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Nutrition Mythbusting: Brown Rice Is Better Than White Rice

Nutrition Myths, Decoded – Part Deux

Article written by Joe Nissim

If you have ever watched Myth Busters, you know they answer the big questions like:

  • So exactly how hard is it to find a needle in a haystack, anyway?
  • Can water dripping on your forehead really drive you nuts?
  • Was it the chicken or the egg that came first?

In this series, I have begun talking about Nutrition myths that many of you may believe are true. In fact, when we released part I, I caught a lot of flak. But you know what they say: “If you have haters, then you must be doing something right.”

Today I am going to cover a topic that I absolutely cannot wait to talk about.  It’s something that really has never made sense to me:

Why is brown rice considered healthier than white rice? Is it really true?  Does it really matter?

Today we are going to dive in.

Myth #2: “Is brown rice better than white rice?

Chipolte Rice

Does getting white rice instead of brown rice at Chipotle make me a bad person? 

To the average person, this an easy answer.  You always get brown rice.  As everyone knows, brown rice is clean, healthy, and good for you, while white rice is dirty, unhealthy, and bad for you.

I never understood why this was such a big deal, but in the interest of not being shunned by my friends, I cook and order brown rice, even though I enjoy white rice more.

A few years ago, I decided to get to the bottom of this argument and do some of my own research.

Let’s Geek Out

Anatomy of Rice

Before we start comparing brown rice and white rice, let’s understand the main difference between the two.

This is the anatomy of a single grain of rice. Let’s break it down.

Hull: The outer part of the rice grain that is inedible by humans.  This is removed whether it is brown or white rice.

Bran & Germ: Rice bran is the vitamin-rich outer layer that surrounds the endosperm of whole grain brown rice. Rice bran (which includes the germ) accounts for 60% of the nutrients found in each rice kernel.

Endosperm: This is where all energy (carbohydrates) is stored.

How to Apply It

Brown Rice: only the “hull” is removed because humans cannot digest it.

White Rice: the “hull”, “bran”, and “germ” are all removed, leaving only the endosperm.

Therefore, the major difference between brown and white rice is that in brown rice the bran and germ parts of the grain are left in tact, while white rice has had the bran and germ removed.  That’s it!

The Arguments

There are 4 major arguments when it comes to the health benefits of brown vs white rice.  We will cover them one at a time.

  1. Brown rice has more fiber and protein than white rice.

Let’s take a look at the nutrition label here.  In order to make a real “apples to apples” comparison, I will compare:

  • the same variety of rice (Basmati)
  • produced by the same company (Lundberg)
  • use the same serving size (¼ cup)

    Brown vs. White Rice

 

As you can see, the results are stunning! Brown rice has 1 additional gram of fiber and protein! Hold your horses, I know you are excited. I can barely contain myself. A whole gram!!!
I am being sarcastic, of course. The macronutrient profile and calories of both brown and white rice are almost identical, making this argument null and void.

Void

 

  1. White Rice is “empty calories” with no nutritional value.

Let’s go back to the nutrition label (scroll up). As we mentioned above, from a macronutrient perspective, white rice and brown rice are almost identical.  This means that they have almost exactly the same amount of carbohydrates, fat, and protein per serving.  Since carbohydrates, protein, and fat are all nutrients, it renders this argument null and void.

Void

 

  1. Brown rice has more micronutrients than white rice.

Let’s go to the chart! I created a chart below showing the micronutrients (aka the amount of vitamins and minerals) in each.  In order to make a real “apples to apples” comparison, I will once again compare:

  • the same variety of rice (Basmati)
  • produced by the same company (Lundberg)
  • the same serving size (100g)

 

  White Rice (100 g) Brown Rice (100 g)
Calcium (mg) 3 10
Iron (mg) 1.49 0.53
Magnesium (mg) 13 44
Phosphorous (mg) 37 77
Potassium (mg) 29 79
Zinc (mg) 0.42 0.62
Thiamin (mg) 0.167 0.102
Riboflavin (mg) 0.016 0.012
Niacin (mg) 1.835 1.330
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.050 0.149
Folate (mg) 97 4
Vitamin B12 (mg) 0 0
Vitamin A (mg) 0 0
Vitamin D (mg) 0 0
Vitamin K (mg) 0 0

As you can see, brown rice beats white rice in most categories. Not by a staggering amount, but nonetheless brown rice wins.

