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Is instant brown rice still healthy?

Rice is a staple food for billions of people around the world. Brown rice, in particular, has gained popularity in recent years as a nutritious alternative to white rice. However, with busy lifestyles, many people opt for the convenience of instant brown rice that can be prepared more quickly. But is instant brown rice as healthy as regular brown rice?

What is instant brown rice?

Instant brown rice is regular brown rice that has been pre-cooked then dried out. This process allows the rice to be rehydrated and ready to eat in just 10 minutes. Many brands also enrich their instant rice with vitamins to boost the nutritional value.

The main difference between regular and instant brown rice is that the bran and germ layers are removed during the pre-cooking process for instant rice. These outer layers contain many of the nutrients found in brown rice.

However, instant brown rice is still considered a whole grain and retains more nutrients than white rice.

Nutritional comparison

To understand how healthy instant brown rice is compared to regular, let’s look at the nutritional values (per 100g uncooked):

Nutrient Instant brown rice Regular brown rice
Calories 360 370
Carbs 77g 76g
Protein 7.9g 7.5g
Fiber 3.5g 3.5g
Fat 2.7g 2.9g
Manganese 88% DV 163% DV
Phosphorus 41% DV 43% DV
Magnesium 42% DV 42% DV
Selenium 39% DV 50% DV

As you can see, instant brown rice is very similar to regular brown rice in macronutrients like calories, carbs, protein and fat. The fiber content is the same.

However, instant brown rice is lower in some micronutrients. Regular brown rice contains significantly more manganese and selenium. Instant brown rice makes up for this by being enriched with vitamins like thiamine, niacin and folic acid.

So in terms of overall nutrient profile, instant brown rice is slightly lower than regular but still a healthy option.

Glycemic index and arsenic

Two concerns people sometimes have about instant rice are its glycemic index and arsenic levels.

The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar. Foods lower on the GI scale are healthier for blood sugar control.

Regular brown rice has a medium GI of 55. Instant brown rice has a higher GI around 70.

So instant does cause a quicker surge in blood sugar. However, it’s still considered a low glycemic food. And the difference isn’t major enough to outweigh the convenience benefits of instant for most healthy people. Those with diabetes may want to be more cautious.

In terms of arsenic, this heavy metal is naturally found in rice and is a concern regarding cancer risk.

Some studies have detected higher arsenic in instant rice compared to regular. However, the arsenic levels are still within the safe limit for adults when eaten in moderation. Rinsing instant rice before cooking can also reduce arsenic levels.

Nutritional enrichment

A benefit of instant brown rice is that manufacturers often enrich it with extra vitamins and minerals.

For example, a quarter cup of enriched instant brown rice may contain:

  • 35% DV thiamine
  • 24% DV niacin
  • 25% DV folic acid
  • 6% DV iron

This helps to boost the nutritional value closer to regular brown rice. The added B vitamins and iron are especially important if switching from white to brown rice.

Fiber content

Brown rice is prized for its high fiber content. Fiber is important for digestive health, heart health and stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Luckily, studies show instant brown rice retains its fiber content during processing.

One cup of cooked instant brown rice contains around 3.5g of fiber. This is similar to regular brown rice and a significant improvement over white rice at only 0.6g per cup.

So despite drawbacks like lower manganese and selenium, instant brown rice remains a high fiber food.

Uses for instant brown rice

Instant brown rice makes a quick, healthy substitute for white rice in many dishes:

  • Stir fries
  • Rice bowls
  • Casseroles
  • Soups
  • Salads
  • Pilafs

It can be used any way you’d use regular rice. Just reduce the water slightly less than regular rice and cook for 10 minutes.

Many brands recommend cooking instant rice like pasta by boiling the rice like noodles for 5-7 minutes. This can help reduce mushiness compared to the absorption method.

Overall, instant brown rice retains more nutrients than instant white rice and contains around 90% of the fiber and minerals of regular brown rice. The glycemic index is moderately higher but still considered low GI. For a quick healthy meal, instant brown rice is a good option.

Storage and shelf life

One benefit of instant rice is its long shelf life of 1-2 years. It stores well at room temperature due to the partial dehydration process.

Once cooked, instant rice can be stored in the fridge for 4-6 days like regular cooked rice. Freezing is another option for longer term storage.

Cost difference

Instant brown rice is more expensive than regular brown rice. You may spend $1 more per pound on average.

However, keep in mind you are paying for the convenience. The time saved on cooking each meal can balance out the higher costs.

Buying larger bags rather than single serve pouches can also reduce the price. Coupons and sales are worth looking for as well.

Environmental impact

Brown rice is generally considered an environmentally friendly crop requiring less water than other grains. Some brands of instant brown rice use a steam-heating process which reduces energy and waste as well.

However, the pre-cooking and packaging does produce more processing waste than regular rice. Look for brands that use recyclable or biodegradable materials to minimize impact.

Overall, instant brown rice is comparable to regular brown rice in environmental footprint.

Taste differences

Pre-cooking instant brown rice does alter the taste and texture slightly.

Some people feel instant brown rice is mushier or waterlogged compared to fluffy regular rice. Rinsing the rice before cooking can help.

The grain itself will look more broken down as the bran layer gets disturbed during processing. But overall, the nutty brown rice flavor remains.

You can boost flavor of instant rice by cooking in broth or adding herbs and spices. Mixing with legumes like lentils also helps provide a firmer texture.


Instant brown rice makes a quick and healthy substitute for regular rice while retaining more nutrients than instant white rice.

While less nutritious than untouched regular brown rice, enriched instant brown rice still provides fiber, minerals like magnesium and phosphorus, and added vitamins.

For optimal health, limit instant brown rice to a few times a week rather than daily. But overall, the convenience and time-saving benefits make it a good option for busy schedules.

As with any processed food, moderation is key. But instant brown rice can fit into an overall balanced diet.