A common question that gets asked is “Which is better, white rice or brown rice?” To understand which is best, let’s look at the science behind what makes up white rice and brown rice. A grain of rice is made up of the hull, germ, bran, and endosperm. The hull is the protective outer layer that is removed because it is inedible, leaving three layers of the grain that can be consumed. When you see “whole grain” that means it contains all three layers. Refined or processed grains are stripped of the germ and bran which is what you typically see with white rice and flour, that is also used to make white bread, pasta, and desserts.
WHY ARE THE GERM AND BRAN LAYERS IMPORTANT?
More nutrients are found in the germ and bran layers of rice. Whole grain or brown rice contains nutrients such as Vitamins B1, B3, and B6, Manganese, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Selenium, Copper, Fiber, healthy fats such as Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats, and antioxidants such as Phenolics and Lignans. Fiber is concentrated in the bran portion of the whole grain that does not get broken down but is a source of insoluble fiber. White rice does not contain any fiber because the bran is removed.
This grain is completely refined and stripped of all nutrients except for the core of what makes up the grain, called endosperm. This core is made up entirely of starch. Starch is a complex carbohydrate that gets broken down into glucose molecules to be stored in the body as glycogen in your liver and muscles, or is released into your blood stream causing elevated blood glucose. Elevated levels of glucose in the blood long term can cause insulin resistance which leads to the development of metabolic disorders such as diabetes, obesity, and PCOS.
Since brown rice contains all three layers, it has all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and fatty acids mentioned above. It is also gluten free which will not cause inflammation in the intestines that sends signals to your immune system to develop antibodies that can predispose you to develop autoimmune disorders. Brown rice has been shown to help lower cholesterol, risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic disorders, cancer (such as breast, colon, and leukemia), and improve brain, bone, and digestive health. Even though it is more nutritious than white rice, do keep in mind that it still is a carbohydrate and should not be the primary focus when consuming a healthy, balanced plant based meal.
White rice is recommended to those who have inflammation in their intestines or after a gastrointestinal procedure because it is easily broken down and absorbed. However, if you do not have any of these issues, choose brown rice over white rice to get the most benefits of nutrients that brown rice provides.
WHAT ABOUT ARSENIC?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring metalloid (acts as a metal & nonmetal) that is found in soil, as well as released into the environment through pesticides and fertilizer. There are two forms, organic and inorganic. Inorganic forms of arsenic has been found in elevated amounts in rice. Even organic rice has been found to contain arsenic. Elevated amounts of arsenic can cause heart disease and diabetes, affect reproductive and neurological systems, and even certain types of cancer such as bladder, lung, and skin cancer. According to Consumer Reports Data, white basmati and brown rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S have the lowest amounts of arsenic. The highest amount of arsenic was found in the US but specifically in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
Brown rice has higher levels than white rice because it accumulates in the outer layer. You can reduce the amount of arsenic in brown rice by rinsing the raw rice before cooking wit a 6:1 ratio of filtered water or distilled water to rice. Also reduce the amount of brown rice you consume by alternating other gluten free grains which barely contain arsenic such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and amaranth.
Women who are looking to get pregnant or already are pregnant should choose brands that are low in arsenic as well as consume more gluten free grain alternatives to reduce the amount of arsenic getting transferred to the fetus and affecting the developing nervous and immune system. As for brands, I recommend Lundberg Family Farms that is located in California and tests the arsenic levels found in their rice. The results can be found on their webpage found in Resources below.