide very little fat, not much protein, and very little sugar. Almost all of the calories in pasta and rice come from carbohydrates.
However, there are a few differences to note in the nutritional profiles of rice vs pasta.
The primary differences are that rice contains fewer calories than pasta, and pasta provides more fiber and protein than rice.
Therefore, whether it’s better to eat pasta vs rice depends mainly on your dietary needs and preferences.
In some ways, it would be easy to say that if you want to lose weight, it’s better to eat rice vs pasta because rice contains fewer calories per cup than pasta.
Because losing weight requires generating a caloric deficit, which means that you need to consume fewer calories than you burn, choosing a lower-calorie food is often a good choice because it will help you stay within your target daily caloric intake more easily.
However, not all calories are created equal in terms of how the body responds.
As a more dramatic example than when comparing pasta vs rice, consider the difference between eating 100 calories of potato chips versus 100 calories of broccoli.
Both food choices will match the calorie count, but the degree of satiety provided by each option will vary significantly.
Because of the fiber, water, and protein in broccoli, you will feel much fuller after eating 100 calories of broccoli than you will after eating the potato chips.
For this reason, eating broccoli will likely lead to more weight loss because your appetite will be controlled for a longer period of time, decreasing the amount of subsequent food you consume.
In terms of rice vs pasta, although rice contains fewer calories for an equal-sized serving, pasta provides more fiber and protein, which both have been shown to increase satiety, helping you stay fuller for longer.
Therefore, in the moment of the meal, having a cup of rice might save you a few calories over having a cup of pasta, but the meal with pasta will likely feel more filling and help you manage your appetite for longer after the meal.
Essentially, when choosing pasta vs rice, you might not be grabbing for a quick snack so soon after eating, potentially helping you eat fewer total calories in a day.
Additionally, fiber can support healthy bowel movements and decrease the risk of constipation, support the beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, and decrease the risk of diseases of the digestive system, such as inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer.
Aside from the minor differences in rice vs pasta nutrition, another difference between these two grains is that rice is naturally gluten-free, whereas traditional pasta, whether refined white pasta or whole wheat pasta, is made from wheat, so it contains gluten.
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, this will automatically make it better to have rice vs pasta.
With that said, there are gluten-free kinds of pasta made from alternative grains, such as corn, rice, and sorghum, as well as pasta made from legumes.
Another thing to consider when choosing between rice vs pasta for health is your own preferences for the meal itself.
Of course, because the nutritional profiles of rice and pasta are similar, if you have a strong preference for one over the other, there isn’t really enough of a difference between pasta and rice to necessarily justify having to pick the one you do not like.
However, what we mean here regarding your preferences refers to the meal overall.
In many ways, white rice and pasta are similar in terms of taste profile in that they are both relatively bland, blank canvases that can be used as a vehicle for other sauces, flavors, and ingredients.
With that said, there are textural and flavor differences between rice and pasta that can lend themselves better to certain applications.
If you are looking to have a nutritious, well-balanced meal, rice or pasta should just be one of the components of the meal. The rest of the dish—and frankly, the majority of your meal—should be composed of lean protein and vegetables.
Not all pasta dishes necessarily translate well to good rice dishes and vice versa. Furthermore, certain vegetable and protein combinations do not tend to play well with rice, whereas others are more suitable for pasta.
If you are picky about the vegetables and lean protein sources you will eat, you should prioritize choosing whichever grain (rice vs pasta) works better with the arguably healthier “stars“ of your meal.
For example, if the only way you can get yourself (or your kiddos!) to eat leafy green vegetables, broccoli, or frankly any nutritious vegetables is to stew them into a marinara or Bolognese sauce, choosing pasta vs rice is probably going to work a lot better because rice doesn’t tend to work well with this type of sauce.
On the other hand, if you or your family members love stir fries and it’s the only way to get them to eat chicken, tofu, other lean protein, and a melange of healthy vegetables, making rice-based stir-fries will be better than trying to sneak protein and vegetables into a balanced pasta dish.
Most importantly, this entire discussion of rice vs pasta would be incomplete without discussing the benefit of choosing whole-grain pasta and rice over refined pasta and white rice.
For example, there are kinds of pasta that have extra fiber and proteins, which are even more nutritious and filling than even standard whole wheat pasta.
There are also alternative kinds of pasta made from legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas, and green peas. These pasta products provide much more protein and fiber per serving than wheat-based pasta.
Plus, they are gluten-free, making them a great alternative for anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Ultimately, there are several factors to consider when trying to decide whether rice or pasta is healthier.
If you want a grain that’s higher in protein and fiber, choose pasta, and if calories are your primary concern, a serving of rice will contain fewer calories.
However, your best option for the healthiest rice or pasta is to choose whole grain options like wild rice or brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or legume-based pasta like lentil or chickpea pasta.
Remember to load up your plate with veggies and lean protein, as well as a serving of healthy fats.
If you are looking to compare even more foods to find which are the best choices for you and your diet, check out our database of informative nutritional guides.