We commonly hear the advice to consume more whole grains as opposed to refined grains, as they’re better for us. An example of this is the recommendation to consume more brown rice instead of white rice.
But is brown rice really that much better than white rice? What if your goal is to lose weight? What kind of difference will switching to brown rice do for you?
Firstly, let’s explore the anatomical difference between brown and white rice. White rice is actually brown rice with some of its outer layers removed. If you process brown rice by removing its bran and germ layers, what you’re left with is white rice.
That explains why brown rice is typically tougher and more chewy compared to white rice. Think of it this way, when brown rice removes its helmet, it becomes white rice. (So brown rice is tougher, get it?)
The reason brown rice is almost universally considered a healthier option to white rice is because most of the micro-nutrients (E.g. Vitamin Bs, folate, iron, magnesium) and fiber of rice come from the outer layers that are not removed in brown rice.
In white rice, you get carbohydrates and calories, but without much of the original nutrients that it had before it was processed.
One major consideration of nutrition is to consume as much vitamins and minerals from whole foods, while keeping the calorie count relatively low. In that regard, brown rice trumps white rice.
Occasionally, we’ll hear someone comment that they’ve been trying to lose weight by eating a little healthier. And, the first change that they’ve decided to make is to switch from white rice to brown rice.
While switching from white rice to brown rice can generally be considered as ticking the checkbox of “eating healthier”, it’s not necessarily going to help (directly) in an individual’s weight loss goals.
Weight loss is largely about calories in vs calories out, and a bowl of brown rice actually contains slightly more calories than a bowl of white rice. This means that by simply making a switch from white rice to brown rice, you won’t be consuming fewer calories.
Which means you wouldn’t lose weight by making the switch right? Well, that’s not exactly true as well. Earlier we mentioned that while you won’t lose weight directly from switching to brown rice, it may have an indirect benefit to your weight loss goals.
Fiber is a component or nutrient in plant-based foods that’s not absorbable by our bodies. Without going into too much into detail, fiber is GREAT for us. It’s great for our health, and it also helps with maintaining or achieving a healthy weight.
Brown rice contains a significantly higher amount of fiber as compared to white rice, which means that you’ll feel full and satisfied for a longer period of time if you consume the former over the latter.
So if you find yourself getting hungry pretty quickly after a meal, and you end up reaching for snacks before the next meal comes, making the switch from brown rice to white rice may benefit you. If you consume less of these usually not-so-nutritious snacks, you’ll ultimately be consuming fewer calories and you can lose weight as a result.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the brown rice camp, however. There have been studies and reports suggesting that brown rice is not as great as we may think, as it contains more arsenic than white rice, as well as the anti-nutrient phytic acid.
Arsenic is found in soil, water and air. These naturally occurring metals are absorbed by plants and other food sources. While it can cause poisoning in large enough quantities, there still isn’t conclusive evidence on the relation between arsenic levels in rice and it’s potential risk to adult health.
Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that minimizes nutrient absorption. Once again, in large enough doses, it can cause nutrient deficiencies and other related problems. However, there has also been reports which suggest that a reasonable amount of phytic acid can actually bring about potential health benefits, such as protection against cancer.
At the end of the day, all we can say is “It’s all your choice!”
Both brown rice and white rice are by no means “unhealthy”.
However, from a nutritional standpoint, brown rice is superior to white rice. For slightly more calories, you’re actually getting a lot more nutrients, which is a pretty good deal (and we all love a good deal, right?).
With that said, white rice is (in our opinion) just that much tastier. We can’t imagine having our curry or sushi with brown rice instead of white rice!
If you’ve decided to add rice into your diet, the best course of action would be to consume a mixture of both. Pick what you like and what goes better with the dishes you’re having, and basically don’t worry too much about their differences.
The most important thing to consider is not the type though, it’s the portion. If you’re looking to lose weight, there’s no harm in reducing your calorie intake by first cutting down on rice by a third or so and work from there.
If you want to know how to easily manage your portion sizes for weight loss without calorie counting, here’s our free portion control guide to help you get started!