Rice is a staple food for more than half the world.

It provides more than 20% of the world’s calories consumed since it is so prevalent in Asia and Latin America (1).

In addition, rice varies in type, color, and consistency, offering many ways to consume it, and it can be inexpensive to buy. People eat white rice more than any other type of rice because it has a long shelf life and is easy to cook and eat.

Rice’s role in nutrition is interesting since more people are researching the best diets and looking for alternative treatments for their health conditions. Also, obesity is a global health concern, driving experts to find a way to challenge its growth.

However, the role rice plays in these areas is debatable.

So, what’s the deal with rice? Is it weight-loss-friendly or high in calories? This article gets to the bottom of this question.

Rice is a cereal classified as either a whole or a refined grain. Whole grains contain the entire grain. When rice is ground, it becomes refined and loses essential nutrients, but it sometimes has better flavor or improved shelf life (2).

All whole grains are made up of three major components (3):

This diagram shows what whole grains versus white grains look like:

Brown and wild rice are intact whole grains that contain both the bran and the germ. Therefore, they’re nutritious and rich in fiber and nutrients.

On the other hand, white rice has had both the bran and the nutritious germ removed, which ultimately strips the rice of its most nutritious parts. Again, the goal of this is to improve its taste, prolong its shelf life, and enhance its cooking qualities (3).

Different types of rice have different nutritional compositions that can contribute to various health effects. However, overall, whole grain rice is an excellent source of (4):

Summary

Rice is the most commonly consumed cereal grain globally, and people consume white rice more than brown rice.

Brown rice

Brown rice is generally higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white rice. Its nutrients help improve glycemic control, which benefits those with diabetes. Dietary fiber may also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, high fiber foods promote feelings of fullness, which can support weight management and may help address obesity (5).

Red rice

Red rice is a type of naturally pigmented rice grain known for its rich nutritional properties. It can also come in the form of red yeast rice, which is produced after the fermentation of Monascus purpureus mold (6, 7).

Red yeast rice is known to help lower cholesterol. It is created through the breakdown of red yeast and mainly consists of starch and protein (8).

Anthocyanins give the rice its vibrant color and make this type of rice a healthier option than brown or white rice. Anthocyanins have antioxidant properties that can help reduce cholesterol levels (9).

Also, both red and brown rice can help reduce inflammation in the body and maintain brain health (9).

White rice

White rice contains fewer nutrients and less fiber than brown rice. Additionally, white rice varieties consist almost entirely of carbs in the form of starches and glucose.

The table below compares the estimated nutrient content of 3.6 ounces (100 grams) of white, brown, and red rice (10, 5, 11).

Keep in mind that the nutritional content may vary, depending on the brand and preparation method.

Summary

Brown rice contains more fiber and nutrients than white rice, which has been stripped of its most nutritious parts. However, red rice is rich in antioxidants and may be the healthiest option of the three.

The association between brown rice and weight management is well established (12).

People who eat whole grains such as brown rice have repeatedly been shown to weigh less than those who don’t and to have a lower risk of weight gain (12).

The American Heart Association recommends choosing brown rice because (2):

  • It’s a good source of fiber. Fiber is essential to our diet and offers many benefits, such as improved digestion.
  • It may help improve your cholesterol levels. When you lower your cholesterol, you also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
  • It can help you feel full. Your stomach may feel full with all the fiber and leave you satisfied with fewer calories, helping you eat less overall, which may support weight management.
  • It’s jam-packed with nutrients. It contains many vitamins and minerals necessary for your immune system, thyroid function, and other essential body functions.

However, you may not need to exclude white rice just yet. Instead, you can prepare enriched white rice, a healthier white rice option.

Enrichment involves adding vitamins and other nutrients that were lost when the whole grain rice was processed into a refined grain. This replenishment makes it more nutritious.

Enriching white rice increases its content of the following vitamins and minerals (13):

While white rice does have some health benefits, there’s no clear evidence that it’s linked directly to weight gain — only that whole grain rice may be best to help support weight management (14).

White rice holds less nutritional value than other types of rice and may be considered “empty” calories, meaning it does not negatively impact the body but doesn’t help it much either.

Summary

Brown rice may contribute to weight management and promote healthy cholesterol levels. However, most studies have found no link between white rice and weight change or associated it with weight loss.

Interestingly, a popular weight loss diet revolved around white rice.

