When it comes to rice, brown is best – right? That’s what we’re often told. But that’s not necessarily always true. White rice also has its advantages in a healthy diet.
Here’s a look at what happens when rice is processed, along with a comparison of the nutrients found in each type of rice.
The Whole Grain
A whole grain is made up of three parts: the germ, bran and endosperm. When all three of these parts remain intact, the grain is considered a whole grain.
For this reason, brown rice is a whole grain – all three parts remain intact. Fiber is found in the bran, which also provides the brown color of the rice.
In contrast, when the rice is processed into white rice, most of the bran and germ are removed, leaving just the endosperm. This leaves you with a starchy grain that’s white in color. Since many of the nutrients in white rice are stripped when the bran and germ are removed, food manufacturers then add back in – or enrich – the rice with several B-vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate) and iron so you still get those nutrients when you choose white rice.
When it comes to brown rice, because the germ and bran are intact that means all the nutrients found in this part of the grain are also present. This includes fiber, fat and protein. This is why brown rice spoils quicker than white, because of the fat. Other nutrients that are found in the germ and bran include several B-vitamins, iron, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
As mentioned above, food manufacturers do add iron and several B-vitamins back into white rice, and you can see these listed as ingredients on the nutrition facts panel.
Therefore, brown rice has more fiber compared to white rice. It also has slightly more protein and fat from essential oils in the germ, making it slightly higher in calories. Brown rice also has a heartier flavor compared to white rice. This is because the fiber in the bran makes it more difficult for the liquid to get absorbed by the grain giving it a chewier mouth feel. This is also why it takes brown rice longer to cook compared to white rice.
Here’s a look at the nutrition facts of brown and white rice taken from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Database:
Long Grain Brown Rice (1 cup cooked):
- Calories: 248.
- Total Fat: 1.96 g.
- Protein: 5.54 g.
- Total Carbohydrates: 51.7 g.
- Fiber: 3.23 g.
- Sugars: 0.485 g.
Long Grain White Rice (1 cup cooked):
- Calories: 205.
- Total Fat: 0.442 g.
- Protein: 4.25 g.
- Total Carbohydrates: 44.6 g.
- Fiber: 0.632g.
- Sugars: 0.079 g.
The Benefits of Eating Grains verses Whole Grains
Grains are an important part of a healthy eating plan as they provide calories and nutrients. Whole grains and enriched grains provide iron, which is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Many women and adolescent girls in their childbearing age have iron-deficiency anemia. It’s recommended that they consume food high in heme-iron (found in meats) or eat other iron containing foods (like rice) along with foods rich in vitamin C (like citrus, potatoes, red peppers), which can help improve the absorption of non-heme iron (found in plants like rice and beans).
Finally, eating grain products (brown or white rice) that contain folate before and during pregnancy can help prevent neural tube defects when eaten as part of an overall healthy eating plan.
Whole grains have added benefits, with research showing they can help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases such as heart disease. It can also help with weight management. In addition, consuming whole grain foods that contain fiber, as part of an overall healthy diet, can help support healthy digestion.
Should You Only Eat Brown Rice?
As you can see above, both brown and white rice have nutritional and health benefits and can be part of a healthy eating pattern. The 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans recommends 6 ounce-equivalents per day of grains, where at least half of that should consist of whole grains and less than half can come from refined grains, like white rice.
When it comes to rice, 1 ounce-equivalent is equal to ½ cup cooked or 1 ounce of dry rice. While you would certainly want to divide and vary your grain intake throughout your meals, if all your grains were coming from rice in one day, that would be 3 cups of cooked rice with at least 1.5 cups coming from brown rice.
Does this mean your grains should only come from whole grain? No. The dietary guidelines do not recommend that 100% of your grains be whole, and white rice – especially enriched white rice – provides nutritional benefits and can certainly fit into a healthy eating plan.
Cooking With Brown Verses White Rice
Here’s my simple recipe for brown rice. You can choose to use brown or white but note the difference in cooking time. Brown rice takes approximately 35 to 40 minutes to cook, while white rice takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The ratio of the water to rice is about the same for both.
Recipe: Brown Rice With Shallots
Serving size: ½ cup.
- 1 tbsp olive oil or canola oil.
- 2 shallots, chopped.
- 2 cloves garlic, minced.
- ⅔ cup long grain brown rice.
- 1½ cups low-sodium vegetable broth.
- ½ tsp dried thyme.
- ¼ tsp salt.
- ⅛ tsp ground black pepper.
- ⅛ tsp chili flakes.
- Heat the olive oil or canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- When the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and garlic and cook until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Add the rice, vegetable broth, thyme, salt, black pepper and chili flakes and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Lower the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender and water is absorbed, 40 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve warm.
*Chef’s note: If you choose to use long grain white rice, adjust the cooking time to 15 to 20 minutes.