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Is Brown Rice or White Rice Better For You?

Chris Park , On February 24, 2021


Rice is a considered a classic in many diets. It’s a simple ingredient and a quality source of carbohydrates. Brown rice is seen as a healthy whole grain choice, whereas white rice is often viewed as a processed, refined grain, that should be avoided. Considering both types of rice often come from the same grain are they truly that different? Here are all the facts to consider when deciding if brown or white rice is best for your diet. In this article, we have put these two popular grains head to head to see how they stack up when it comes to the following categories:

Picture of white and brown rice

Brown Rice vs. White Rice

Difference Between Brown and White Rice

There are actually multiple types of white rice and brown rice. Brown rice can come from short-grain, long-grain, Jasmine, and Basmati varieties. Whereas white rice comes from the same types, and is processed slightly different.

The main difference between white and brown rice is that brown rice is considered “whole-grain” because it is harvested and sold with its outer layers intact, whereas white rice is processed to remove parts of the grain like the bran and germ. Because of this. brown rice has a nuttier and chewier texture whereas white rice tends to be fluffier and milder tasting.

Because many claim processed foods are “bad” for you and that whole grains are better than refined grains, most will automatically assume brown rice has more benefits than white. The truth is – rice is not a heavily processed food, to begin with, and the real differences between the two types of rice might surprise you.

How is Rice Processed?

All types of rice go through some level of processing in order to be edible. The main difference between white and brown rice is only one step of processing (1). Rice processing is done through milling.

Brown rice is created when the outer hull of the grain is removed – this layer is hard and inedible. But the bran and germ layers remain intact with the grain, allowing brown rice to be considered a whole grain.

The next step of milling removes the bran layer, leaving only the soft interior that we know of as white rice, which is technically a “refined grain” item at this point.

Sometimes, the entire grain (hull intact) is parboiled prior to milling. This process involves soaking the rice in water and steaming it under intense pressure, making the rice hold together better during milling, but can also push nutrients from the bran layer into the kernel – leaving more nutrition in the white, fluffy interior. (2) This is why the processing of rice can affect the nutrition.

Definition: Parboiled rice goes though a process where the rice is soaked in water and is pressure steamed. This can push nutrients from the bran layer into the kernel, resulting in a more nutritious white rice.

Overview of brown vs white rice: Neither white or brown rice are considered heavily processed food. Both are naturally gluten-free and don’t contain any added ingredients or preservatives.

Brown vs. White Rice Nutrition

The bran layer is often a key source of nutrition in many grains, leaving many to automatically assume brown rice has much more nutrients than white rice. Depending on how the grain is processed, the variety of the grain and the serving size you eat. Below you can compare the nutrition in white rice and brown rice. A four ounce serving yields the following nutritional values:

Nutrition Brown Rice White Rice
Calories 127 147
Fat 0.9g 0.2g
Carbohydrates 26g 33g
Fiber 2g 0.3g
Protein 2.6g 2.7g

Brown rice is a good source of Magnesium, Thiamine and Niacin. Unlike brown rice, white rice is not naturally a good source of any vitamins and minerals, but contains trace amounts of very similar nutrients. It is important to say that most available white rice is classified as enriched white rice – meaning vitamins and minerals are added, and because of this, some enriched white rice may actually have more nutritional value than brown rice.

Definition: Enriched rice has vitamins and minerals added to it.

While there are differences between rice varieties, brown rice can provide small amounts of fiber, protein and essential nutrients making it a decent source of quality carbohydrates. There is also some debate around whether or not the phytic acid content of the bran layer in brown rice impacts the absorption of certain nutrients, like iron and zinc (4,5). While phytic acid is not a major concern for those who eat a balanced diet, it is an important consideration when comparing brown to white rice nutrition, since white rice has significantly less phytic acid.

Definition: Phytic acid is a substance found in certain plants that are thought to negatively impact mineral absorption (6).

