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White rice: Good or bad?

Is white rice healthy or bad for you?

White rice is often considered unhealthy by many health communities, but is it really bad for you? This article aims to determine if white rice is a healthy option.

Is it healthy?
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This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Is white rice healthy or bad for you?
Last updated on February 19, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on September 20, 2023.

White rice is often fortified with extra nutrients even though it’s processed. Its low fiber content can be good for your gut, too. But brown rice offers more nutritional benefits like extra fiber, making it a better pick for diabetes, heart health, or keeping weight in check.

Is white rice healthy or bad for you?

Many people in health circles see white rice as not the best choice for you.

That’s because it’s gone through a lot of processing and is missing critical parts like its hard outer shell, the bran, and the nutrient-packed core. On the other hand, brown rice only has its outer shell removed.

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So, white rice doesn’t have as many vitamins and minerals as brown rice.

Still, there are times when white rice could be the better option over brown rice.

This article will help you determine whether white rice is good or bad for your health.

In this article

White rice lacks fiber and essential nutrients

White and brown rice are both well-known kinds of rice that come from the same source.

Brown rice is the whole grain in its natural form, complete with fiber-rich bran, nutrient-dense germ, and the carb-heavy endosperm.

In contrast, white rice has had its bran and germ removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm. This is done to make it taste better, last longer on the shelf, and cook more easily.

Because it’s missing these key elements, white rice is often viewed as just empty carbs.

However, nutrients like iron and B vitamins such as folic acid, niacin, and thiamine are added back into white rice in places like the U.S. and many other countries.

Here’s a quick comparison of how 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of each type of rice stacks up nutritionally once cooked.

White rice, unenriched

White rice, enriched

Brown rice, unenriched

A serving of 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of brown rice has fewer calories and carbs but double the fiber compared to white rice.

Can people with diabetes eat brown rice?
Suggested read: Can people with diabetes eat brown rice?

Generally, brown rice packs more vitamins and minerals than its white counterpart. However, when white rice is enriched, it can have higher levels of iron and folate.

Plus, brown rice offers more antioxidants and essential building blocks of protein, known as amino acids.

It’s good to remember that white and brown rice are naturally gluten-free. So, they’re a solid carb choice if you’re dealing with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Summary: Brown rice is richer in nutrients than white rice, but in the US and many other countries, white rice is fortified to boost its nutritional content.

How a higher glycemic index in white rice may up your diabetes risk

The glycemic index (GI) is a way to gauge how quickly your body turns carbohydrates into sugar that gets into your bloodstream.

The GI scale goes from 0 to 100 and is divided into these categories:

Foods with a lower GI are generally better for folks with type 2 diabetes because they lead to a slow, steady rise in blood sugar levels. Foods with a higher GI can cause quick spikes in blood sugar.

White rice has a GI score of 64, while brown rice scores a 55. This means that the carbs in white rice turn into blood sugar faster than the ones in brown rice.

This faster conversion might explain why eating white rice has been linked to a higher chance of getting type 2 diabetes.

In a research review involving over 350,000 people, scientists found that individuals eating more white rice had a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those eating less.

Moreover, each additional serving of rice eaten daily upped the diabetes risk by 11%.

Suggested read: Is pasta healthy or unhealthy?

A study in the U.S. also found that eating more white rice increased the risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas eating more brown rice lowered the risk significantly.

Summary: White rice has a higher glycemic index, causing its carbs to turn into blood sugar more quickly than those in brown rice. Eating more white rice could increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Eating lots of white rice could up your chances of metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a term that lumps together several health risks. These risks make you more likely to get heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and strokes.

What we’re talking about here are:

Research indicates that folks who often eat a lot of white rice are more likely to have metabolic syndrome. This is particularly true for Asian adults.

While there is some evidence linking eating white rice to diabetes, the connection between white rice and heart disease isn’t so clear yet.

Conversely, eating brown rice seems to be better for your heart.

For example, adults who eat the most whole grains could have up to a 21% lower chance of heart disease than those who eat very little.

Brown rice also has lignans, a natural substance found in plants, that have been proven to help lower your blood pressure, decrease fats, and make your arteries less stiff.

Summary: Eating more white rice could increase your risk of metabolic syndrome. The link between white rice and heart disease, though, is not yet clear.

White rice and weight loss: The verdict is still out

White rice is a processed grain because it loses its outer layers, the bran and germ.

Many studies have linked diets filled with processed grains to weight gain and obesity. But when it comes to white rice, the results are mixed.

For example, some research shows that eating lots of white rice can lead to weight gain and belly fat, while other studies say there’s no link.

Interestingly, diets that mostly include white rice have also been linked to weight loss, especially in countries where it’s a staple food.

Suggested read: Is rice high in calories or weight-loss-friendly?

So, it’s unclear whether white rice is good or bad for weight loss.

However, diets rich in whole grains like brown rice have consistently shown to help with weight loss and keeping a healthy weight.

Brown rice is a better choice if you’re looking to lose weight. It’s more nutritious, has more fiber, and even has antioxidants that fight disease.

Summary: White rice’s impact on weight loss is still up for debate. But brown rice has a more consistent track record of helping with weight loss and maintenance.

Should you include white rice in your meals?

White rice gets a bad rap sometimes, but it can be a better fit than brown rice in certain cases.

For example, pregnant women might benefit from the extra folate in fortified white rice.

Also, if you’re on a low-fiber diet or you’re dealing with nausea or heartburn, white rice could be easier on your stomach.

However, brown rice is generally a better choice for most people. It offers a broader range of vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and plant compounds.

Brown rice also has a lower glycemic index, meaning its carbs turn into blood sugar more slowly. This makes it a better option for folks with diabetes or prediabetes.

That being said, it’s totally okay to have white rice occasionally without any guilt.

Summary: While brown rice is generally healthier, white rice can be a better option in certain circumstances. It’s okay to enjoy it now and then.

Summary

White rice being processed doesn’t automatically make it a poor choice.

In the US, a lot of white rice comes fortified with essential nutrients like folate, boosting its nutritional profile. Also, its lack of fiber could be a plus if you have digestive problems.

That said, brown rice is the better pick for overall health. Research has proven that it’s superior when it comes to managing diabetes, heart health, and maintaining a healthy weight.

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