There is just one giant, huge, crazy big flaw with this argument. 

Brown rice contains something called Phytate, an anti-nutrient that minimizes our body’s ability to absorb the beneficial nutrients.  Phytate (phytic acid) is found in most seeds, legumes, nuts, and grains…including rice.  Therefore, all those additional nutrients that brown rice is supposed to have, CAN NOT BE ABSORBED!  The phytates are in the hull and germ, the part left in tact in brown rice.

Cue the sad trombone…..womp, womp, womp.

Argument null and void.

Void

  1. Brown Rice has a lower glycemic index than White Rice

The glycemic index (GI) classifies foods based on how quickly and how dramatically they raise blood sugar levels. The higher a food’s GI value is, the faster it will be digested and the faster/higher it will raise blood sugar levels.

White rice typically has a higher GI value than brown rice. This means it is digested faster and raises blood sugar levels faster than brown rice. This is typically the first reason given for why brown rice is the better choice.

So let’s break down the numbers, the glycemic index is 56 for long-grain white rice and 72 for short-grain white rice.

The glycemic index of brown rice is 55, putting it about equivalent to long-grain white rice.

There you have it folks, the glycemic index of long grain white rice and brown rice are 1 point apart.

Once again, this argument is null and void.

Void

What’s really important

Even though I love disproving major arguments that the nutrition industry touts as science and truth (and putting big “void” pictures in this article), let’s talk about what’s really important here: teaching you how to comb through the bullshit and discover what’s real when it comes to nutrition.  Most nutritionists, dietitians, and so-called experts argue micro health benefits.  These are things that have very small, if any, effect on your health, body composition, and overall well being.  When it comes to making a decision over whether you should eat something or not, defer to:

  1. Your tastebuds
  2. Your goals
  3. Your macronutrient breakdown

Don’t listen to the all the garbage that the internet has to offer.  Nutrition is not a “one size fits all” science. What’s right for you may not be right for someone else.  Most, not all, nutrition arguments are written on a very narrow topic and reviewed from an extreme point of view.  Although they may appear scholarly and contain impressive studies, they do not help you smash bigger weights or look better naked.  Most importantly, listen to your body.  It is very easy to get caught up reading 100 articles with 100 different arguments on a single topic.  It’s enough to make your head explode.

I hope you enjoyed this article.  I would love to hear your feedback in the comments.
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About the Author

Nissim, Joe About the Author Pic

Joe Nissim is the founder and CEO of Strengthlete.  After leaving a lucrative career on Wall St, Joe spent three years creating and developing the Strengthlete Nutribuild system and flagship products Repair and Complete. If you’re interested in leaving dieting behind for good, join Joe at www.strengthlete.com

Sources

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2822877

http://www.fastbleep.com/biology-notes/40/116/753

http://www.ancestral-nutrition.com/why-white-rice-is-healthier-than-brown-rice/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/280554-glycemic-index-of-brown-rice-vs-white-rice/

2 thoughts on “Nutrition Mythbusting: Brown Rice Is Better Than White Rice

  1. Nice article!

    I think it’s important also to mention that brown rice and grains in general has a lot of anti-nutrients that can impede absorption of vitamins and minerals in your stomach.

    White rice is the least problematic one though since most is removed along with the hull. In all reality, grains are not supposed to be consumed by humans, this is not what nature intended.

    For pre/post workout carbs there are far better choices that are more beneficial to your health and higher in nutrients, like sweet potatoes or fruits.

  2. I switched from white rice to brown in the belief that it was better. Almost immediately I started getting the most awful cramps & it wasn’t for a few weeks that I considered that it could be from moving to brown rice. Once I switched back to white rice it completely disappeared. Anecdotal, I know, but it worked for me. Currently on a quinoa kick & it’s going even better, no bloating now either.

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