What Kind of Rice Is Best?

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Rice Types

Story at-a-glance -

  • There are more than 40,000 types of rice, including white, brown, black and wild varieties. Each has its own nutritional profile, benefits and points that invite discussion relating to how they’re grown, processed, and prepared
  • Wild rice is arguably one of the good options. It’s more nutrient-dense, has fewer calories and carbohydrates than white rice, and may aid in promoting satiety and weight loss
  • Studies show brown rice positively affects the cardiovascular, brain and nervous systems, and contains powerful antioxidants to help alleviate ailments ranging from hypertension to obesity

Rice, in one form or another, is one of the most important staple foods in the world and has been for possibly thousands of years. It supplies around 20 percent of the world's food energy,1 with the Asia-Pacific region producing and consuming 90 percent of the rice on the planet.2

Basmati rice from India, jasmine from Thailand and Arborio from Italy are growing in popularity among the more than 40,000 types, including long-, medium- and short-grain white, as well as brown, yellow, purple, red, black and other shades in between, each with subtle textures and flavor variations.3,4 These aromatic varieties can cost twice as much as plain white rice.5

Eating rice may be good for your health,6 but there are better varieties. You may have heard that brown rice is better for you than the white version.7 Technically, that's true, but if you want to ensure that your chosen rice is good for you, check how it's grown. It's extremely important to keep abreast of new information and know the path foods have taken on the way to your table.

Is White Rice Healthy at All? Why Nutrient-Rich Wild Rice Is Better

While white rice provides thiamin, folic acid8 and calcium,9 eating wild rice may be more ideal because of its more extensive nutritional profile. Cooked wild rice can provide 11 percent of the daily value (DV) in folate, vitamin B6 and niacin, and 8 percent each in riboflavin in every 1-cup serving.10 Wild rice is more nutrient-dense,11 and has significantly fewer calories12 and carbohydrates compared to other varieties.13

Wild rice also provides three times the fiber of white rice and an impressive amount (and higher quality) of protein14 due to essential amino acids such as methionine and lysine.15 "Essential" means they can't be synthesized by the body and must come from an outside source.16

Lysine has been referred to as one of the building blocks of protein, vital for optimal growth and converting fatty acids into energy, as well as lowering cholesterol and forming collagen for developing strong bones, tissues, tendons, cartilage and skin, reducing the amount of calcium lost in urine, and possibly lowering risk for bone loss known to occur with osteoporosis.17

Methionine is important for forming cartilage18 and helping arthritis sufferers19 by boosting sulfur production. It has a number of other positive uses throughout the body, such as dissolving fats in your liver20 and reducing hair loss risk.21

Minerals are another major attribute in wild rice. A single-cup serving of cooked wild rice may provide 13 percent of the phosphorus you need in one day, along with the same amount of magnesium, and 15 percent of zinc (essential for optimal heart22 and muscle function23).24 Lastly, wild rice may be a better choice for people wanting to lose weight, because it makes you feel full longer.25

How Does Brown Rice Stack Up to White Rice?

Ten percent of the daily recommended protein, as well as 14 percent of the fiber, is contained in a 1-cup serving of cooked brown rice.26 This serving also contains some amounts of selenium, magnesium and phosphorus, along with vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6.27

It's the manganese content, however, that's over the top — 88 percent of what you need in a day is present in just one serving.28 This mineral turns carbohydrates and proteins into energy,29 supports the nervous system30 and produces cholesterol to generate sex hormones.31,32

Manganese is also part of a key enzyme called superoxide dismutase, located in the mitochondria, which plays a vital role in protecting cells from free radical damage.33 What other benefits do these nutrients in brown rice have for your body? According to Organic Facts:34

"High nutritional content in brown rice proves effective in various medical conditions such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and insomnia. It has [antidepressant] properties and helps maintain healthy bones and stronger immune system."

