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What Is the Healthiest Type of Rice?

Health + Wellness
Marco Verch / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Rice is a staple food in many countries and provides billions of people around the world with an inexpensive, nutritious source of energy.


There are many varieties of this popular grain that differ in color, flavor and nutritional value.

Some are abundant in nutrients and powerful plant compounds that benefit health, while others have less impressive nutrition profiles.

This article discusses the most nutritious types of rice and why you should choose certain varieties over others.

Healthy Varieties

The following varieties of rice have nutritional characteristics that make them stand out from others.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is whole-grain rice that has had the outer protective shell, known as the hull, removed. Unlike white rice, it still contains the bran layer and the germ — which both pack a significant amount of nutrients.

For example, brown rice bran contains the flavonoid antioxidants apigenin, quercetin and luteolin. These compounds play an important role in disease prevention.

Regular consumption of foods rich in flavonoids has been linked to a lower risk of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and certain cancers (1, 2).

Brown rice provides similar numbers of calories and carbs to white rice, which has had the bran and germ removed. However, the brown variety has about three times more fiber and is higher in protein (3).

Both fiber and protein promote feelings of fullness and can help you maintain a healthy weight. What's more, choosing brown over white rice can help regulate blood sugar and insulin, a hormone that supports healthy blood sugar levels (4).

A study in 15 overweight adults demonstrated that those who ate 7 ounces (200 grams) of brown rice for 5 days had significantly lower fasting blood sugar and insulin levels than those who consumed the same amount of white rice.

Additionally, the brown rice group experienced a percentage change in fasting insulin that was 57% lower than the 5-day percentage change observed in the white rice group (5).

As a result, brown rice may be a better choice for those with diabetes. What's more, it's high in magnesium, a mineral that plays an essential role in blood sugar and insulin metabolism (6).

Black (Forbidden) Rice

Black rice varieties, such as Indonesian black rice and Thai jasmine black rice, have a deep black color that often transitions to purple when cooked.

This type is sometimes referred to as forbidden rice, as it's said to have been reserved for royalty in ancient China.

Research shows that black rice has the highest antioxidant activity of all the varieties, making it a nutritious choice (7).

Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells from damage caused by an excess of molecules called free radicals, which contribute to a condition known as oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress has been associated with the progression of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, certain cancers, and mental decline (8).

Black rice is particularly rich in anthocyanins, a group of flavonoid plant pigments that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Anthocyanins have been shown to have potent anticancer properties as well. Population studies suggest that higher consumption of anthocyanin-rich foods is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers, including colorectal cancer (9).

What's more, in test-tube research, anthocyanins derived from black rice effectively suppressed the growth and spread of human breast cancer cells (10).

Red Rice

Red rice varieties, such as Himalayan red rice and Thai red cargo rice, are deeply pigmented and contain an impressive array of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds.

This type is higher in protein and fiber than white rice varieties, but where it really shines is in its antioxidant content.

Like black rice, it's packed with flavonoid antioxidants, including the anthocyanins apigenin, myricetin, and quercetin.

In fact, research shows that red rice has significantly more potential to fight free radicals and contains higher concentrations of flavonoid antioxidants than brown rice (11).

Flavonoids can help decrease inflammation in your body, keep free radical levels in check, and may reduce your risk of chronic conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes (12, 13).

Wild Rice

Though wild rice is technically the seeds of aquatic grasses, it's popularly used like rice in the kitchen.

It's recognized as a whole grain and contains about three times more fiber and significantly more protein than white rice, making it a more filling choice (3, 14).

Additionally, it's been linked to a number of health benefits in animal studies.

For example, rodent studies indicate that replacing white rice with wild rice effectively reduces triglyceride and cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress — big risk factors for heart disease (15, 16, 17).

Wild rice is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, magnesium and manganese. What's more, research shows that its antioxidant activity is up to 30 times greater than that of white rice (18).

Summary

Brown, black, red and wild rice are all nutritious options that contain an impressive array of nutrients and disease-fighting plant compounds.

Less Nutritious Varieties

There isn't anything wrong with eating white rice or packaged rice blends in moderation, but they lack the nutritious qualities of the varieties mentioned above.

White Rice

White rice has had the husk, bran, and germ removed. Though this process extends the shelf life of the final product, the nutrients and beneficial plant compounds found in the bran and germ are lost during processing.

As a result, it contains less fiber, protein, antioxidants, and certain vitamins and minerals than brown rice.

Since white rice is lower in fiber and protein, it's also less filling and has more of an impact on blood sugar than brown rice (19).

It's much lower in antioxidants than brown, black, red, or wild varieties as well (20, 21).

Pre-Made and Packaged Blends

While certain packaged rice blends can make a healthy choice, many others are high in calories, sodium, and unnecessary ingredients.

For example, a 1-cup (150-gram) serving of Uncle Ben's Teriyaki Flavor Ready Rice packs 870 mg of sodium — nearly 38% of the recommended intake (22, 23).

Consuming too much sodium can increase your risk of serious health conditions, such as heart disease and stroke (24).

Additionally, processed products can contain added sugars, artificial colorings, and preservatives — ingredients that you should limit for optimal health (25, 26).

Summary

White rice and packaged rice products are less nutritious than brown, black, red, or wild varieties. Only eat them occasionally and in moderation.

Which Type Should You Choose?

Research shows that consuming whole grains over refined grains improves health.

For example, a study in more than 197,000 people found that replacing 50 grams per day of white rice with the same amount of brown rice was associated with a 16% lower risk of type 2 diabetes (27).

Whole grains are also linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity and certain cancers (28).

Therefore, choosing whole-grain brown, red, black, or wild rice is an excellent choice for health.

Plus, these varieties are richer in disease-fighting antioxidants. Consuming a diet high in antioxidant-rich foods can benefit health in many ways.

Studies demonstrate that people who consume more dietary antioxidants — such as those in brown, red, black or wild rice — have lower risks of conditions like metabolic syndrome, depression, certain cancers, and heart disease (29, 30, 31, 32).

Though white rice is healthy in moderation, replacing it with whole-grain varieties is sure to provide more nutrients.

If you frequently consume ready-to-eat rice meals or other packaged rice products, try one of the healthier varieties listed above.

Preparing your own rice allows you to determine what ingredients you would like to add or leave out of your recipe. This can drastically cut down on your intake of sodium and other additives like preservatives and added sugars.

Summary

Whole-grain brown, red, black or wild rice varieties can make nutritious additions to your diet. Try preparing your own rather than buying pre-made products.

The Bottom Line

Choosing certain rice varieties over others can be a simple way to improve your diet.

Whole-grain rice varieties contain the bran and germ, providing more of specific nutrients like fiber, protein, antioxidants, and certain vitamins and minerals.

Choosing whole-grain over white rice can benefit health in many ways and may even reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Making a point to choose rice that's higher in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants over refined products is a smart and easy way to boost health.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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