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Nutrition: White Vs. Brown Rice

Posted on 2016-03-03

Rice is rice, right? Wrong. Just like other foods within the food pyramid, there are a number of nutritional differences between white rice and brown rice.

Nutritional Breakdown

To begin to understand the differences between brown rice and white rice, it’s important to learn about the nutrition facts of both. The table below illustrates the nutritional value highlights of both brown and white rice.

1 Cup Serving Brown Rice (long-grain, cooked) White Rice (long-grain, regular, cooked)
Calories 216 205
Manganese 1.8 mg 0.7 mg
Selenium 19.1 mcg 11.9 mcg
Magnesium 83.9 mg 19.0 mg
Potassium 83.9 mg 55.3 mg
Carbohydrates 45 grams 45 grams
Fiber 4 grams 1 gram
Protein 5 grams 4 grams

A line-by-line look at this table clearly shows a significantly higher nutritional value of brown rice over white rice. These differences stem with how the rice is processed and can have an impact on your health.

Rice Processing and Vitamins

The simplest way to present this is that brown rice is less processed than white rice. Essentially, brown rice is what white rice looks like before it goes through the refining process. In order to make white rice, well, white in color, lighter, and faster to cook, the outside hull is removed as is the bran. In this milling and polishing process that converts brown rice into white rice, a significant amount of vitamins are destroyed, according to The George Mateljan Foundation, as depicted below:

Vitamin/Nutrient/Mineral Amount Destroyed During Processing
B3 67 percent
B1 80 percent
B6 90 percent
Manganese 50 percent
Phosphorous 50 percent
Iron 60 percent
Fiber 100 percent
Essential Fatty Acids 100 percent

While, by U.S. law, fully polished and milled white rice must be enriched with iron and B1 and B3 vitamins, it’s not identical to the unprocessed version, with essential nutrients still being lost despite the enrichment process. Brown rice, on the other hand, involves removing only the hull. It still retains its fiber content and the kernel, which means that most of the rice’s nutrients remains intact.


With 4 grams of dietary fiber per 1-cup serving, clearly brown rice is the winner in the roughage category. Benefits of a high-fiber diet include more than normalizing the bowel, however. A high-fiber diet also helps to reduce cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels, and aids in keeping a healthy weight.


A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) examined how rice consumption and diabetes are linked. The researchers found that people who consume five or more servings of white rice a week had a 17 percent higher chance of developing diabetes versus those who ate less than one serving of white rice per month. In comparison, those who ate two or more servings of brown rice a week were found to have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 11 percent. Why does eating white rice translate to a higher risk of developing diabetes? With a glycemic index (GI) of 64 and 55 for white rice and brown rice, respectively, the researchers note that white rice generates a stronger blood glucose response than brown rice. This response is measured by the glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly food increases blood glucose levels. When examining complete nutrition benefits, good carbs have lower GI scores because blood sugar does not increase as quickly, or as much, which is in part due to the fiber content. While white rice and brown rice have essentially the same amount of total carbohydrates (45 grams per 1 cup serving), there’s a substantial difference in their fiber contents. One cup of cooked brown rice has 4 grams of fiber versus the 1 gram of fiber that white rice has. This extra fiber in brown rice helps to moderate the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream, which helps to contribute to a more stable blood sugar level than that which occurs when consuming white rice. The authors recommend replacing white rice with brown rice to help to stave off type 2 diabetes.

Heart and Health

According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, adding an additional 1-ounce serving of whole grains (brown rice is a whole grain) led to a five percent reduction in mortality risk and a nine percent reduction in death related to cardiovascular disease.

Energy Levels

Brown rice has a significantly higher level of manganese than white rice, as depicted in the first table. Just a 1-cup serving of brown rice supplies the body with 88 percent of its daily manganese needs. Manganese helps the body produce energy, which is pulled from carbohydrates and protein. It is also an important part in the synthesis of fatty acids, which plays a vital role in the health of the nervous system.


In a study of more than 74,000 nurses published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that eating whole grains is an important part of maintaining a healthy weight. Women who consumed whole grains weighed significantly less than those who choose refined grains, such as white rice. Not only did they weigh less, but they were 49 percent less likely to gain weight than those who consumed refined grains. Given the significant health benefits of brown rice compared to white rice, it is clear to see that switching out white rice for brown for healthy eating is a wise choice.