Rice is a staple food for more than half of the world’s population. In Hawaii, we eat more rice than anywhere else in the U.S. with the average consumption of 100 lbs (45 kg) per year! Have you ever wondered what the difference is between white and brown rice and which is healthier?
Whole grain (brown) rice has become increasingly popular as a healthy alternative to white rice. Brown rice is less processed, meaning the bran and germ layers are left intact while just its outer hulls are removed. Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice because the bran contains fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and oils. Whole grain rice comes in all sorts of varieties including brown, red, wild, black, and purple. Despite their differences, brown and white rice contain approximately the same number of calories per serving and provide about the same amount of carbohydrate per serving, making them nutritionally similar.
From a health standpoint, rice is mainly carbohydrate, with small amounts of protein. If you have diabetes, a moderate carbohydrate diet is recommended by the American Diabetes Association to achieve optimal blood sugars. Studies have found that brown rice (especially sprouted) provides more fiber, helps people stay fuller longer, and reduces risk for type 2 diabetes by 16-36%. Whole grains are considered the healthiest kinds of grains. If you have chronic kidney disease, portion size is the most important thing to keep in mind. Brown rice has higher potassium and phosphorus content, so work with your dietitian to find the right amount and type of rice for you.
You may have heard about arsenic. Brown rice has 80% more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type. Arsenic accumulates in the grain’s outer layers. In general, arsenic in rice varies, depending on the type of rice and where it was grown. Brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan is the best choice; it has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other varieties. By comparison, white basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan; and sushi rice from the U.S. on average have half of the inorganic arsenic of most other types of rice. Due to the nutritional compositions of both types, you shouldn’t switch entirely to white or rely only on brown. If you prefer lower-arsenic grains, the gluten-free grains amaranth, buckwheat, millet, polenta, bulgar, barley, quinoa, and farrow have very little arsenic. By rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking and draining the excess water, you remove a good amount of the arsenic content.
There are benefits to eating both brown and white rice. If your main health concern is managing your weight or blood sugar, limit your intake of rice (any type) to 2/3 cup per meal. If you have chronic kidney disease and have been advised by your doctor to limit phosphorus, white rice may be a better choice. Hapa rice (mixed brown and rice) may be a way to get the nutritional benefits of brown rice, while keeping the texture of white rice.