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White rice. It is a controversial food in nutrition circles. On the one hand, some nutritionists warn us away from rice and grains as a nutritionally empty source of calories, phytates, and even toxins like arsenic. Others consider it a safe starch and say it is ok in moderation.
Then, of course, there is the Japanese paradox- also known as “they eat rice all the time and live a long time so I should be able to eat pizza and Doritos and live to be 100 too” (exaggeration but I’ve heard some arguments very close to that!).
Unlike modern wheat and most other grains, which have been hybridized and modified and can be problematic for many people, rice is unique and potentially less harmful. I get asked about rice often and why I choose to eat white rice (in moderation), so I felt that it deserved its own post.
Is White Rice Healthy?
After years of debate, I’ll skip to the punch line: Whether or not rice is healthy for you could depend on your genetics.
Genes could be why some cultures that eat rice as their primary source of carbohydrates are healthier and live longer than others who do not. Also, just because some cultures thrive on white rice does not mean we can eat pizza, Doritos, and processed rice products and also expect to live to 100!
First, here are some important facts to understand when deciding whether to consume rice at all:
- Due to modern farming practices, rice may be a better choice than wheat and other grains.
- Both brown and white rice are gluten-free. Both brown and white rice are safe for people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and gluten sensitivity (unless cross-contaminated during processing, so always read the fine print on the labels!). So there is no reason to choose one over the other on this point.
- All rice contains phytates. Like anything from the grains family, rice contains anti-nutrients like phytates, which can block the absorption of important minerals.
But Aren’t Grains Bad for You?
If you are working to reverse an autoimmune disease as I have, you may be put on an elimination diet with no grains, especially if you have digestive issues. Alternatively, you may be allowed only a ½ cup of gluten-free grains, depending on your specific case.
Now that my Hashimoto’s is in remission, I don’t have to avoid grains totally.
Like any grain, large portions may increase your risk of developing heart disease. However, a 2011 study showed that combining it with black beans lowers cardiovascular risk factors. This finding may confirm that consuming it in moderation is healthiest.
As always, talk to your doctor about how much rice or grains in general you should consume.
But if you do eat rice, which is healthier? Brown or white?
Health Benefits of White Rice vs. Brown Rice
We’ve all spent time agonizing in the grocery aisle over what kind of rice to buy. Long grain or short? Jasmine or basmati? White or brown?
Experts I admire like Mark Sisson recommend brown rice over white (read his excellent article here) due to its higher nutritional content, since it still contains the bran and is less refined.
However, due to my past autoimmune issues, I have a slightly different take:
Pros of White Rice
Here are some of the ways white rice qualifies as a healthy food:
- Contains Vitamins and Minerals – White rice contains magnesium, B1 (thiamine) and B6 (pyridoxine), manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and iron. (Although, admittedly, brown rice contains higher amounts.)
- High in Antioxidants – Although not as high as pigmented varieties of rice
- Lower Phytic Acid – The bran contains the most phytic acid content, which milling removes. White rice is lower in phytic acid than most nuts, seeds, and most other grains.
- Lower Oxalates – White is also lower in oxalates than brown rice and quinoa.
- Lower Arsenic – The lowest levels of arsenic were in white (jasmine rice or basmati rice) imported from other countries. Rinsing the rice (traditionally done in many cultures) further reduced the arsenic levels on all types of rice. I’ve written extensively about the risks of arsenic in rice and what you can do about it.
- Longer Shelf Life – Since it is refined, white rice lasts longer on the shelf. (However, you can always freeze it!)
Cons of White Rice
White rice isn’t perfect, though! Here are some downsides:
- Lower Vitamins and Minerals Than Brown Rice – A 2019 study on rats showed that brown rice lowers cholesterol and has more of an antioxidant effect than white, but white still did to some extent. However, more research is needed to determine if it is the same for humans.
- High Glycemic Index – White rice has a higher glycemic index than gluten and may spike blood sugar more than many other foods. (However, you should know that a 2009 English study found that long grain rice and white basmati rice varieties have the lowest glycemic index if you do choose to include rice in your diet.)
- Often Artificially Enriched – White is typically fortified with artificial vitamins, while brown rice is not.
