Whenever I think about Brown vs White Rice, my thoughts drift back to a comedy sketch. The Two Ronnies was a huge hit in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It has not aged well. It was a decidedly non-pc spoof of ancient Chinese proverbs. This one went something like ‘he who eats brown rice will sit often, and for long periods’.
The thing is, cringy retro comedy aside, there is an element of truth here.
Brown rice has the husk and germ that the more processed white rice lacks. Being high in fibre (and many other nutrients) will certainly help with your bowel movements!
For me, the whole ‘brown rice is good for you, white rice is bad’ is an unhelpful simplification. Both have their place in a balanced diet. This page takes brown rice and white rice head-to-head – covering the differences and benefits of each variety in depth.
Many people think of brown and white rice as distinctive forms. In fact, all rice starts off as brown. What we see as ‘normal’ rice is simply the brown version stripped of its husk and germ. White rice is stripped down brown rice. You might find the word ‘processed’ used. This risks lumping white rice in with processed foods in general – which is not helpful to any discussion. I prefer, stripped-down.
That husk and germ contain a lot of fibre and nutrients.
When you remove them, you are reducing the fibre content of your rice by 68%, minerals including phosphorous completely and iron, vitamins, and antioxidants by more than 2/3rds.
What is left with white rice is the starchy section. This is pure carbohydrate. It has a high glycaemic index. This describes the speed with which it spikes your blood sugar, creating an insulin response.
Lets not forget the practical differences. Brown rice takes a long time to cook – commonly twice as long as for white rice. This form has a nuttier taste. I love it, though can understand that not everyone does.
Brown rice just won’t work with some kinds of dishes. Sweets (rice pudding and so on), paellas and sushi spring to mind – though there are many more.
White rice is easy on the stomach, easy to cook and is super-versatile.
The next sections cover the benefits of each type of rice.
Brown rice does not just contain a few more nutrients than white rice, it crushes on just about every measure.
Fibre is a big component. A high-fibre diet is a positive for heart disease and digestive health. With brown rice the husk is super-fibrous. A mid-sized 200g serving provides almost all of your daily requirements of fibre. Add a few healthy vegetables, and your digesting health gets a boost.
Minerals are essential for life. Iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc and selenium form the building blocks of chemicals that create proteins, hormones and specialised cells that keep us healthy. Brown rice contains between 2x and 4x the quantity of minerals – plus up to 3x the amount of vitamins when compared to white rice.
Antioxidants are contained in the germ and husk of brown rice. Removing these parts will take away these vital compounds.
In some countries – especially the USA – white rice gets ‘enhanced’. Vitamins are added, especially B-vitamins and folic acid. This is not normal practice in the UK.
White rice has plenty of nutrients left in it. Iron, folate, and small amounts of minerals are all present. There is some protein and traces of fat. Most of the content is carbs. This breaks down quickly, causing a spike in insulin as your body processes them.
A big plus for white rice is that most people find it easy to digest. Allergies are super-rare, and bowel irritation is not associated with white rice. It is also a ‘least bad’ option for many people that eat higher GI carbs with every meal. Compared to wheat (pasta, pastries) and potato products, the spikes in insulin and ‘carb crash’ that often follows is smaller.
Nobody wants to eat arsenic. Rice has been associated with this – though it is not a natural part or by product of the plant. The scare involved contaminated soil, which led to traces of this being found in the husk of brown rice. While this kind of thing gets all the publicity, it is a contamination incident.
Fibre is a plus for almost everyone. Some people eat a low-fibre diet deliberately. Reasons include inflammatory bowel disease and other digestion-related conditions. Some of the nutrients are not compatible with kidney disease. In both of these cases, white rice (if any) would be your first choice.
Most people eat way to many high-GI carbs. Replacing them with leafy greens is a quick win. That said, carbs are important. I strongly recommend you start reducing the portion size for rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes. You will be amazed how quickly you adjust, and how much livelier you will feel after eating.
Brown rice is super-tasty. While it takes longer to cook, this should not stop anyone from getting the benefits. A little planning, and you will boost your dietary fibre, mineral intake, and vitamins. You will also benefit from the carbohydrate portion hitting your blood stream slower – putting less strain on your insulin response.
White rice has an important role. This is easy on the gut and works with a wide selection of foods – both sweet and savoury. It has the added benefit of being the ‘least bad’ – especially compared to pasta and spuds. Small portions are a great way to get your carb intake, while going easy on your intestines.
There is no ‘best’ rice. Brown has more health benefits, though fewer uses. If you are (like most people) defaulting to white rice… why not give brown rice a try?
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