White Rice vs Brown Rice

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White Rice vs Brown Rice

Let’s say you are planning to make a healthy stir-fry or red beans and rice for dinner. Given the latest health information, you may want to reconsider the type of rice to cook with your meal if you usually choose white rice.

This is not only because there is a tremendous difference in the nutritional content of brown rice compared to white rice, but also in how the different grains affect your health and well-being.

The difference between white and brown rice is not in the variety, but in how it is processed. After farmers harvest their rice, it typically goes to a mill. There, it is cleaned and the husks are taken off the grains of rice. At this point, it is referred to as “brown rice” or “unpolished” rice and it contains several very thin layers of wholesome bran. When only the outermost layer of a grain of rice (the husk) is removed, brown rice is produced.  At this stage, the rice (brown rice) is full of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and protein—and healthy to eat by most peoples’ standards when cooked correctly.

About a century and a half ago technology was developed to “polish” or refine rice. Rice milling technology created the possibility of peeling the bran off the grain and polishing what is left into shiny, white rice. When white rice is produced, the layers underneath the husk (the bran layer and the germ) are removed, leaving mostly the starchy endosperm.

While brown rice and white rice have similar number of calories and carbohydrates, polishing removes most of the vitamins and minerals vital to one’s health. Some of the missing nutrients, such as vitamin B1, vitamin B3, and iron must be added back into the white rice, making it an “enriched” food. This is because white rice is so devoid of nutrients that it does not even offer the minimum nutritional requirements of the FDA. For this reason, food suppliers are required to have all white rice “enriched” with synthetic vitamins and iron just so that it can be sold in our supermarkets. The synthetic vitamins and iron that are added to white rice are not only in much smaller quantities than what exists naturally in brown rice, but are of little or no use to the human body.  One very important mineral that is not added back into white rice is magnesium; one cup (195 g) of cooked long grain brown rice contains 84 mg of magnesium while one cup of white rice contains 19 mg. When the bran layer is removed to make white rice, the oil in the bran is also removed. Some experts say that rice bran oil may help lower LDL cholesterol.  Other key nutrients, such as fiber and small amounts of fatty acids, are lost in the refining process.

While the difference between brown and white rice may seem insignificant, many health experts have now linked the polished white rice that most people are accustomed to eating to a distinct rise in adverse health conditions, such as type 2diabetes and obesity. Unlike polished rice, brown rice can help keep blood sugar stabilized, as it releases sugars slowly and in a sustained fashion. This makes it a better option for diabetics and those that are trying to lose or maintain their weight. Studies in Asia have shown a link between the consumption of white rice and risk of type 2 diabetes.

Some people say white rice cannot be a contributor to health problems and obesity, citing the number of people from Asia that eat white rice and are much leaner as a population than people are here in the US. But recent data is showing a different kind of population that now exists in many parts of Asia. Until the industrial revolution, white rice in Asia was reserved for the “Wealthy Class” because of its expense.  Today, eating white rice has had a huge negative impact on health in many countries, especially now that it is being consumed in conjunction with the enormous amounts of hydrogenated oils, refined sugar, and processed foods that have become the trademarks of the American diet. According to International Diabetes Federation, diabetes now affects seven percent of the world’s adult population- a staggering 285 million people worldwide. India is the country with the most people with diabetes, with a current figure of 50.8 million, followed by China with 43.2 million. Behind them the United States (26.8 million); the Russian Federation (9.6 million); Brazil (7.6 million); Germany (7.5 million); Pakistan (7.1 million); Japan (7.1 million); Indonesia (7 million) and Mexico (6.8 million).[1] Since white rice is a daily staple in both India and China, these statistics clearly support the claims that human health is adversely affected when naturally occurring grains are refined. These figures, which were reported in October 2009 in the IDF Diabetes Atlas, also indicate that people in low and middle-income countries (LMCs) are bearing the brunt of the epidemic, and that the disease is affecting far more people of working age than previously believed.

