Rice is a staple food for nearly two-thirds of the people around the world, especially in Asian counties.

Rice comes in thousands of different varieties including white, brown, black, basmati, Arboria and sticky rice; however the most commonly eaten varieties are brown and white rice.

Brown rice is a more nutritious option compared to white rice. It has higher concentrations of fiber, magnesium, zinc, manganese. White rice is higher in folate content because it is fortified.

Let us find out in detail more about brown and white rice in detail.

What is white rice?

White rice is milled rice that is stripped of its hull(hard protective coating), bran(outer layer) and germ(nutrient-rich core).

It is also processed to improve its taste, extend shelf life and enhance its cooking properties.

While some nutritionists call it empty calories, others consider it a safe starch which can be eaten in moderation.

In the US the white rice is also enriched with nutrients like iron, folic acid, thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin (1, 2).

What is brown rice?

Brown rice is whole grain rice. It contains all the three parts of the grain kernel, including bran (fiber-filled outer layer), the germ(the nutrient-rich core) and the starchy middle layer (endosperm) (3).

Only the outer layer called the hull is removed. Brown rice is low in calories, high in fiber and is gluten-free.

According to studies, whole grain foods like brown rice can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Nutritional values of brown rice

One cup (195 grams) of cooked long grain brown rice contains (4):

  • Calories: 216
  • Fat: 2 grams (2% DV)
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 45 grams (15% DV)
  • Dietary fiber: 4 grams (14% DV)
  • Manganese: 1.8 mg (88% DV)
  • Selenium: 19.1 mcg (27% DV)
  • Phosphorus: 162 mg (16% DV)
  • Magnesium: 83.9 mg (21% DV)
  • Thiamine: .2 mg (12% DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.3 mg (14% DV)
  • Niacin: 3 mg (14% DV)

Nutritional values of white rice

One cup (158 grams) of cooked long grain white rice contains (5) –

  • Calories: 205
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 45 grams (15% DV)
  • Dietary fibre: 1 gram (3%)
  • Thiamine: .3 mg (17% DV)
  • Niacin: 2.3 mg (12% DV)
  • Vitamin B6: .1 mg (7 % DV)
  • Folate: 91.6 mcg (23% DV)
  • Manganese: .7 mg (37% DV)
  • Selenium: 11.9 mcg (17% DV)

Nutritional differences between brown and white rice

1. Fiber content

One of the main reasons why nutritionists prefer brown rice to white rice is its dietary fiber content. While 100 grams of cooked brown rice contains 1.8 grams of fiber, white rice contains only .4 grams of fiber in 100 grams of cooked rice.

The bran and germ in the brown rice provide much of the fiber. Adult males need around 38 grams of fiber every day while females need just 25 grams of fiber per day.

Fiber benefits our body in many ways –

  • It slows down the rate at which the food is absorbed into the bloodstream, which prevents the blood glucose levels from rising quickly. The spikes in blood glucose levels fall fast, and this can make you hungry soon, which causes overeating.
  • Food rich in insoluble fiber moves faster through the intestines, which signals that you are full. 
  • Fiber also helps to clean the colon. It helps clean out the build-up of bacteria in the intestines and helps prevent colon cancer.
  • A high-fiber diet prevents constipation and helps you have soft, regular bowel movements.

2. Magnesium content

According to the USDA food and nutrition database, one cup of white rice contains 24 milligrams of magnesium while a similar serving of brown rice contains 86 milligrams of magnesium, which is almost four times the amount.

Magnesium is needed for many vital functions in the body and an average adult needs between 270 to 400 mg of magnesium daily.

Magnesium performs more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium helps in maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis. It also helps to keep normal nerve and muscle function and boosts the immune system.

3. Folate content

Enriched white rice is much higher in folate content as compared to brown rice. While one cup of white rice contains 91.6 mcg of folate, there is just 7.8 mcg in one cup.

Folate is a B vitamin that is needed to convert carbohydrates into energy, make red and white blood cells in the bone marrow, and to produce DNA and RNA.