Remember, individual health is always a factor when assessing dietary choices. Some people may do fine with phytates, while others need to avoid them due to their genetics or a specific health reason. You may want to see how you react to rice with a glucose monitor.
When my husband and I were working to reverse our cavities (we were able to!), we had to avoid foods high in phytic acid. Brown rice was on this list.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions you’ve asked since I first wrote this post:
Is Rice Naturally Gluten-Free?
Rice is naturally gluten-free, so the most problematic part of many whole grains is already absent from rice. Therefore, it’s generally a safe choice for celiacs and gluten intolerant people, but that doesn’t mean it is healthy for everyone.
At the same time, many people need some healthy carbs, and rice can be a relatively safe starchy option. It’s one of the better choices for a gluten-free diet.
Women in particular often see adverse effects on hormones from consuming too low of a carbohydrate diet for too long. Of all the grains, white rice may be the safest option for carb consumption, along with sweet potatoes.
Check out my podcast with Dr. Tom O’Bryan to learn more about if you could have gluten sensitivity.
Is White Rice Healthy for Weight Loss?
A 2016 study demonstrated that instant white and pigmented rice might be beneficial for weight loss compared to a high-fat diet.
More research is needed to determine if regular consumption is healthy for weight loss as part of a well-rounded, healthy diet.
Does Rice Cause Diabetes?
A 2012 study claimed that white rice consumption was associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. Many questioned if this was enough of a reason to avoid rice. I was surprised by this study when it first came out since historically, Asian countries with high consumption still had a low incidence of diabetes.
However, a 2019 trial in India, the country with the second-largest number of diabetics, showed that consuming white rice increases diabetes risk while consuming brown lowers it.
I researched further and realized that the study showed merely an association between the “risk” of diabetes and rice consumption and not the actual incidence of diabetes. Paul Jaminet (author of The Perfect Health Diet) provides an in-depth explanation for the research if you’re interested.
Listen to this podcast episode with Paul Jaminet on the Perfect Health Diet, Carbs, and Cancer Research.
A 2020 study looked closer at 21 countries and found that South Asians had the highest association for white rice and diabetes while other countries had only a modest risk. This could be due to genetic differences.
What About Rice and the GAPS Diet?
If you’re following a GAPS diet, Dr. Natasha Campbell offers specific guidance here.
What’s the Verdict on Rice?
I consider rice to be in a separate category from other carbs. It doesn’t deserve the same label as most grains (especially modern grains), and it certainly isn’t as bad on the nutritional spectrum as foods like vegetable oils.
The safety of rice consumption seems to vary significantly based on the individual, their cultural background, and the rest of their diet. Some cultures even use rice water for their hair!
In my opinion, those on a high-nutrient diet devoid of inflammatory foods and who have an active lifestyle may do great with moderate rice consumption.
I especially recommend white rice as the best grain to start with if you are reintroducing grains back into your diet after a period of avoidance (properly prepared of course).
If you’d like to know more about what other health and nutrition experts believe on the topic, this post gives a nice summary.
What I Do
Personally, our family consumes organic white jasmine rice occasionally (once a week or less) with veggies. Here are some other guidelines I follow:
- We typically consume more rice and other carbs on heavy workout days or after a lot of activity.
- Before cooking rice, I pre-rinse it to help remove any remaining arsenic.
- All rice varieties still can contain trace amounts of arsenic, so it certainly isn’t one of the first foods I feed to my babies.
- I avoid any processed foods with rice since these may be higher in arsenic since I can’t rinse it off.
- I don’t consider it a “cheat” food because the idea of “cheating” goes against our food rules for creating a positive and healthy attitude about food with our kids.
Bottom line: I love occasionally enjoying some high-quality sushi after a workout or some rice in a stir fry, but I don’t consider it a staple food.
This article was medically reviewed by Cynthia Thurlow, NP, the CEO and founder of the Everyday Wellness Project, nurse practitioner, international speaker, and globally recognized expert in intermittent fasting and nutritional health. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Where do you stand on the rice debate? White? Brown? None? Share below!
Discussion (123 Comments)
But I thought you didn’t eat grains?
