Rice is a staple food for over half the world’s population. It’s versatile, easy to cook, and popular in many cuisines. However, not all rice is created equal when it comes to nutrition.
The 3 Main Types of Rice
There are over 40,000 varieties of rice, but they fall into these 3 main categories:
- White rice – Milled rice that has had its husk, bran, and germ removed. The most common type.
- Brown rice – Only has the hull removed. Retains its bran and germ.
- Black rice – A rare, unpolished rice that has a blackish purple color when cooked. Rich in anthocyanins.
Since white rice has the bran and germ stripped away, it is lower in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants compared to brown or black rice.
Specifically, brown rice has 3x more fiber and about 5x more magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium and potassium than white rice. Black rice is similarly more nutritious than white rice.
This table compares the nutrients in 100 grams of cooked white, brown and black rice:
|Nutrient||White Rice||Brown Rice||Black Rice|
|Carbs||28 g||23 g||25 g|
|Fiber||0.4 g||1.8 g||2.2 g|
|Protein||2.7 g||2.7 g||3.5 g|
|Magnesium||5% DV||21% DV||20% DV|
|Phosphorus||4% DV||20% DV||15% DV|
|Potassium||1% DV||4% DV||4% DV|
|Iron||2% DV||7% DV||9% DV|
DV = Daily Value. Percentages based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Another difference is the glycemic index (GI). This measures how quickly a food spikes your blood sugar.
White rice has a high GI of 73, which can rapidly increase blood sugar levels. Whereas brown rice has a moderate GI of 68 and black rice scores even lower at 50.
This makes brown and black rice better options for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes.
Arsenic is a toxic heavy metal that contaminates many rice crops due to the way rice is grown under flooded conditions. Arsenic gets concentrated in the outer bran layer of rice.
Since bran is removed to make white rice, it has lower arsenic levels compared to brown and black rice. Therefore, white rice may be a better choice when arsenic contamination is a concern.
The Least Healthy Type of Rice
Based on nutritional quality and arsenic content, white rice is the least healthy type of rice.
Compared to other rices, white rice is:
- – Much lower in fiber, vitamins and minerals
- – Higher glycemic index which can spike blood sugar
- – Lower in antioxidants
- – But also lower in arsenic
The loss of the bran and germ during milling results in white rice being mostly starch with modest amounts of protein.
While white rice is shelf stable and convenient, the refining process strips out most of the beneficial nutrition. Regular consumption may increase risks of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease when eaten in large amounts.
Should You Avoid White Rice Entirely?
Not necessarily – white rice still has a place in a balanced diet. Here are some ways to enjoy it more healthfully:
- Eat it in moderation as part of a varied diet.
- Combine it with more nutritious foods like lean proteins and vegetables.
- Opt for enriched rice which has some B vitamins and iron added back.
- For more fiber, mix white and brown rice together.
Certain groups also need to be more mindful of white rice intake, like those with diabetes or weight management goals. Overall, brown and black rice have much greater nutritional benefits.
When comparing white, brown and black rices, white rice is stripped of its outer bran and germ making it lowest in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This makes white rice the least healthy type of rice, although it may be lower in arsenic than other rices. Enjoy white rice in moderation as part of a balanced diet or switch to healthier brown or black rice more often.