White Rice vs. Brown Rice: Which is Healthiest?

white rice vs brown rice

Rice is a staple in most kitchens, but the debate is: white rice vs. brown rice, which is better? The answer will depend a lot upon your personal tastes, including what you like in terms of flavor, cooking time, and nutrition.

White Rice vs. Brown Rice

If your primary concern is health, then the simple answer is that brown rice is better for you. Unlike white rice, brown rice is a whole grain and contains a fair amount of fiber, meaning that you get a lot more nutritional value out of it.

White rice, on the other hand, is a simple carbohydrate, which is less healthy and can even pose some health risks. In this article, you’ll find an in-depth explanation of the differences between white rice and brown rice, including their nutritional values and practical differences in using them for cooking.

White Rice vs. Brown Rice: What’s the Difference?

Rice before processing with the hull still on, via Small Town Chutney

The basic difference between white and brown rice is that brown rice is less processed. An unprocessed grain of rice consists of an outer hull, bran layers (harder outside layers that contain much of the rice’s nutritional value), and a starchy center called the endosperm or rice kernel. Brown rice essentially just has the hull removed. The bran layers, which contain a number of vitamins and minerals, are left intact.

White rice is put through a further refining process that removes the bran layers. This makes the rice white, fluffy, and fast to cook, but it also takes away a lot of the natural nutritional value.

Nutrition: Brown Rice

Because brown rice has the bran layers intact, it contains significantly more vitamins and minerals. These nutrients include iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium selenium, vitamin E, and manganese. A cup of brown rice provides more than 80% of the daily recommended value for manganese, which is important to create good cholesterol in the body.

Steamed-Brown-Rice-in-Bowl

Brown rice is also an excellent source of fiber. A serving of rice contains about 1.8 grams of fiber, or 7% of the recommended daily value. Fiber is highly beneficial to your digestive system and is also believed to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some kinds of cancer. Fiber can also help to keep you feeling full for longer.

Additionally, because brown rice is unrefined, it also releases sugar slowly. This helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable. And as an added benefit, brown rice also has a high anti-oxidant content.

Nutrition: White Rice

White rice is stripped of rice’s bran layers, so it contains fewer nutrients. However, white rice still contains some potassium, protein, and magnesium; it just contains less than brown rice does.

Bowl of Cooked White Rice

White rice primarily consists of starch, which is what makes it nicely soft and sticky once it’s cooked. The majority of white rice (about 90%) is carbohydrates, and it is low in fiber. Because white rice is a simple and refined carbohydrate, it’s very quick to digest, and its nutrients enter the bloodstream more quickly than those in brown rice. This can be problematic for people who have or who are at high risk for diabetes. For people such as athletes and body builders, however, that quick surge in carbohydrates can be perfect for a post-workout recovery meal.

But What about Enriched Rice?

enriched-rice

When you buy white rice at a store, it’s usually labeled as “enriched.” This means that it has had unnatural additives added in. In fact, white rice by itself has so little nutritional value that it doesn’t meet the FDA’s requirements. It has to have additives and fortifications in order to meet minimum nutritional requirements.

In the United States, white rice must be enriched with iron and vitamins B1 and B3 by law. The enrichment process varies between different producers, but if often also adds thiamin and niacin. While the enrichment process does add more nutrients to white rice, enriched white rice still does not have as much nutritional value as brown rice.

Nutritional Benefits and Nutritional Risks

white rice vs brown rice

Because of their different nutritional values, brown and white rice present varying nutritional benefits and risks. As you might imagine, brown rice delivers a couple of important nutritional benefits.

As with other good sources of fiber, brown rice is known to support metabolic function and promote weight loss. Foods with fiber typically make you feel fuller than foods without, so you can eat a smaller portion of brown rice than white rice and still feel full. Fiber also helps to maintain a healthy digestive system and boosts metabolic function. All of these effects are good for your digestion and can help you if you’re trying to lose weight.

Of course, you’ll also gain all of the benefits of the nutrients contained within brown rice, including antioxidants, which are great for preventing disease and reducing the effects of aging.

White rice, on the other hand, is more typically associated with health risks than health benefits. Although white rice does deliver some nutritional content, it is also a simple carbohydrate, meaning that it can cause your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. If you eat white rice frequently, this may increase your risk for diabetes. If you already have diabetes, your best choice is to eat brown rice instead of white.

White Rice vs. Brown Rice: Texture, Taste, and Cooking

white-rice-is-fluffy

When choosing which kind of rice to cook, you’ll also want to take into consideration practical factors such as price, taste, ease of cooking, and shelf life. Most of these factors come down in favor of white rice, which is probably why it remains so popular despite its nutritional inferiority. Many people prefer the texture of white rice. It is soft, fluffy, and sticky, making it perfect for sushi and a number of other dishes.

Brown rice, even when cooked well, is a little chewier than white rice. Brown rice also has a slightly nutty taste in comparison to white rice’s bland flavor. This means that brown rice will influence the taste of your dish slightly more than white rice. You may find this to be a positive if you like the flavor of brown rice, but many people prefer the less noticeable taste of white rice.

Because white rice has had the outer bran layers removed, it has a significantly longer shelf rice than brown rice. Brown rice typically keeps for about 6 months, while white rice can last for up to 10 years. For many people, however, 6 months will be plenty of time. White rice also cooks more quickly than brown rice, which makes it much more convenient to use for fast recipes. Finally, white rice is almost always cheaper than brown rice, often by as much as half.


At the end of the day, the choice of white rice vs. brown rice will depend on a number of factors: what you’re cooking, your budget, your tastes, and your nutritional needs. If you’re deciding based on health alone, however, brown rice is the clear choice.

About the author

Meghan Woolley

Meghan is a graduate of Hamilton College and has a Masters from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She enjoys trying new foods, exploring tasty recipes, and writing about her experiences.

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