We eat white rice instead of brown rice for the reasons you listed above. I rinse it a few times and I soak it at least two hours. I also use organic chicken stock ( homemade) to cook it instead of water. We have been buying Lundberg brand. I have noticed our Whole Foods has slowly been eliminating their white rice varieties of this brand. Sometimes Whole Foods is so food trendy/conscious that it fails to see the benefits of traditional foods and discontinues those foods.
Yes, doesn’t soaking it and rinsing help with a lot of that (absorption and lessening arsenic)? My soaking guide recommends soaking brown rice for 8 hours before cooking for optimal digestibility and bioavailability.
We do eat small amounts of white rice around here. I usually make well-rinsed sushi rice that I make into one ounce rice balls before freezing. That creates higher levels of resistant starch.
I can warm however many rice balls I need to serve with dinner, sometimes with Asian food, sometimes to soak up chicken broth, sometimes to add to my husband’s soup.
If we’ve been hit with a bug in the winter I will make congee in the pressure cooker with well-rinsed rice and broth. Serve with kraut and lots of cilantro and garlic chile sauce and the meat of your choice. Add a squeeze of lime and it’s a kind of dry soup affair.
I wondered all the time why no oneentiones resistant starches!!! They are so important. So my question is if white cooled rice is something that actually can be eaten often? And even a good idea
Thanks for your article. Do you think that cooking in on bone broth would increase its nutritional value? Cheers, Antonio Pedro.
We don’t eat much rice. But I do confess that I like my mother-in-laws Mexican rice made with white rice from time to time.
I consider rice to be empty calories and only eat it when I’m craving sushi. Since I’m allergic to legumes and believe gluten is bad for everyone I just don’t eat many starchy foods.
This is really informative – I’ve heard many different arguments for/against rice, and the whole brown rice fad, over the years, and it’s nice to have some facts laid out side-by-side.
Personally, I prefer rice to other grains in my diet, because it is easily digestible and I tend to cook a lot of asian-influenced food. It’s also a great grain that translates well into dishes for every season. I find that varying the grains is important too, and not cooking with the same type of rice all the time. You know what they say – everything in moderation!
Katie – thank you for this post! Tell me please if you have a post on your staple foods?
I love how you pre-plan. I have been trying to do this for years haha. We also eat very clean and since being diagnosed with celiac in all 5 of my kids life has changed for us. I am also pregnant and we are getting chickens for the first time in a few weeks so seeing you do all this shows me I can too. As soon as it warms up here our garden will be going in and it will be amazing to have fresh produce again. Good luck to you and thanks for sharing!!!
I’m making beef jerky from ground beef today! It’s drying right now. I’m hoping it’s good – I need more high protein snacks for my little guy.
Why no mention of sprouting brown rice? This has been used going back many hundreds possibly thousands of years in order to eliminate the phytic acid and other enzyme enhibitors, whilst making all the vitamins and minerals easily digestible aswell as making it taste better and not being as heavy.. Eating brown rice that hasn’t been soaked or allowed to sprout is bad, but soaking/sprouting it means it becomes a very nutrient dense food, aswell as contained a GABA hormone which is good for those wanting to pack on muscle as it is a growth hormone… White rice is void of almost everything as all the gooness is in the husk….
Infact all nuts/seeds and grains should be soaked or sprouted even fermented for this same reason.
Interesting point! What do you think, Wellness Mama?
Thanks for bringing this up. I was going to mention it too… My question for Katie is, wouldn’t sprouted brown rice be healthier than white rice? Since the phytic acid is reduced and the nutrients are multiplied? Also, very curious to know your thoughts on quinoa. While not technically a grain, it is often lumped into the grain pile.
