Is Brown Rice Really That Much Healthier Than White Rice?

Is Brown Rice Really That Much Healthier Than White Rice?

My partner and I can’t do without eating rice on the daily. That’s how much we like it. But the problem is, she’s keen on cooking brown rice for health reasons whereas I want white rice because it tastes so much better. I know brown rice is supposed to be ‘healthier‘ but is the difference so big that I need to make the switch? Let’s find out.

What’s the difference between the two types of rice?

Brown rice and white rice are really the same grain — the only difference being that white rice has been milled more to remove everything but the white endosperm portion of the grain. What’s left on brown rice is the bran and germ in addition to the inner endosperm. This leaves the grain looking brown, and as we all know, people believe that brown versions of things are more nutritional: Brown rice, wheat bread, wheat pasta and so on. But am I really wrecking my diet by choosing white rice over brown rice? Not really! Let me explain.

Brown rice has more fibre and protein than white rice, which is good, but brown rice also has more calories, more carbs and more fat than white rice, as well. If you’re just looking at the numbers, white rice seems slightly healthier. That said, white rice has a higher glycemic index, meaning your body breaks it down faster, creating higher levels of blood glucose and promoting higher levels of insulin response. That can be troubling for those at risk of type 2 diabetes, but not a big deal for others.

Brown rice is packed with more nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, copper and potassium. But a lot of white rice is enriched, which helps close the nutrient gap between the two. All told, these two versions of the same grain are neck and neck. In fact, one 1996 study out of Portugal found there to be no “evidence that the brown rice diet is better than the diet based on white rice”, despite the higher nutrient contents of brown rice.

What does brown rice have that white rice doesn’t?

Now let’s talk phytate, something brown rice has but white rice doesn’t. Phytic acid is considered an “anti-nutrient” that reduces your body’s ability to absorb beneficial nutrients because it has a strong binding affinity to important minerals. For example, when iron and zinc bind to phytic acid, they become insoluble and are difficult for your intestines to absorb. Phytic acid also affects your nitrogen levels and protein digestibility, according to one 1987 study out of Japan:

The nitrogen balance was negative on both diets, but more negative on the brown rice diet. The phosphorus balance on the brown rice diet was significantly negative, but other minerals were not affected by the diet. The levels of cholesterol and minerals in the plasma were not significantly different on the polished rice diet and the brown rice diet. Comparing these results with data on standard protein intake (Miyoshi, H. et al (1986) J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol., 32, 581-589.), we concluded that brown rice reduced protein digestibility and nitrogen balance.

There’s also the issue of arsenic in rice. Consumer Reports found that brown rice tends to have more arsenic when compared to white rice of the same origin. White rice does still have traces of arsenic, sure, but brown rice has more overall. Too much arsenic, if you weren’t sure, is not good for you. Keep in mind, though, these phytate and arsenic levels aren’t going to kill you or totally ruin your diet after a few bites. The FDA points out that eating reasonable amounts of any type of rice is completely fine, as long as you try to maintain a well-balanced diet.

What’s the verdict?

At the end of the day, brown rice and white rice are at a stalemate. They each have very minor advantages over the other, but there’s nothing that stands out and says one is better than the other in regards to your health. If you’re at risk of diabetes, studies suggest opting for brown rice over white rice can reduce that risk, but otherwise it’s a toss up. So, eat whatever kind of rice you want, as long as it’s in moderation. After all, too much of either type of rice isn’t going to be great for you in the long run. As for me, I’ll stick to my tasty white rice come meal time!

This story has been updated since its original publication.


  • Great article, thanks for writing it. This is hotly debated in my house so I appreciate how thorough this read was.
    That other commenter who thinks brown rice tastes better than white rice is insane.

  • It would seem that an important assessment between white and brown rice has been missed altogether. This is the element of the wholegrain. Nature, in its infinite and evolutionary wisdom, has provided rice with the proper balance of all the nutriments for a healthy food. By milling off the outer layers of bran and germ, the rice is not whole anymore, and thus out of proportion of a balanced set of minerals and nutrients. If for no other reason, brown rice should be eaten because it is thew whole grain, and it thus has the natural balance of minerals, etc, in its makeup.

    One remembers, many years ago, learning the truth about these foods, such as sugar, flour, and rice. We learnt that, once upon a time, everyone had the brown sugar and the natural brown wheat and brown rice. Before refining processes were fully developed, this was how the foods were harvested and were available to everyone. Then, it was said, the ruling classes, who always demanded the best, wanted purity in the foods, even if it was only in appearance. White is considered the colour of purity. They had their foods purified and considered themselves fortunate to have their table adorned with white foods. And so, it became that the ordinary people still had their foods as nature intended, whilst the upper classes had their white, purified foods. As time went on, this purification process filtered down to the ordinary people, and voila, we have all forgotten the true and nutritious state of these basic food items.

    Everything is all upside down, and the opposite of commonsense. Just remember to question everything, and do not necessarily believe what is told to you.

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