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Brown rice is crude, unpolished whole grain that contains several nutrients, mainly found in the bran layer that gives it a distinctive color. The types of fatty acids and aromatic compounds in different brown rice varieties give each a distinctive aroma and flavor.
Whole grains such as brown rice have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain forms of cancer. (1)
One cup of cooked brown rice provides:
- 216 calories
- 5 g protein
- 2 g fat
- 45 g carbohydrates, of which 3.5 g is fiber
- 12% of the daily value of thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 15% of the daily value of niacin (B3)
- 14% of the daily value of vitamin B6
- 20% of your daily magnesium requirement
- 16% of your daily phosphorus requirement
- 88% of your daily manganese requirement (2)
Many varieties of whole grain and brown rice are available. The color of the rice is determined by the content of anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds found in plants.
Health Benefits of Brown Rice
As brown rice is a whole grain, it boasts several positive health benefits.
1. Promotes heart health
A 2016 study linked whole-grain consumption with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, perhaps due to the phenolic compounds found in them. (4) However, more studies are needed to understand and confirm these claims.
Substituting white rice with fiber-rich brown rice and consuming it as part of an overall healthy, well-balanced diet can help improve your cardiovascular health.
2. Helps to control blood sugar
Many diabetics think they cannot eat rice as it may spike their blood sugar levels. However, brown rice is lower on the glycemic index scale and is digested slowly, resulting in a smaller change in blood sugar when compared with white rice.
Various studies have favored using high-fiber brown rice instead of white rice to lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in prediabetic individuals, as well as reducing fasting insulin response and hemoglobin A1c levels in diabetic individuals. (5)(6)(7)(8)
More research is needed to determine the compounds responsible for this effect and the mechanisms by which brown rice is beneficial.
Brown rice can help improve blood sugar levels and endothelial function in people with diabetes as opposed to white rice, quite possibly due to its higher fiber content. But it is still important to discuss your overall carbohydrate intake with your physician or dietitian.
3. Serves as baby food
Whole-grain infant cereals such as brown rice are one of the first solid foods offered to babies once they reach the appropriate age. They are considered much more nutritious than refined grains.
However, arsenic and other metals have been found in rice and rice-based baby foods. (9) Thus, more research is needed to determine the long-term safety of rice-based infant cereals and to evaluate the health claims of brown rice in infant foods.
Brown rice is considered more suitable for babies than white rice or other refined cereals because it provides more vitamins, minerals, and indigestible fibers that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. However, you must consult your pediatrician before feeding your baby anything new.
Other Health Benefits of Brown Rice
1. Lowers cholesterol
The soluble fiber and oil in brown rice have been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol) levels.
ALSO READ: Foods to Lower Your Cholesterol Levels
2. May protect against cancer
One study found that fermented brown rice and rice bran helped to control tumor growth in rats and may help to prevent prostate cancer. (14)
3. Maintains nervous system health
Brown rice is a great source of manganese, which helps produce necessary fatty acids and hormones in the body that contribute to a healthy nervous system. Magnesium, also found in brown rice, helps to balance the body’s calcium, which helps to regulate nerves and muscles.
The vitamins in brown rice have been linked to the prevention of many brain disorders caused by oxidative damage. (15)
4. Boosts immune function
Brown rice contains many vitamins, minerals, and powerful plant compounds that support immune system function. Additionally, brown rice contains antioxidants that help fight free radicals that cause damage in the body. High diet quality is key in keeping the immune defenses strong. (16)
Brown rice is associated with several health benefits. However, many of these claims were findings of studies done on animals and have not been proven in human trials. More research is needed to determine the efficacy and mechanisms of brown rice in relation to particular health conditions.
Proper Selection and Storage
Rice can be bought in bulk as well as prepackaged. When purchasing brown rice in a package, check for the “use by” or “best by” date, as the oils in brown rice can go rancid after a while.
It is best to keep dry brown rice in the refrigerator or freezer to extend the shelf life of the grain. If kept in an airtight container, brown rice will keep for about 6 months.
a. Brown rice and drug interactions
Brown rice is generally regarded as safe. There are no side effects from normal, moderate consumption of brown rice.
b. Brown rice allergy
An allergy to brown rice is common in Asian countries or other areas where rice is consumed daily as a staple food source.
In areas where rice is cultivated, more allergies occur from contact with rice pollen than from consuming rice. Individuals allergic to brown rice may have a reaction when consuming rice or when handling rice while cooking. Brown rice allergy may cause gastrointestinal distress and skin reactions.
