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Sushi, burritos, Buddha bowls…so many dishes are made infinitely better by the addition of rice. But when it comes to this tasty and versatile grain, does it matter if you choose white rice instead of brown rice? Let’s get down to the bottom of this, once and for all.

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white rice vs brown rice
mckenzie cordell

What’s the Difference Between White and Brown Rice?

White rice and brown rice both start out as the same grain. But then white rice goes through a refining process called pearling. During pearling, the grain passes through a machine that rolls it and “pearls” off its bran, leaving white kernels. Once rice has gone through the pearling process, it’s considered a refined grain instead of a whole grain. Pearling changes the nutritional profile of rice, shortens the cook time and extends the shelf life.

What’s the Nutritional Info for White Rice?

One cup of cooked white rice:

  • Calories: 242
  • Fat: 0.4 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 53.2 grams
  • Fiber: 0.6 grams
  • Protein: 4.4 grams

What’s the Nutritional Info for Brown Rice?

One cup of cooked brown rice:

  • Calories: 216
  • Fat: 1.8 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 44 grams
  • Fiber: 3.5 grams
  • Protein: 5 grams

So, White Rice vs Brown Rice: Which Is Healthier?

Overall, brown rice is the healthier option. In general, whole foods are better for you than refined foods, and as we’ve determined, the pearling process means that white rice is no longer a whole grain.

The rice’s bran and germ both contain valuable nutrients, making brown rice a better source of antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals, fiber and a small amount of protein. It’s also the preferable option if you’re watching your weight. In 2018, researchers studied 437 Japanese factory workers. They found that those who ate a lot of white rice for a year gained weight, whereas those who ate less white rice maintained their weight. Those who ate brown rice, however, maintained their weight regardless of how much they consumed.

Wait. What About That Whole “Brown Rice Has Arsenic” Thing?

A 2014 report by the Food and Drug Administration concluded that arsenic can be present in brown or white rice, but it’s more likely to be found in brown rice since the arsenic is in the bran (which, as we learned earlier, is only found in brown rice). Don’t be too worried, though: The FDA concluded that it might be better for women to avoid rice during pregnancy, and for children to avoid rice until the age of 6. They called for further research to establish how much arsenic is present in rice and other foods, and to identify the exact risk to human health.

So Which One Should I Be Eating?

Here’s the bottom line: While brown rice is more nutrient-dense than its processed counterpart, both grains can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Consider that some types of rice suit certain dishes better than others. For example, if you’re making rice pudding, paella or sticky rice, it’s totally fine to go with white rice—just be reasonable with serving sizes.

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What Are Some Other Alternatives to Rice?

If you’re looking for a grain (or grain-like food) that’s neither white nor brown rice, keep these nine alternatives in mind.

1. Cauliflower

If you’re not aboard the cauli train, hop on. The veggie is nutritious and incredibly versatile. One of our favorite ways to prepare it is as a lower-carb version of rice that can be used interchangeably with the real thing. Whether beneath a stir-fry or added into a soup, this recipe, which comes together in just ten minutes, has become a staple in our kitchen.

2. Quinoa

The trendiest grain of the late 2010s is so good for you (one cup has eight grams of protein) and can be used in lots of different ways, from sweet, oatmeal-like dishes to healthier versions of typically bad-for-you foods, like these baked chicken nuggets that will leave you feeling way better than you do after scarfing down takeout.

3. Amaranth

This tiny grain is crunchy and loaded with protein and fiber—and it’s gluten-free to boot. Cooked amaranth is great as a breakfast porridge, but our favorite thing is to put the uncooked grains in a heated skillet until they start to pop. The finished product is really similar to popcorn.

4. Millet

Similar in size and texture to couscous, millet almost quadruples in size when cooked. It’s gluten-free and a great source of fiber, magnesium and phosphorous (which aids in repairing body tissue). Millet can be subbed into any recipe calling for rice, or scooped onto a salad to make it extra filling.

5. Lentils

Risotto, as delicious as it is, often leaves us feeling overly full and really weighed down. Not so when we replace the traditional arborio rice with white lentils, which are grain-free, cook quickly and are higher in protein than rice, all without losing the creamy goodness of the real thing.

6. Farro

This rustic Italian grain has lots of protein, fiber, iron and magnesium. Great on top of salads and in heartier soups and pasta dishes (and again, faux risotto), farro can be used pretty interchangeably with barley.

7. Barley

Oh, barley, fancy meeting you here. With a nutty flavor and chewy, almost pasta-like consistency, barley is a terrific substitute for rice in pretty much all traditionally rice-based dishes. (It also has 32 grams of fiber per cup, which will help keep you regular.)

8. Bulgur

Bulgur is high in fiber (24 grams per cup) and low in fat and calories, and it’s a staple of the Mediterranean diet. It’s abundant in B vitamins, iron, phosphorous and manganese, and since the bulgur you typically find in the store is already partially cooked, preparation is super speedy once you get it home.

9. Freekeh

Popular in Palestinian and Egyptian cooking, this fun-to-say grain (it’s pronounced freak-uh) is low in fat and high in protein and fiber (it has twice the fiber of quinoa). With its subtly nutty and smoky flavor, freekeh works just as well in sweet dishes as it does in savory ones. Top it with milk and fruit in place of oatmeal in the morning, mix it into veggie burgers or top it with pesto and veggies for a healthy and delicious side.

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