I appreciate your balanced perspective on the rice issue. When the guys were saying that “because these certain people who eat a lot of rice/carb live long & healthy, that means rice, etc is healthy” feels lacking. They’re not looking at any of the other factors that may be contributing to these people’s health. Maybe rice, when combined with lots of omega 3-rich fish, seaweed, green tea, etc has a much different effect on the body than when Americans add rice to their diets. Even those of us who strive to eat as healthy as we can, most of our diets probably do not mimic those of the Okinawans and others listed above. So I feel like in some ways, it is comparing apples with oranges. Which is why I value your balanced opinion on this 🙂
Katie - Wellness Mama
Sprouting reduces it, but doesn’t remove it, so I still stick with white. I find that some people do great with quinoa and some can’t tolerate it, so it seems to be a very personalized seed.
you’re not saying what sort of white rice are you eating, Sticky white rice is very high in starch, while longer grain white rice like Basmati is considered much healthier. I had a bowl of white rice with broth and my blood sugar level spiked up to 500,
My dad, born 1917, is from South Carolina and people in that state eat rice practically daily. My mother was born/raised in New Orleans and her family consumed rice regularly. While growing up, white rice was as common in my diet as potatoes, maybe even more so. Daddy’s family almost all lived into their nineties— his oldest sister lived past 100. Point being, not all the comparison regarding rice consumption is about Asian cultures. Daddy’s family for generations have lived in South Carolina and don’t seem to have health problems from consuming white rice. I had parents who both loved food and cooking it. Thank goodness they passed that on to me and I eat foods that make me happy and that includes white rice— I even use a little bacon grease instead of oil when cooking it. I am 70 years old, have no health problems and only go to the doctor once a year for my wellness exam.
That was really interesting to hear. Thank you so much for sharing!
Quinoa contains saponins on its outer shell, known to give poison reactions to people n farmers. This is why it says to rinse off, but some can still have negative reactions regardless. Just something to check out.
I have leaky gut syndrome and pretty severe issues with digestion after eating most all grains…including sprouted brown rice…white rice is the only grain, as well as some gluten free oats, that doesn’t give me many of the classic symptoms including undigested food. Even sprouted brown rice, soaked and cooked for hours in a crock pot will aggravate my gut a lot, however white rice is always curative. I have hyperthyroidism and I need dense nutrient rich food to balance my energy, but having a stable gut is most critical for me. I always eat small amounts of white rice when I eat it, and only eat it once a day or every other day. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the medicinal food “congee” or is white rice cooked with a lot of liquid, and one or more herbs, or meat, to nourish various parts of the body….white rice was always considered far superior to brown in terms of its ability to be digested. In my experience this has always been very true. Most likely it is the phytic acid, and could also simply the toughness of the husk.
Yes, Koreans have a similar rice dish to congee called juk or dakjuk (w/ chicken) and it’s great for when you have a cold/flu or digestive problems. It’s also a great winter comfort food even if you’re not sick.
Leaky gut is rather common in my family and I really cant imagine giving up Sticky rice (I dont eat fluffy rice anymore though.), we consume it almost daily and the left overs always get made into juk (otherwise it doesnt get eaten cause its hard.). Have you tried kimchi (a staple in korea.)? Its also a great thing to reach for when you are plagued by indigestion, The probiotics caused by the fermentation help heal the immune system, and the spices get the metabolism going. A lot of the problems caused by leaky gut were greatly toned down (and some vanished) after I started eating it regularly. I still avoid wheat/gluten I dont think its good for anybody especially since it is overused in america.
I also had leaky gut. I am gluten free and have hypothyroid. White rice seems to sit nice on my stomach and no ill effects. I don’t eat it everyday. I don’t use minute rice. I enjoy basmati or Jasmine. I enjoy rice noodles.
I live in Valencia Spain where round rice is popular in paellas. The same sort of rice that the Italians use in Risotto. If you wash it first I imagine that is as ‘safe’ as any rice. Do some white rices have more fibre than other? Should I be worried by the sugar content?
This is so interesting to read! When I first developed issues with my gut I listened to a lot of difference perspective on diets and grains etc, but honestly, when my tum is feeling tender or weak, the most nourishing calming food is basmati! So it’s cool to hear other people have a similar experience, thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you Robert you spoke my mind.Brown rice will alwAys win.for me
Adam, How do you “sprout” rice? Thank You.
This company should do more homework, I live in the Philippines and a third of the population have all types of Diabetes, In fact if your a diabetic you shouldn’t eat rice, and Ive never seen a country with so many health problems, but then again a lot of them are Hypochondriacs. Read the Articles that Say Rice can be more harmful than Sugar, Rice is a carbohydrate and when cooked and eaten actually produces more sugar, rice converts to sugar in the process.