Rice proteins tend to be safer than wheat, dairy, or soy and are not typical allergens. An allergic reaction to brown rice may be due to cross-contamination with another allergen during processing or cooking.
Most-Asked Questions About Brown Rice
Why is there a price difference between brown and white rice?
White rice has a higher market demand and is produced at a larger scale than brown rice.
Brown rice also has a shorter shelf life than white rice. Hence, more resources are used to preserve brown rice during transportation and storage and to get it to markets/stores on time. All of these factors make brown rice more costly.
How much brown rice should you eat in a day?
Brown rice can be enjoyed in a ½–1 cup serving per day.
Does brown rice contain arsenic?
Brown rice has 80% more arsenic than its white counterpart. Arsenic is pulled into the grain through the soil and stored in the outer layers. These outer layers are removed during processing into white rice. Eating brown rice in moderation will not be harmful to your health.
Is brown rice gluten-free?
All rice is gluten-free. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat products.
What is germinated brown rice?
Germinated brown rice is brown rice that is sprouted. Germinated rice has more gamma-aminobutyric acids (GABAs), which offer health benefits. (17)
Are brown rice and white rice the same?
No, brown rice and white rice come from the same plant but have some key differences:
- Brown rice is the edible, unpolished grain that is left after removing the hull. Brown rice has a bran layer, a germ, and an endosperm. White rice is the same grain of brown rice but has had the bran layer removed and is then polished.
- Brown rice is slightly lower in calories than white rice.
- Brown rice also has more fiber, minerals, and vitamins than white rice. Due to its fiber content, brown rice also has a lower glycemic index than white rice.
- Brown rice has a nuttier flavor and a chewier and denser texture than white rice.
Are brown rice and quinoa the same?
Quinoa is also a healthy whole grain like brown rice, but it has more protein and fiber and a slightly higher calorie count. Both these starches are gluten-free and make for excellent side dishes.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Alex Roberts, MS, CD (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist)
Rice is a versatile grain, a food staple, enjoyed by people all over the world, especially in Asia. Rice comes in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Of all the varieties, white and brown rice are the most popular.
Rice consists mostly of carbohydrates with small amounts of protein and minimal fat. It is considered a healthy carbohydrate option when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.
No. If not eaten in excessive quantities, brown rice is not bad for your health. A half-cup of cooked rice is the average serving size.
Arsenic, a toxic chemical naturally found in the environment, has been found in rice and rice-based products. There have been some studies that show brown rice is higher in arsenic than white rice. (18)
Levels of arsenic have been increasing in some areas due to pollution. If consumed in moderation, a few servings a week, arsenic levels are not of concern. However, if excessive amounts of rice are consumed daily, one may want to decrease their intake to avoid the risk of chronic diseases.
It can aid in weight loss if consumed as part of a healthy diet. Whole-grain consumption is recommended as part of a healthy diet.
Brown rice contains fiber, which can help with digestion and the feeling of fullness. (19)(20)
Brown rice is a whole grain and hence considered healthier than white rice. This means it contains all parts of the grain, including the fibrous bran, the nutritious germ, and the carb-rich endosperm. (6)
In white rice, the bran and germ are removed, leaving it with very few essential nutrients. For this reason, brown rice is usually considered a healthier option than white rice. Plus, brown rice has more nutrients than white rice. Brown rice contains fiber, which can lower cholesterol. It is also good for antioxidant production.
Brown rice contains selenium, which plays an important role in thyroid hormone production, and magnesium, which helps with muscle contraction and bone development. (21)
In addition, brown rice contains plant compounds called lignans that help protect against heart disease. Studies have shown lignans can reduce the amount of fat in the blood, lower blood pressure, and decrease inflammation in the arteries. (22)
Whole grains are a preferred source of carbohydrates over refined grains, especially for people who have diabetes or impaired insulin sensitivity.
Whole grains, like brown rice, have higher fiber content than refined grains (white rice). Brown rice also contains protein, which has been shown to help with blood glucose control.
Yes. However, it is recommended to stop eating a couple of hours before bedtime for better digestion and to avoid feeling full.
Brown rice is as versatile as white rice, so it can be consumed in the same way as white rice. However, take your taste preference into consideration. Brown rice has a nuttier flavor and chewier texture than white rice.
Brown rice usually needs to be rinsed under running water before cooking to remove dirt and debris. Also, brown rice takes longer to cook due to its fibrous layers that have been removed in white rice.
Brown rice is a whole grain that is unrefined and unpolished, has a chewy texture and nutty flavor, and is grown in the same areas as white rice.
Brown rice comes in a variety of types, similar to white rice. It contains more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white rice. Eating whole grains such as brown rice provides many health benefits.