Removing the outer layers of the grain eliminates some of the fiber and fat from the rice and leaves a soft fluffy interior – this allows for white rice to have more carbohydrates (aka sugar) than brown rice. But nutritionally they aren’t that drastically different, especially if the white rice has been fortified and phytic acid content is considered.

Health Benefits of Rice

Whole grains like brown rice, are associated with a whole range of health benefits (7,8). But what about rice in specific and are there any special health advantages to choosing brown over white rice? There is research that has linked white rice consumption to poor blood sugar control and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, mainly because of its high glycemic index (9,10). But in one smaller study, white rice consumption was actually shown to help decrease the risk of diabetes (11). Brown rice, on the other hand, is associated with more positive health benefits including better blood sugar control and reduced risk of diabetes when substituted in place of white rice (12). And another study suggested that swapping in brown rice promotes better heart health (13). In addition, some research suggests that the bran layer of brown rice may be a source of powerful plant-based chemicals, called phytochemicals, that provide unique protective health benefits to the food, such as improved heart health and antioxidant effects (14).

So, in conclusion is white rice or brown rice healthier: Brown rice appears to be the favorite in this topic. If you have a diet that is rice intensive, you may want to include some brown rice in your mix.

How Does Rice Affect Weight Loss?

Weight loss is mainly associated to calorie control, not which type of rice you eat. But that being said, the foods you choose can make sticking to your diet feel easier sometimes – especially if they help manage hunger, energy, and mood. And as it turns out rice intake, in general, may support weight loss when included as part of a nutrient-dense, calorie-controlled diet. Some studies suggest that whole grain consumption is associated with lower body weights and better weight management due to their high fiber and protein content (15,16). Other studies looking at populations who consume high amounts of white rice suggest that white rice may have weight loss benefits as well (17,18,19).
To conclude the consumption of rice in a weight loss diet this can be incorporated or left out. Prioritize portion control when talking about weight management. All types of white and brown rice can be associated with negatively or positively with weight loss. If you enjoy rice, opt for the variety you like best and use portion control as well as a balanced approach to eating for weight loss, and you’ll get results.

Rice and Muscle Building

Similar to weight loss, caloric intake is the most important factor when it comes to gaining muscle mass. However, quality carbohydrates from foods like rice can support muscle-building efforts a few different ways. Higher carb intake typically supports more glycogen storage in muscles, which helps fuel your workouts (20). In addition, carbs promote an insulin response, which is beneficial to weight gain (21). White rice has a small advantage with its lower glycemic index and higher carb content, making it slightly better for pre and post-workout meals to promote quick access to nutrients for energy and recovery. But the difference between the two is minor, and for most people, brown rice works just as well. The verdict on rice for muscle building is that Many bodybuilders and athletes prefer white rice because of its higher sugar content and faster absorption to support training and muscle growth, but there isn’t any research to suggest brown rice is inferior for these purposes. Muscle gain is more strongly influenced by total intake and training.

White Rice vs. Brown Rice Conclusion

Category Most Beneficial
Processing Tie
Nutrition Tie
Health Brown Rice
Weight Loss Tie
Muscle Gain White
Overall Tie

Most of the research we have on rice, in general, is based on association studies. In other words, those who ate more brown or white rice tended to have a certain characteristic or outcome compared to those who didn’t. And these types of studies don’t explain the root cause of the outcome well or prove anything in the end.
So based on the facts we have we can say that brown rice may have more health benefits due to its phytochemical composition, but when it comes to overall nutrition and fitness, it probably doesn’t matter much what type of rice you eat as long as you pay attention to your diet overall.
Want to include brown or white rice as a part of your weekly meal prep? Cut down on cooking and crush your weekly macros with MealPro meals.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21.

Chris Park

Chris Park is a board-certified sports nutritionist, registered dietitian and former college rugby player. Chris loves strength training and pushing his body to the limit, which comes in handy when working with professional athletes and designing their nutritional needs. Chris also enjoys helping others by writing about nutrition.