Exchanging White Rice for Brown May Help Lower Your Type 2 Diabetes Risk

White rice is much more plentiful and available in stores and supermarkets compared to brown, black or wild rice, and it's less expensive.35 However, studies find that eating high amounts of white rice is linked to heightened Type 2 diabetes risk,36 while eating two to four brown rice servings has the opposite effect. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) says:37

"Brown rice is superior to white rice when it comes to fiber content, minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals, and it often does not generate as large an increase in blood sugar levels after a meal.

Milling and polishing brown rice removes most vitamins and minerals. In addition, milling strips away most of its fiber, which helps deter diabetes by slowing the rush of sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream."

Many are unaware that replacing white rice with the brown variety could help lower their Type 2 diabetes risk.38 A 2017 study revealed that brown rice is also a healthy option for people who want to reduce their risk for diseases like anemia, hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia and atherosclerosis, mainly because of the nutrients and compounds in it.39

If Brown Rice Is Good, Is Black Rice Better?

Sometimes called "purple" or "forbidden" rice, black rice is an Asian heirloom variety that brings the same benefits as brown rice, but along with those you also get a set of powerful antioxidants.40 Black rice has an outer shell like brown rice, making it a little more time-intensive to cook,41 but you can speed up the process by soaking it for an hour.42

Interestingly, it's possible that the darker the rice, the more potent its nutrients. Black rice has been found to contain anthocyanins43 with nutritional attributes similar to those found in blueberries and blackberries.44

That's really good news, since studies show that anthocyanins may help fight serious health issues, such as cancer and heart disease.45,46

Researchers tested black rice bran and found it was a "useful therapeutic agent for the treatment and prevention of diseases associated with chronic inflammation." Black rice also decreased dermatitis symptoms in studies, while brown rice did not.47

A Scary New Play: 'Arsenic and Today's Rice'

In 2012, following the release of a report discussing arsenic being found in apple and grape juice, Consumer Reports conducted numerous tests on rice:

"In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern. Moreover, the foods we checked are popular staples, eaten by adults and children alike."

Foods tested included Rice Krispies cereal, which had relatively low levels of arsenic at 2.3 to 2.7 micrograms per serving, and Barbara's Brown Rice Crisps, which tested higher — from 5.9 to 6.7 micrograms per serving.48

Perhaps most disturbing is that "worrisome" arsenic levels were also found in infant cereals for babies between 6 and 12 months old.49 A 2009 to 2010 EPA study lists rice as having a 17 percent inorganic arsenic level behind fruits and fruit juices, which had 18 percent, and vegetables with 24 percent.

While the USA Rice Federation says there's nothing to be concerned about because inorganic arsenic is a "natural substance," the article maintains that:50

"Inorganic arsenic, the predominant form of arsenic in most of the 65 rice products we analyzed, is ranked by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as one of more than 100 substances that are Group 1 carcinogens. It is known to cause bladder, lung and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers."

A Center for Public Integrity article also reported:51

"EPA scientists have concluded that if 100,000 women consumed the legal limit of arsenic each day, 730 of them eventually would get lung or bladder cancer."

How Did Arsenic Get Into the Rice?

The arsenic in rice is due to the crop being grown in contaminated soils.52 How arsenic got in the soil is a study in history. More often than not, farming operations have involved the addition of harmful toxins in pesticides and herbicides53,54 (not to mention concentrated animal feeding operations — CAFOs — which in recent decades have made food production a far different scenario from the local, sustainable farm model most informed food consumers would hope for). As a Consumer Reports article explains:55

"Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants. That's in part because it is one of the only major crops grown in water-flooded conditions, which allow arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in the grains ... (The) south-central region of the country has a long history of producing cotton, a crop that was heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades in part to combat the boll weevil beetle."

Rice Recommendations

Due to health benefits provided by some types of rice, it may not make sense for everyone to eliminate them from their diets entirely. A recommendation, however, would be to reach for organic varieties as often as possible, whether it's organic white, brown or wild rice, and if you're not sure of the source, limit or, even better, avoid your consumption to minimize your risk of arsenic exposure.

Also, ensure all your carbohydrate sources are as unprocessed as possible, free of pesticides and chemical additives, and not genetically modified, and don't forget to restrict net carb consumption to less than 50 grams per day.

+ Sources and References