Many health communities view white rice as an unhealthy option.
It’s highly processed and missing its hull (the hard protective coating), bran (outer layer) and germ (nutrient-rich core). Meanwhile, brown rice only has the hull removed.
For this reason, white rice lacks many vitamins and minerals that are present in brown rice.
However, there are some instances where white rice is a better option than brown rice.
This article helps determine whether white rice is healthy or bad for you.
White and brown rice are the most popular types of rice and have similar origins.
Brown rice is simply the entire whole rice grain. It contains the fiber-rich bran, the nutrient-packed germ and the carbohydrate-rich endosperm.
On the other hand, white rice is stripped of its bran and germ, leaving just the endosperm. It’s then processed to improve taste, extend shelf life and enhance cooking properties ().
White rice is considered empty carbs since it loses its main sources of nutrients.
However, in the US and many other countries, white rice is typically enriched with added nutrients, including iron and B vitamins like folic acid, niacin, thiamine and more (, ).
|Nutrients||White rice, unenriched||White rice, enriched||Brown rice, unenriched|
|Protein||2.9 grams||2.9 grams||2.6 grams|
|Carbs||30 grams||26 grams||23 grams|
|Fat||0.4 grams||0.4 grams||0.9 grams|
|Fiber||0.9 grams||0.9 grams||1.8 grams|
|Folate||1% of the RDI||20% of the RDI||1% of the RDI|
|Manganese||18% of the RDI||18% of the RDI||45% of the RDI|
|Thiamine||5% of the RDI||14% of the RDI||6% of the RDI|
|Selenium||13% of the RDI||13% of the RDI||14% of the RDI|
|Niacin||12% of the RDI||12% of the RDI||8% of the RDI|
|Iron||1% of the RDI||10% of the RDI||2% of the RDI|
|Vitamin B6||8% of the RDI||8% of the RDI||7% of the RDI|
|Phosphorus||6% of the RDI||6% of the RDI||8% of the RDI|
|Copper||4% of the RDI||4% of the RDI||5% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||2% of the RDI||2% of the RDI||11% of the RDI|
|Zinc||2% of the RDI||2% of the RDI||4% of the RDI|
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of brown rice has fewer calories and carbs than white rice and twice as much fiber.
In general, brown rice also has higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than white rice. However, enriched white rice is higher in iron and folate.
What’s more, brown rice contains more antioxidants and essential amino acids.
It’s also worth noting that both white and brown rice are naturally gluten-free, which makes them a great carb option for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Summary Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, but most white rice in the US and other countries is enriched to increase its nutritional value.
Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how fast your body converts carbs into sugars that can be absorbed into your bloodstream.
The score ranges from 0 to 100 with the following labels:
- Low GI: 55 or less
- Medium GI: 56 to 69
- High GI: 70 to 100
White rice has a GI of 64, while brown rice has a GI of 55. As a result, carbs in white rice are turned into blood sugar more rapidly than those in brown rice ().
This may be one reason why white rice has been associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
In a review of studies in over 350,000 people, researchers found that those who ate the most white rice had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least ().
What’s more, each serving of rice eaten per day raised the risk of type 2 diabetes by 11%.
Similarly, a US-based study showed that higher intakes of white rice were linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas higher intakes of brown rice were linked to a significantly lower risk ().
Summary White rice has a higher glycemic index, which means its carbs convert more quickly into blood sugar than brown rice. Higher intakes of white rice may result in a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that may increase your risk of health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.
These risk factors include:
- High blood pressure
- High fasting blood sugar
- High triglyceride levels
- A large waistline
- Low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
Studies have shown that people who regularly eat large amounts of white rice have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, especially Asian adults (, , ).
But while studies have noticed a connection between white rice consumption and diabetes, the link between white rice and heart disease is still unclear (, ).
Meanwhile, brown rice consumption has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
For instance, adults that consume the most amount of whole grains may have an up to 21% lower risk of heart disease than adults eating the least amount ().
Brown rice also contains lignans, a plant compound that has been shown to help lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of fat in your blood and reduce arterial stiffness ().
Summary Higher intakes of white rice may raise your risk of metabolic syndrome. However, its connection to heart disease is still unclear.
White rice is classified as a refined grain because it’s stripped of its bran and germ.
While many studies have connected diets high in refined grains to obesity and weight gain, the research is inconsistent when it comes to white rice.
For instance, some studies have associated diets high in refined grains like white rice to weight gain, belly fat and obesity, while other studies have found no correlation (, , , ).
Plus, diets centered around white rice have been shown to promote weight loss, especially in countries where it’s an everyday food (, , ).
In short, white rice appears to be neither detrimental nor favorable for weight loss.
However, eating diets high in whole grains like brown rice have more consistently been shown to aid weight loss and help maintain a healthy body weight (, , ).
Brown rice is thus the favorable choice for weight loss, as it’s more nutritious, contains more fiber and provides a healthy dose of disease-fighting antioxidants.
Summary White rice does not appear to affect weight loss very much. However, studies show that brown rice can promote both weight loss and maintenance.
Doctors may prescribe a low-fiber diet if you have digestive problems.
A low-fiber diet can lessen the workload of the digestive tract, allowing it to rest.
These diets are temporary and may ease uncomfortable symptoms that result from Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive disorders.
White rice is often recommended in these cases, as it’s low in fiber, bland and easy to digest.
Summary White rice is bland, low in fiber and easy to digest, making it a good option for people with digestive problems, nausea or heartburn.
White rice is often unfairly criticized and can serve as a better alternative to brown rice in some situations.
For instance, women going through pregnancy may benefit from the extra folate found in enriched white rice.
Additionally, people on a low-fiber diet and adults experiencing nausea or heartburn may find that white rice is easier to digest and does not trigger uncomfortable symptoms.
However, brown rice is still the better option for most. It contains a wider variety of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and plant-based compounds.
It also has a lower glycemic index, which means its carbs are more slowly converted into blood sugar, making it more ideal for people with diabetes or prediabetes.
That said, it’s perfectly fine to enjoy white rice in moderation without feeling guilty.
Summary Brown rice is the healthier option for most people, but it’s fine to enjoy white rice from time to time.
Though white rice is more processed, it’s not necessarily bad.
Most white rice in the US is enriched with vitamins like folate to improve its nutritional value. Additionally, its low fiber content may help with digestive issues.
However, brown rice is ultimately healthier and more nutritious. Not to mention, studies have shown that brown rice is better for diabetes, heart disease and weight maintenance.