The diet was developed in 1939 to treat people with high blood pressure and kidney disease. The ultra low fat diet was called the rice diet (15).

It was a bland, low calorie diet consisting mainly of white rice, fruit, fruit juice, and sugar. Nonetheless, it had surprising effects on health, including weight loss and the relief of kidney disease symptoms (16).

However, this was a very restrictive, low fat, low calorie diet. Therefore, the results may not apply to eating rice as part of a typical diet.

Nevertheless, you can incorporate rice into a weight loss diet if you manage your calorie intake.

Summary

The rice diet was a popular and restrictive low fat diet that helped relieve high blood pressure and symptoms of kidney disease.

Rice is a staple food in many countries that, until recently, had relatively low percentages of people with overweight or obesity. However, obesity rates have since changed worldwide, especially when you look at the effects of the epidemic on a global scale (17).

White rice is the predominant source of carbs in those countries. For example, Asia accounts for an estimated 90% of the rice produced in the world (1).

In these countries, people may consume rice with almost every meal, and it seems to protect against weight gain and high blood pressure in these populations (18).

In older Chinese adults, a dietary pattern high in rice and vegetables seems to help prevent weight gain, large waist circumference, and obesity (18).

However, this trend may be changing, as diets in these countries become influenced by the standard Western diet. As a result, the number of people with overweight or obesity has skyrocketed in many countries over the past few years (19).

However, there has also been an increased push for replacing white rice with whole grains like brown rice (1).

One study among Iranian adolescents showed that those with the highest rice intake had the greatest association with obesity and overweight. Those who ate more white rice also had the lowest scores for nutrient intake when measured with the recommended intake (20).

This statistic indicates that these adolescents may be consuming rice with foods that older generations did not eat, potentially leading to weight gain.

In short, rice may lead to weight gain if it is eaten with a less nutritious diet, but it can help contribute to weight management if eaten as part of a well-balanced diet.

Summary

In Asian countries, rice is frequently incorporated into many foods. Rice consumption seems to protect against weight gain in these populations when it is eaten with a well-balanced diet.

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar levels.

Foods with a high GI cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, which have been associated with weight gain and increased diabetes risk (21).

On the other hand, foods with a low GI cause a more gradual increase in blood sugar levels and are beneficial for people with diabetes, as they help manage blood sugar and insulin levels (22).

Generally speaking, whole grains have lower GI scores than refined grains and are one reason why diets high in whole grains reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (23).

However, not all studies have found a link between refined grain consumption and risk factors for type 2 diabetes (24).

The starch composition of rice may be a critical factor in explaining this. Sticky rice is generally high in the starch amylopectin and has a high GI. Therefore, it’s rapidly digested and may cause blood sugar spikes.

Alternatively, non-sticky rice is high in amylose and has a low GI, which slows down starch digestion. It may even contain resistant starch, a type of healthy fiber.

So, regardless of whether rice is white or brown, its GI can range from relatively low to very high, depending on the type and variety (24, 25).

The average GI for brown rice is 65, and the average for white rice is 73 (26).

If you have diabetes or are sensitive to blood sugar spikes, picking non-sticky rice high in amylose may be the best bet to keep your blood sugar levels in check.

Summary

Rice can rank relatively high on the GI scale. Non-sticky rices have lower GI levels than sticky rices do.

As with most things in nutrition, the amount determines the impact.

There is nothing particularly “fattening” about rice, so its effects on weight must come down to serving size and the overall quality of your diet.

Studies have repeatedly shown that serving food in a larger container or dish increases intake, regardless of the food or drink being served (27).

This container size has to do with the perception of the serving size. Serving large portions has been shown to increase calorie intake significantly without people realizing it. Portion control tools are also effective in reducing calorie intake.

Studies that have analyzed the effects of serving size have shown that reducing the size of the rice bowl reduces calorie intake, body weight, and blood sugar levels (28).

Therefore, rice can be weight-loss-friendly or calorie-dense, depending on the serving size.

Summary

Almost any food can cause weight gain if eaten in excessive amounts. For example, eating food from large plates or bowls may unknowingly increase calorie intake, because you may eat more before realizing you are already full.

The relationship between weight gain and rice intake is unclear.

Of the multiple types of rice, there is no question that brown and red rice are much more nutritious than white rice.

Non-sticky rice may also be better for people who are sensitive to blood sugar swings or have diabetes.

It all seems to boil down to watching your serving size and following an overall healthy and balanced diet.

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