Is brown rice is better than white rice? Intuitively, one would think that brown rice is much healthier, because it is ‘less processed.’ Rather than trusting intuition, let’s look at the data. Disclaimer: a serving size of rice is ½ cup and the numbers below contain one cup, so please take that into account when meal planning. That said, here is the skinny on rice:
Calories: From a weight perspective, calories matter. One cup of brown rice contains 218 calories, compared to 205 calories in white rice. The differences in these numbers are negligible. Verdict: Tie score!
Carbohydrates and Fiber: Calories from carbs (in particular, non-fiber carbs) are more likely to cause weight gain and blood sugar elevations. White rice contains 44.5 carbs, and brown contains 45.8. When you subtract the fiber-containing carbs, you are left with white rice netting 44 carbs and brown rice 42 carbs. Keep in mind that every 4 grams of carbs equals one tsp of sugar. The white rice is converted to 11 tsp of sugar and white rice 10.5 tsp of sugar. They both are packed with fat building carbs! While the differences here are small, brown rice has a small advantage, more fiber. While rice has almost no fiber, brown rice contains 10% of your daily needs. That’s a lot of carbs just to get a relatively small amount of fiber. If you need fiber, you are better off taking a supplement such as Benefiber® (water soluble fiber) or Metamucil ® (water insoluble fiber). Verdict: slight advantage brown rice.
Glycemic Index (GI): GI is a measure of a food’s effect on blood sugar. This is important because the faster a food’s starches and sugars are absorbed, the greater likelihood of its causing diabetes. High blood sugars trigger release of insulin, the hormone that forces sugar into fat cells. The goal is to keep insulin levels low and steady. Glucose has a glycemic index of 100, the highest level possible. Water has a GI of 0. White rice has a GI of 89, while brown rice is 50. That’s a big difference, when you consider that Cola’s GI is 63. Note that there’s not much advantage to white bread (GI of 73) vs the average whole wheat bread (GI of 71). Verdict: advantage brown rice.
Conclusion: From a weight gain perspective, white and brown rice are both likely to contribute to weight gain. If you must have rice, brown rice is the better option. Combining rice with a portion of protein or fiber reduces the effect of rice on blood sugar.