Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Which Is Better for You?

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on July 10, 2017Written by Corey Whelan

Brown rice vs. white rice

All white rice starts out as brown rice. A milling process removes the rice’s husk, bran, and germ. This process increases white rice’s shelf life but removes much of its nutrition, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

To counteract this, white rice is artificially fortified with nutrients. The refined grain is also polished to appear more palatable.

Both white and brown rice are high in carbohydrates. Brown rice is a whole grain. It contains more overall nutrition than its paler counterpart. Whole-grain foods may help reduce cholesterol and lower the risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

The nutritional information below is based on a serving size of 1/3 cup of cooked rice. The nutritional breakdown for white rice is based on average nutrition information for long-grain white rice found in the Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database. The breakdown for brown rice is based on 1/3 cup cooked long-grain brown rice.

Nutrient proximatesBrown riceWhite rice
energy82 calories68 calories
protein1.83 g1.42 g
total lipid (fat)0.65 g0.15 g
carbohydrates17.05 g14.84 g
fiber, total dietary1.1 g0.2 g
sugars, total0.16 g0.03 g
calcium2 milligrams (mg)5 mg
iron0.37 mg0.63 mg
sodium3 mg1 mg
fatty acids, total saturated0.17 g0.04 g
fatty acids, total trans0 g0 g
cholesterol0 mg0 mg

The exact nutritional breakdown varies by manufacturer. Manufacturers are responsible for providing accurate nutritional and ingredient information.

Key nutritional differences

Here are a few key differences between white and brown rice. The exact nutritional components will vary depending on the rice manufacturer, so be sure to read the food label on any rice that you buy.

Fiber

Brown rice is generally higher in fiber than white rice. It typically provides 1 to 3 g more fiber than a comparable amount of white rice.

Although fiber is best known for constipation relief, it offers a number of other health benefits. It can help you:

  • feel fuller faster, which can aid in weight management
  • lower your cholesterol levels
  • control your blood sugar levels, reducing your risk of diabetes
  • reduce your risk of heart disease
  • nourish your gut bacteria

Generally, men under the age of 50 need 38 g of fiber per day, and men who are 51 years or older need 30 g.

Women under the age of 50 typically need 25 g per day, and women who are 51 years or older need 21 g.

Your daily recommended amount of fiber is based on several factors, including age and caloric intake, so talk with your doctor if you’re unsure of how much you need.

Manganese

Manganese is a mineral that is essential for energy production and antioxidant function. Brown rice is an excellent source of this nutrient, while white rice is not.

Selenium

Brown rice is a good source of selenium, which plays an integral role in thyroid hormone production, antioxidant protection, and immune function. Selenium also works with vitamin E to protect cells from cancer.

Magnesium

Unlike white rice, brown rice is typically a good source of magnesium. The average serving of cooked brown rice, about 1/2 cup, can provide around 11 percent of your daily recommended amount of magnesium.

Magnesium is necessary for many vital functions, including:

  • blood coagulation
  • muscle contraction
  • cellular production
  • bone development

The recommended daily intake of this important nutrient is determined by sex and age. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding typically require a higher daily intake. The average adult needs between 270 and 400 mg daily.

Folate

Enriched white rice is a good source of folate. An average 1 cup serving can contain 195 to 222 micrograms (mcg) of folate, or about half of your daily recommended amount.

Folate helps your body make DNA and other genetic material. It also supports cell division. Although folate is an essential nutrient for everyone, it’s especially vital for women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant.

The recommended daily value for most adults is around 400 mcg. Women who are pregnant should consume 600 mcg, and women who are breastfeeding should get 500 mcg.

Risks

Rice is known to be contaminated with arsenic, whether white, brown, organic, or conventional. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement discouraging pregnant women and parents from using rice or rice cereals as the primary grain staple due to arsenic contamination. Arsenic is a heavy metal that the body accumulates over time and can’t excrete. So it’s prudent also for adults to eat a variety of foods and grains to limit their arsenic exposure in rice.

Nuts, seeds, and whole grains like brown rice also contain phytic acid, a substance that can bind to the minerals calcium, iron, and zinc. Some whole grains contain enough phytase, the enzyme required to break down phytic acid, while others like oats, brown rice, and legumes don’t.

Because humans don’t make phytase, soaking, fermenting, or sprouting of these foods can improve mineral absorption by reducing their phytic acid levels. White rice has lower levels of phytic acid due to processing.

Some research has also shown phytic acid to have health benefits like antioxidant activity, and cancer and kidney stone prevention, so it’s not necessarily something to completely avoid. Research is ongoing.

Can you eat rice if you have diabetes?

Both white and brown rice can have a high glycemic index (GI) score. The GI score of a food represents the impact it may have on blood sugar levels. It’s based on how slowly or quickly a given food can increase your blood sugar levels.

White rice has a GI of 72, so it can be quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. Brown rice has a GI of 50. Although brown rice is slower to affect your blood sugar, it can still have a noticeable impact due to lower fiber content compared to other whole grains. Here’s more on how rice affects diabetes.

The bottom line

Brown rice is generally more nutritious than white rice. It’s higher in fiber, magnesium, and other nutrients, and it isn’t artificially enriched with nutrients like white rice is.

If you’d like to add rice to your diet but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, talk to your dietitian. They can go over the potential effects it may have on any existing health conditions and advise you on how to safely add it to your diet.

If you’re concerned about your gluten intake, you’ll want to avoid rice products with added gluten. Find out how.

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