Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Rice: White or Brown?


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Rice is at the center of the Japanese diet.  “You literally can’t talk about eating in Japan unless you talk about rice.  When someone doesn’t have rice at a meal, they make a point of noting its absence”, says Elizabeth Andoh, an American associated with “A Taste of Culture, a Tokyo cooking school.   Her new book Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions (Ten Speed Press) was published on October 19, 2010 (in the US).

But Japan like other countries are adapting the Western diet and patterns of disease that accompanies it.  People in Japan live longer than anyone else in the world — until they move to the United States. In Japan, the traditional diet consists mainly of rice, vegetables, fish, shellfish and meat.  When they move to the U.S., they are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer than people who remain in Japan.

Most native Japanese say they mostly eat white rice but stay slim, so why don’t they gain weight like we do when we eat white rice?  I would suggest that It’s because of the other dishes that go along with the rice.  They are more fish and veggie eaters than meat eaters.  I would also assume that their portion sizes are considerably smaller than ours – most countries are appalled at the amounts of servings Americans eat.

With all the recent promotion of whole grains being a healthy choice, I wondered if brown rice is really any better than the typical white rice associated with Asian cooking.

Brown rice has not been milled leaving the bran intact and preserving the whole grain. Traditionally, brown rice has been a staple around the world and was considered a food for the poor or a substitute during food shortages.  Brown rice is an outstanding source of soluble fibers, beta-glucan and pectin, often claimed to lower blood cholesterol levels.  One cup of brown rice provides:

  • 5 grams of protein
  • 3.5 grams of fiber
  • 21% of the DV for magnesium
  • 88% of the DV for manganese
  • 27% of the DV for seleniu

In contrast, one cup of white rice provides:

  • 4 grams of protein
  • 1 gram of fiber
  • 5% of the DV for magnesium
  • 27% of the DV for manganese
  • 17% of the DV for selenium

For celiac disease sufferers, brown rice flour can be an excellent alternative to gluten-containing products.

What is the Healthy Evidence?

In 2007, a study in the British Journal of Nutrition reported on the effects of rice bran on colon cancer.  In mice, rice bran reduced intestinal adenomas (benign tumors) linked to colon cancer.  A 2010 study in Nutrition Journal reported that germinated brown rice reduced cancerous colon tumors in rats, in which cancer had been induced.

In a study of 200,000 men and women for 14-22 years, those who ate at least 5 servings of white rice per week had a 17% higher risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate less than one serving a month.

For comparison, people who ate at least two servings of brown rice a week had an 11% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than in those who ate less than one serving a month.  Arch. Intern. Med. 170: 961, 2010.

Brown rice may protect against diabetes because it has more fiber and magnesium than white rice and because it raises blood sugar less than white rice does.

These studies follow the typical pattern of switching to whole grains over refined grains.


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2 thoughts on “Rice: White or Brown?

  1. Also, any rice is a fantastic way to start the morning with eggs and salt. I know this usually goes against traditional methods of “healthy American.” However, by intaking salt in the morning instead of sugar, you body will better absorb the water you drink during the day.
    Thanks for the great article!


  2. Brown rice does take a bit of getting used to though – especially if you are not used to the nutty taste.


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