You probably grew up being told, like I was, that wheat bread was better than white bread, that whole grains were better than half grains (or whatever the opposite of whole grains is), and that brown rice was better for you than white rice. At least when it comes to rice, that’s just not true.
Before we get to the Brown vs. White argument, let’s go over what makes up rice.
While rice is usually referred to as a grain, it is really a seed. The rice seed is made up of three main parts. The bran is outer layer which contains the fiber, phytochemicals, B vitamins, antioxidants, and the majority of the minerals.
The endosperm is the middle and largest layer and contains the protein, carbs, and small amounts of B vitamins and minerals.
The germ is the inner portion at one end of the seed that contains the fats, phytochemicals, B vitamins and antioxidants.
Brown rice has the three parts of the seed intact, whereas white rice is only made up of the endosperm. The other layers are stripped away during processing.
Let’s compare nutritional content of the rices.
As you compare the seeds, you’ll see brown rice beats white rice in nearly every category as far as nutritional content goes, which would be great if you were eating a diet of only rice. Brown rice doesn’t shine so much when combined with other foods.
Because brown rice is essentially unprocessed, it still contains substances called anti-nutrients that undermine its nutritional value. The phytic acid in brown rice can inhibit the absorption of zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium. These anti-nutrients are removed in the processing of white rice.
An Osaka University study showed that phytic acid also reduced the digestibility of proteins and fats, which can sabotage your healthy food intake. White rice does not contain phytic acid and does not cause these digestion issues.
A common touted attribute of brown rice is its fiber content. While it does contain more fiber than white rice, this amount is not significant when viewed in the context of an entire diet. The majority of our fiber should be coming from fruits and vegetables, and vegetables contain much more fiber than rice does.
Another factor to consider among the rice types is arsenic. All rice contains arsenic due to the way it’s grown. Brown rice contains more arsenic than white rice likely because the outer layer is removed during processing, leaving the inner endosperm of the white rice untainted.
Should we be concerned about the arsenic levels in rice, no matter what color? We usually turn to the FDA for such advice, and while the FDA issued guidelines in 2016 for limiting arsenic levels in infant rice cereal, we’re still waiting on published recommendations for adults.
Consumer reports went ahead and did their own analysis in 2014 and came up with a point system where they recommended people don’t exceed 7 points per week of arsenic using the following chart.
There are ways to reduce the arsenic in the rice you eat.
-Choose Basmati Rice, which is naturally the lowest in arsenic content among rice types.
-Soak rice for at least 3 hours before cooking.
-Wash rice thoroughly before cooking.
-Cook the rice in a high volume of water (6:1 ratio) and discard the water.
The big take away for me from this comparison is the anti-nutrient content and arsenic levels in brown rice. I don’t need nor want anything messing with the absorption of nutrients from the protein I eat. That stuff costs money! And, I prefer to keep heavy metals out of my meals. So truth be told, I’ll be eating white rice, given the choice between it and brown.