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Is Rice Part of a Healthy Diet?

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By Adda Bjarnadottir

Rice is one of the most widely consumed grains in the world.

It's mostly comprised of simple carbs, which have consistently been linked to obesity and chronic disease.

However, countries with a high rice intake have low levels of these exact diseases.

So what's the deal with rice? Is it weight loss friendly or fattening? This article gets to the bottom of this question.

What Is Rice?

Rice is a cereal grain that has been grown for thousands of years. It's a staple food in many countries and one of the most common cereal grains in the world.

Several types are available, but varieties of white rice are the most popular, followed by brown rice (1, 2).

To better understand these different types, it's best to start with the basics.

All whole grains are composed of three major components (3):

  • Bran: A rough and hard outer layer that protects the seed. It contains fiber, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Germ: A nutrient-rich core containing carbs, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other plant compounds.
  • Endosperm: This is the largest part of the grain. It consists almost entirely of carbs (starch) and a small amount of protein.

This diagram shows what whole grains versus white grains look like:

Brown rice is an intact whole grain that contains both the bran and germ. Therefore, it's nutritious and rich in fiber and antioxidants.

On the contrary, white rice has had both the bran and nutritious germ removed, ultimately stripping it of all its nutritional parts. This is generally done to improve its taste, prolong its shelf life and enhance its cooking qualities (4).

As a result, white rice varieties are almost entirely made up of carbs in the form of starches or long chains of glucose known as amylose and amylopectin.

Different types of rice contain different amounts of these starches, which affects their texture and digestibility. Rice that does not stick together after cooking is high in amylose, while sticky rice is generally high in amylopectin.

Because of these variations in starch composition, different types of rice can have different health effects.

Summary: Rice is the most commonly consumed cereal grain in the world. White rice is the most popular type, followed by brown.

Brown Versus White Rice

Since nothing has been stripped from brown rice, it is generally higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals than white rice.

The table below compares the nutrient contents of 3.6 ounces (100 grams) of cooked white and brown rice (5, 6).

White rice is higher in calories and contains fewer nutrients and fiber than brown rice.

Summary: Brown rice contains more fiber and nutrients than white rice, which has been stripped of its nutritional parts.

Rice's Effects on Weight Loss Are Conflicting

While brown rice's effects on weight loss are pretty well established, white rice's effects are not.

People who eat whole grains like brown rice have repeatedly been shown to weigh less than those who don't, as well as be at a reduced risk of weight gain (7, 8).

This could be attributed to the fiber, nutrients and plant compounds found in whole grains. They may increase feelings of fullness and help you eat fewer calories at a time (9).

One 12-year study in women observed that those with the highest intake of dietary fiber from whole-grain foods had almost a 50 percent lower risk of major weight gain, compared to those with the lowest intake (7).

It has also been suggested that eating brown rice instead of white may lead to weight loss and more favorable blood fat levels (10, 11).

However, when it comes to white rice, the studies are a little more inconsistent.

Numerous studies have shown that a dietary pattern high in refined grains like white rice is linked to weight gain and obesity (7, 12, 13).

At the same time, other studies have not found a link between white rice or refined grain consumption and weight gain or central obesity (14, 15).

In fact, white rice consumption has even been linked to a reduced risk of weight gain, especially in countries where it's a staple food (16, 17, 18, 19, 20).

One study in overweight Korean women showed that a weight loss diet that included either white rice or mixed rice (brown and black) three times per day resulted in weight loss.

The mixed-rice group lost 14.8 pounds (6.7 kg) over a six-week period, while the white-rice group lost 11.9 pounds (5.4 kg) (2).

Therefore, it appears that both types can be included in a weight loss diet.

Nevertheless, brown rice has the advantage of being higher in fiber and nutrients than white rice, making it the healthier choice.

Summary: Brown rice has been linked to weight loss and favorable blood fat levels. Most studies have found either no link between white rice and weight change or associated it with weight loss.

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