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Is white rice healthy? 7 effects of eating it

You would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t like white rice. It’s versatile, comforting, and can soak up any flavor you throw at it. Whether it’s the base of a burrito bowl or wrapped in a bowl, rolled in your favorite fresh sushi, or simply used as a side dish to your favorite veggie and protein dish, this grain is truly loved by many. However, knowing that it is more processed than other types of rice, many rice lovers may question its nutritional value and ask the all important question: Is white rice healthy?

A loaded question has many complex answers. On the one hand, white rice is low in fat and reasonably low in calories and can be used in a variety of healthy dishes. In contrast, white rice undergoes a good deal of processing, in which the bran, germ and husk are removed, and with it most of its fibers and nutrients.

To learn more about the potential benefits and harms of consuming this popular grain, we enlisted the help of some expert dietitians. Read on, and for more on your favorite carbs, check out 6 Healthier Breads to Eat for Weight Loss, Dietitians Say.

A look at the nutritional information

bowl of rice
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One cup of cooked white rice contains:

Macronutrients:

  • 242 calories
  • 4.4 grams of protein
  • 0.4 grams of fat
  • 53.2 g of carbohydrates
  • 0.6 grams of fiber

Micronutrients:

  • 5.6 milligrams of calcium
  • 3.7 micrograms of folate
  • 53.9 milligrams of potassium
  • 68.8 milligrams of phosphorus
  • 24.2 milligrams of magnesium
  • 0.4 milligrams of iron

How does the nutrition for one cup of cooked brown rice stack up in comparison:

brown rice
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Macronutrients:

  • 218 calories
  • 4.5 g grams of protein
  • 1.62 grams of fat
  • 45.8 grams of carbohydrates
  • 3.51 grams of fiber

Micronutrients:

  • 19.5 milligrams of calcium
  • 7.8 micrograms of folate
  • 154 milligrams of potassium
  • 150 milligrams of phosphorus
  • 85.8 milligrams of magnesium
  • 1.2 milligrams of iron

4 benefits of white rice

white rice in a bowl with a wooden spoon
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1. It is a source of energy

SecondTrista Best, MPH, RD, LD At Balance One Supplements, white rice “is a carbohydrate-rich food that provides a quick and easily digestible source of energy and may be especially beneficial for people who are physically active or need a quick energy boost.”

Carbohydrates naturally provide your body with energy whenever you eat them, but the specific effect they have depends on the type of carbohydrate. For example, refined sugars and grains will be absorbed into your bloodstream more quickly because they lack fiber, which means you may get an immediate energy boost, but may feel a crash afterward. Whole grains and other complex carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables or legumes will give you slower and more sustained energy. So, white rice may give you an “energy boost,” but it may not last as long as if you were to eat brown rice or another whole grain.

2. White rice is a gluten-free grain option

One healthy benefit of white rice is that it’s completely gluten-free, “making it suitable for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease,” says Best. “It can be a valuable food for those on a gluten-free diet and looking for alternative grain options.”

However, if you’re someone who needs to avoid gluten for medical reasons, you may want to talk to your doctor or dietician before incorporating white rice. There may be better gluten-free cereal options for your specific health needs.

3. Even when refined, it still contains some nutrients

As mentioned earlier, white rice is a processed grain, which means that many of the nutrients are removed from the grain before it hits grocery store shelves. However, this type of rice still contains some macro and micro nutrients that are beneficial for overall health.

“Despite its refined nature, white rice contains essential nutrients such as folate, thiamin and iron, which contribute to the overall nutritional intake,” she says Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD.

So even though it has lower nutrient levels than something like brown rice, all is not lost.

4. It is low in fat and cholesterol

Again, a lot depends on what your specific health goals and nutritional needs are. However, Sabat adds that white rice “is naturally low in fat and cholesterol, making it a suitable choice for people aiming to manage their weight or maintain heart health.”

However, if you’re watching your overall heart health or trying to lower your cholesterol, Harvard Health says whole grains are key due to their fiber content. So if you want to eat white rice because of its low fat and cholesterol content, make sure you balance it with other whole grains throughout the day.

3 downsides of white rice

White rice dish
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1. There are fewer nutrients than other grains

“Compared to other whole grains, white rice is more processed and stripped of its bran and germ, resulting in a lower nutritional content,” says Best.

“The refining process removes a significant portion of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in the outer layers of rice, and compared to brown rice, which retains these nutrients, white rice offers fewer health-promoting compounds,” Sabat adds.

For example, brown rice not only contains more fiber than white rice: 3.5 grams of brown rice versus 0.6 grams of white rice, but brown rice also has higher levels of other micronutrients, including iron, folate and magnesium.

2. White rice has a high glycemic index

According to Best and Sabat, one potential downside to consuming white rice is that it has a high glycemic index (GI). This means that it has a greater chance of raising blood sugar faster than foods with a lower glycemic index. That’s because it doesn’t take long for your body to process white rice.

“This can be problematic for people with diabetes or those trying to manage blood sugar levels,” says Best. “So opting for whole-grain alternatives may be more beneficial in that regard.” Sabat also adds that “consuming white rice in moderation and pairing it with foods high in fiber can help mitigate this effect.” [on your blood sugar].”

Another important thing to consider is something the UK-based National Health Service (NHS) eloquently points out regarding GI levels relative to the healthiness of a food: ‘Foods with a high GI are not necessarily unhealthy and not all foods with a low GI are healthy. For example, watermelon and sometimes parsnips are high GI foods, while chocolate cake has a lower GI,” reports the NHS.

This means that, yes, it matters how much a food raises your blood sugar, especially if you’re trying to control your blood sugar levels. However, to effectively determine whether or not a food is truly healthy, it is important to evaluate the overall effect of a food as a whole.

3. Lack of fiber

Probably one of the most important differences between white rice and other types of rice is the lack of fiber.

“The process of refining white rice removes the fiber content, which is essential for digestive health and maintaining satiety,” says Best. “Without fiber, white rice may be less filling, leading to potential overeating or less control over portion sizes.”

“Insufficient fiber intake can contribute to digestive problems, such as constipation, and can increase the risk of certain diseases such as colon cancer,” adds Sabat.

If you’re using white rice as a carbohydrate in your meal, be sure to find other ways to sprinkle with fiber, such as vegetables, fruit or beans.

RELATED: 44 best high-fiber foods for a healthy diet

So, is white rice healthy?

White rice
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As you can see, determining whether white rice is actually healthy is hard to determine. The lack of fiber and nutrients, as well as the fact that it has a high glycemic index, make white rice a less beneficial choice than other types of unrefined or brown rice.

However, if you need a delicious carbohydrate for your meal, especially something gluten-free, white rice can be a good choice, as long as it’s eaten in moderation. Right when you eat it, be sure to “incorporate a variety of other nutrient-dense foods alongside your white rice,” advises Sabat.

“Considering the potential side effects, it is recommended to consume it in moderation and to diversify the diet with healthier alternatives for people aiming for optimal health and nutrition,” says Sabat.

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