The requirement of folate increases during periods of rapid growth like pregnancy, infancy, and adolescence. Folate also prevents neural tube defects.

The adequate intake of folate differs according to different ages. Generally, an adult needs 400 mcg of folate, while a pregnant woman needs around 600 mcg.

In 1998 United States Food and Drug Administration made it necessary for the manufacturers to add folic acid (synthetic) to foods like rice.

4. Zinc content

One cup of white rice contains .8 mg of zinc, while one cup of brown rice contains 1.2 mg of zinc. Milling and processing lower the zinc content in white rice.

Zinc is an essential element that is necessary for a healthy immune system. We need a small amount of zinc to reap its benefits. The recommended daily allowance for zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men.

A deficiency in zinc can lead to growth impediments and increased risk of infection.

5. Manganese content

Brown rice is rich in manganese. In fact, one cup of cooked brown rice fulfills almost all of your daily manganese needs. White rice is stripped of most of its manganese content.

One cup of brown rice provides 1.8 mg of manganese, which is 88 percent of our daily needs, while one cup of white rice provides .7 mg which is 37 percent of our daily requirement.

We need manganese in our body for better metabolism, improved bone health, the formation of connective tissues, absorption of calcium, proper functioning of thyroid gland and sex hormones.

A deficiency in manganese can cause skeletal defects, slow growth, and impaired reproductive function.

Risk of toxins

Since its outer layer (hull) is intact, brown rice contains much more arsenic than white rice (6). Arsenic, just like other nutrients, tends to collect in the brown outer hull of the rice.

Arsenic is a heavy metal that is accumulated in the body over time and cannot be excreted.

Frequent exposure to arsenic, even in small doses, can cause health issues like stomach aches, headaches, drowsiness, diarrhea, and confusion.

Long term exposure to arsenic can lead to dementia, heart disease, cancer, and neurological problems (7, 8).

Digestibility

White rice is one of the most well-tolerated foods on the planet. Brown rice, on the other hand, can cause digestive issues like gas and bloating.

Brown rice also contains phytic acid, at the rate of roughly .06 to 1.08 grams per 100 grams. Phytic acid can inhibit micronutrient absorption in the digestive tract.

Some grains contain an enzyme called phytase, which helps break down phytic acid. Unfortunately, brown rice does not include this enzyme. Soaking, fermenting or sprouting can lower the levels of phytic acid. White rice has lower levels of phytic acid as compared to brown rice.

According to a study by Osaka City University, Japan, brown rice reduces protein digestibility and nitrogen balance. White rice did not have this effect.

Diabetes risk

According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, eating five or more servings of white rice per week was linked to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Consuming two or more than two servings of brown rice, on the other hand, reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers also suggested that replacing 50 grams of white rice with 50 grams of brown rice could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 16 percent (10).

Allergies

Brown rice contains more components that may cause an allergic reaction. Brown rice allergy can affect our digestion, leading to flatulence, bloating and diarrhea. Some people may also develop symptoms of asthma and inflammation of nose and eyes.

Brown rice contains a protein called lectin. Lectins can attach themselves to components of cells that line the wall of the intestines, and this can lead to an allergic reaction.

Since most of the lectins in rice are contained in the bran, white rice is a safer option for people with such allergies. White rice is also a more reliable option as it is more easily digestible as compared to brown rice.

Final thoughts

Brown rice is healthier than white rice because of its richness in fiber, manganese, etc. However, replacing brown rice with white rice can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, brown rice is more difficult to digest and can even cause an allergic reaction due to the presence of lectins in the bran.

The outer layer of brown rice also contains a higher concentration of arsenic as compared to white rice.

So, we can conclude that brown rice is not the perfect grain that it is made out to be. However, when taken in moderation, brown rice is a healthier option as compared to white rice.

Brown rice is a more nutritious option compared to white rice. It has higher concentrations of fiber, magnesium, zinc, manganese. White rice is higher in folate content because it is fortified.