So to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, more and more experts strongly recommend that you choose brown rice instead of white rice, and use the following as a guideline to the proper way to prepare and cook brown rice.

There are many types of brown rice:

  • Quick-cooking brown rice, which part of the bran has been milled off, as well as par-boiled or boil-in-the bag varieties offer little to no nutritional benefits above white rice, and I therefore do not recommend these types of rice.
  • Probably the most widely available is long-grain brown rice, it requires more water and more time to cook, but yields grains with a character that’s nicely suited to casseroles and other baked dishes.
  • Medium-grain brown rice tends to be stickier and tenderer when cooked than long-grain rice; it’s the most common type grown in Spain and is ideal for paellas.
  • Brown basmati rice gets longer, not fatter, when cooked and develops a firm, dry consistency, making it perfect for pilafs.
  • Aromatic jasmine rice has the elegant look of long-grain varieties but cooks up moist and tender, like medium-grain rice.
  • Kalijira rice grains could almost be mistaken for couscous; they’re a fragrant, quick-cooking marvel.
  • Nutty-sweet red rice owes its color to a pigment in its bran layers; often used in puddings.
  • Short-grain brown rice, whose grains are barely longer than they are wide, can have an almost creamy texture when cooked, perfect for risotto.

Preparing and cooking brown rice

If you’ve never heard of phytic acid, all grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain phytic acid (phytates), which bind to valuable minerals in those foods and limit our ability to digest and absorb minerals. A high consumption of improperly prepared phytate heavy foods can result in mineral and niacin deficiencies. This is particularly true for those with low mineral intakes, including children and people in developing countries where grain based foods make up the majority of the diet.

Loren Cordain, an anthropologist at Colorado State University and father of the Paleo Diet, writes this about cereal grains, which are high in phytic acid:

“For the vast majority of mankind’s presence on this planet, he rarely if ever consumed cereal grains. With the exception of the last 10,000 years following the agricultural ‘revolution’, humans have existed as non-cereal-eating hunter-gatherers since the emergence of Homo erectus 1.7 million years ago… the inability of humans to physiologically overcome cereal grain anti-nutrients such as phytates, alkylresorcinols, protease inhibitors, and lectins is indicative of the evolutionary novelty of this food for our species.”

Laura Johnson Kelley, an anthropologist at Cornell University in New York has pointed out that skeletal abnormalities increased in human populations as they began to cultivate and consume grains and that celiac disease (an inability to digest grain foods) in Europe is linked to the spread of grain based agriculture.

Brown rice contains phytic acid; to reduce our intake of phytic acid, brown rice must be soaked prior to cooking. To do this, put the amount of brown rice that you plan on cooking in a large bowl and cover with enough hot filtered water plus a little fresh lemon juice or raw cider vinegar, and let stand for 24 hours at room temperature.

After soaking, drain the rice and rinse well with filtered water. Cook brown rice with twice as much filtered water; this means that you would add 2 cups of fresh filtered water to 1 cup of soaked brown rice. If you prefer drier, fluffy rice, bring the filtered water to a boil, then add the rice, stir, cover, and reduce heat to low for 25-35 minutes. If you would like your rice to be stickier or creamier, mix rice with water, cover, then bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook for 20-30 minutes. While the cooking time will vary with the type and amount of brown rice you are preparing, soaking the rice for 24 hours before cooking will greatly reduce cooking time. Be sure to leave the cover on for the first 20-25 minutes of cooking, and then give a quick peek to see if the rice has absorbed all the water. When the water is absorbed and the rice is soft, it is ready to serve. Enjoy brown rice as a side dish or with beans, stir-frys, or as a delicious and nourishing rice pudding, ideal for breakfast or desert. Whatever dishes you decide to add brown rice to, you can be assured that you have used an ingredient that will improve, and not harm, you and your families’ health.


[1] International Diabetes Federation, “Latest Diabetes Figures Paint Grim Global Picture” October 18, 2009.