Medically reviewed by Kelly Van Gorden, MS, RD, CD
Is Brown Rice Healthy?
Knowing which foods are healthy for you can be a challenge, especially when you’re trying to understand the health benefits of common foods like brown rice. We all know that rice is included in many “healthy” meals, but that makes us wonder, is brown rice healthy? And if you’re used to eating white or sushi rice, is it worth making the big transition? The nutritional profile of brown rice tells us that the answer to this question may be a resounding yes.
Find out how brown rice can help you meet your daily nutrition goals and whether or not you should toss all of your bags of white rice—for good.
When It Comes to Nutrients, Is Brown Rice Healthy?
Ever wondered why there’s so much fuss over you eating nutritious foods? It’s because your body needs nutrients to give you energy, maintain your immune system, and delay the effects of aging. Eating nutritious meals every day can literally add years to your life. Luckily for those of us who enjoy the hearty taste of brown rice, this grain is, overall, a healthy source of nutrients. It contains nutrients like fiber, magnesium, and selenium—to name a few.
Here are a few common nutrients, minerals, and vitamins you’ll find in brown rice.
- Fiber: Good bowel movements are something everyone should have, and fiber helps with this. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. While the former dissolves in water, the latter doesn’t. Both are good for your health, just in different ways. Brown rice contains insoluble fiber which can help improve Improved bowel health, soften stools and reduce the risk of diabetes. It’s especially helpful to eat brown rice and other foods high in insoluble fiber if you suffer from hemorrhoids or constipation.
- B vitamins: Have you ever wondered what B vitamins are and how they improve your health? These water-soluble vitamins support your body’s metabolism and help it produce energy. While there are eight well-known B vitamins, the ones that can be found in brown rice are B1, which helps your cells grow and function, and B6, which is important for brain development and function of the nervous and immune systems.
- Iron: One of many brown rice nutrition facts is that brown rice contains iron. According to the USDA, 100 g of brown rice contains 0.53 mg of the mineral. If you know anything about healthy eating, you know that iron is essential. It helps your body make hemoglobin and myoglobin, both of which carry oxygen to different parts of your body.
- Magnesium: This key mineral should always be in your diet, as it plays multiple roles in the health of your brain and body. Some examples are protein formation, muscle movement, and energy creation. Not having enough magnesium in your diet may increase the risk of diseases like high blood pressure, osteoporosis, heart disease, and diabetes. According to Medical News Today, a cup of white rice contains 24.2 mg of magnesium, while a cup of brown rice has 78.8 mg. Using this comparison, it’s easy to see which is better for your health and can lower the risk of diseases.
- Copper: Copper is a mineral you find in a myriad of vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods—including brown rice. When combined with iron, copper enables your body to form red blood cells. Additionally, copper keeps your bones strong and boosts immune function.
Brown rice is classified as a whole grain, which means it still has all parts of the grain intact. These parts include the fibrous bran, endosperm, and nutritious germ. This is why you may notice brown rice has a chewy texture.
White rice, on the other hand, is a refined grain, meaning it only contains the carb-rich endosperm. Unlike brown rice, it lacks the most nutritious parts. For this reason, brown rice is always the healthier option if you want to make better food choices.
Now that you know brown rice is generally nutritious, it’s time to decide whether or not it’s a good choice for your body. Depending on your DNA, a whole-grain complex carb like brown rice could be extremely good for you and your genes. Or maybe too much brown rice can cause your weight to fluctuate because your genetic makeup isn’t built for a high-carb diet. Read on to learn about different conditions that may benefit from incorporating brown rice into their diet.
Is Brown Rice Healthy for Weight Loss?
When you are trying to lose weight, whole grains are significantly healthier than refined grains. A study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that when overweight adult females chose brown rice over white rice they significantly reduced weight, waist and hip circumference, and BMI. Brown rice can be a part of any healthy diet as long as portions are appropriate.
Although white rice is often fortified with added nutrients, brown rice is higher in insoluble fiber than its pale counterpart. Fiber helps our excretory system stay regular and remove toxins from our bodies. In fact, a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that as little as 30 grams of fiber per day could help you lose weight.1 Brown rice is also high in vitamins B1 and B6, which plays a role in the crucial metabolic process.
Is Brown Rice Healthy for People With Diabetes?
Brown rice is a whole grain and has a lower glycemic index than white rice, which means that it may be able to help regulate blood sugar levels for people who are diabetic. In fact, one study found that those who ate a diet of brown rice had a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes than those who ate a diet of white rice,2 as white is considered “high” on the glycemic index and brown weighs in at a “medium” ranking. This could also be because brown rice contains magnesium, which can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes as well.3
However, it is also worth mentioning that rice—especially brown rice—is known to contain high amounts of arsenic.
That may leave you wondering, Is brown rice healthy if it has high quantities of arsenic or other metals? For starters, arsenic can worsen diabetes symptoms. If you are diabetic, make sure that you are eating a variety of different whole grains to reap the nutritional benefits of each one. When you do buy brown rice, choose a Basmati rice from India, Pakistan, or California—these locations are lower in arsenic and will, therefore, be healthier for you overall.
Is Brown Rice Healthy for People Who Are Gluten Free?
For people who are gluten-free—whether it is an intolerance or they have Celiac disease—the top priority is to avoid any and all grains that contain gluten and will trigger an inflammatory response in their bodies. First and foremost, it’s extremely important that the rice they eat is verified to be gluten-free so that they don’t get sick. But is brown rice healthy for gluten-free individuals—like actually healthy?
One thing that gluten-free people need to worry about when eating brown rice is metal accumulation, including arsenic. As mentioned before, brown rice can contain high concentrations of arsenic, depending on where it was grown. One recent study showed that a gluten-free diet is associated with increased metal bioaccumulation.4 This includes the metals mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and cobalt. To avoid metal bioaccumulation, these individuals should eat a variety of gluten-free grains, not just brown rice.
Is Brown Rice Healthy for Your Heart?
Brown rice contains magnesium which can help your heart by regulating your heartbeat, dilating arteries, and providing the energy it needs to beat efficiently. The fiber in brown rice can also help to reduce your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and keep your cholesterol ratios balanced.
While there is no proof that eating a diet high in rice—white or brown—lowers a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), one study showed that a diet high in either type of rice is not associated with an elevated risk of CVD.5
How Can You Incorporate Brown Rice Into Your Diet?
Rice is such a versatile food, so it isn’t surprising that it’s so popular. In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health tells us it’s a staple food in over 100 countries. Now that you’ve read a few brown rice nutrition facts, you may be eager to make it a staple food in your household too. But how do you incorporate it into your diet?
- Replace white rice with brown: If you’re accustomed to eating white rice, why not consider switching to brown? You can choose from four types of brown rice—short grain, medium grain, long grain, and light brown. The time required to cook each varies.
- Make stir-fry: Stir-fry is a quick and easy dish that can be healthy depending on the ingredients used. Try throwing in some long-grain brown rice next time you’re preparing this dish. In case you need some inspiration, brown rice stir-fry with vegetables is a delectable option. You can also add soy sauce, tofu, or egg to the mix.
- Add it to soups: Brown rice can be a great addition to soups. Some specific dishes you can cook up are lentil and brown rice soup, chicken rice soup, or a vegetable and brown rice soup. It makes a perfect meal if you want something fast but healthy.
- Try it as a side dish: Just as you have white rice as a side dish, you can do the same with brown rice. Are you worried about it being bland? Add ingredients like thyme, lemon, and garlic for flavor. If you want to be even more adventurous, try toasted brown rice with mushroom and thyme.
Should You Be Eating Brown Rice?
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