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Quinoa vs. Rice: The Health Benefits of Each Grain

There was a time rice was the only grain in town. Not anymore.

Quinoa has emerged as a healthy alternative. It has already taken rice’s place in many recipes.

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But if you love rice, the news isn’t all bad. Both grains have health benefits.

What is quinoa?

quinoa

You could argue that comparing quinoa with rice isn’t fair, because quinoa isn’t actually a grain. It’s the seed of the goosefoot plant and a relative of beets and spinach.

But quinoa is known as a pseudocereal because it’s cooked and eaten like a grain and has a similar nutritional profile.

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The benefits of quinoa
  1. It’s a complete protein.
  2. It’s high in fiber.
  3. It’s high in minerals.

What are the health benefits of quinoa?

Quinoa is nutrient-rich and has significant health benefits, including:

It’s a complete protein

For such a tiny seed, quinoa has a lot of protein: One cup cooked has 8 grams. Quinoa is one of the few plant sources of complete protein. This means it contains all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs. Even so, quinoa is higher in calories than other protein sources.

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It’s gluten-free

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free. Keep in mind that some brands may become cross-contaminated with other grains such as wheat during processing. If you have celiac disease or you’re sensitive to gluten, only use brands that are certified gluten-free.

It’s high in fiber

One cup of quinoa contains 5 grams of dietary fiber, which is more than white or brown rice. Fiber helps prevent constipation, helps control blood sugar levels, and may help lower cholesterol. Fiber also helps you maintain a healthy weight by making you feel fuller longer, so you’re less likely to overeat.

It’s high in minerals

Quinoa is a great source of:

  • iron
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • manganese
  • zinc

It also contains calcium, potassium, and selenium.

It may be good for your gut

Quinoa may help protect your gastrointestinal tract. According to a 2012 study, polysaccharides in the cell wall of quinoa showed gastroprotective activity against acute gastric lesions in rats. More study is needed on humans, but the study strengthens the theory that quinoa has anti-inflammatory abilities and is good for your gut.

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The benefits of rice
  1. It’s easy to digest.
  2. Brown rice is high in fiber.
  3. Brown rice may help reduce blood pressure.

What are the health benefits of rice?

White rice

Rice is a staple for people all over the world. It comes in many colors and sizes, but the two most popular types are white rice and brown rice. White rice is the least nutritious of the two. Its husk, bran, and much of the germ has been removed.

Many brands of white rice are enriched to restore the nutrients lost during processing. The husks are removed from brown rice, but the healthy bran and germ remain.

White and brown rice are low in fat and sodium. They are free of cholesterol and trans fats. Other health benefits include:

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It’s naturally gluten-free

Like quinoa, rice is a great option if you’re on a gluten-free diet. Beware of flavored rice or the rice used in sushi, they may contain gluten ingredients.

It’s a good source of minerals

Brown rice is a great source of:

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  • phosphorous
  • manganese
  • selenium
  • magnesium

It contains lesser amounts of copper, calcium, and zinc.

It’s easy to digest

White rice is known for being easy on the tummy. It’s part of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast). This is a bland food diet that is sometimes suggested after you have vomiting or diarrhea.

What are the health benefits of brown rice?

It may promote weight loss

Like quinoa, brown rice is higher in fiber than many other refined carbohydrates and may help you lose weight by making you feel fuller longer. One study showed that simply adding more fiber to your diet may help some people who have difficulty following other diets lose weight. Another study found that eating brown rice instead of white rice helped reduce dangerous abdominal fat. This may be due to brown rice being low on the glycemic index (meaning it doesn’t spike your blood sugar).

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It reduces blood pressure

According to the Mayo Clinic, whole grains such as brown rice may help blood pressure by:

  • helping you maintain a healthy weight
  • increasing your potassium
  • helping your body use insulin effectively
  • reducing blood vessel damage

It helps control blood sugar

A 2014 study instructed Vietnamese women who were newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes to eat brown rice instead of white rice for four months. The women not only lost weight but experienced better blood sugar control.

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Is the arsenic in rice dangerous?

Most rice contains an unwanted ingredient: arsenic. Arsenic is an element found in air, water, and soil.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, inorganic arsenic is a human carcinogen. Human exposure often happens through food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that rice absorbs arsenic more easily than other foods.

After reviewing the amounts of arsenic in over 1,300 samples of rice and rice products, they’ve determined that levels were too low to cause immediate health concerns. But they proposed a limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal and made recommendations for pregnant women and child caregivers about rice consumption.

The effects of long-term rice consumption are unclear. The FDA is performing a risk assessment to further study the risks of arsenic-contaminated rice and whether specific groups of people are more vulnerable. To get the most nutrient bang for your buck and limit potential arsenic exposure, eat rice in moderation and enjoy a variety of other whole grains.

Next steps

Rice and quinoa can both be part of a healthy lifestyle. White rice is great if you’re recovering from a stomach bug. But brown rice is a healthier choice overall, mostly because the fiber helps prevent blood sugar spikes.

The health benefits of quinoa and brown rice are similar. They’re both gluten-free, a good source of minerals and fiber, and they both support healthy digestion. Either ingredient can be substituted for white rice in most recipes. 

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