There are foods like wonderful lawyers and crunchy kale, which are widely hailed as nutritional goldmines. Then there are plant-based foods that are more debatable, like everyone’s favorite potatoes and pickles. (For the record, both have their own nutritional benefits.)
White rice is another that many consider unhealthy, despite being one of the most consumed foods in the world. In fact, white rice is a staple food in Okinawa, Japan, which is known as a Blue Zone because its residents regularly live well over 100 years.
“Rice is a staple in diets around the world and provides a rich source of carbohydrates which is the body’s primary fuel,” says Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CDN, deputy director of nutrition for the Good Housekeeping Institute. .
Cindy Chou, chef and dietitian at the kitchen sound and Cancer nutrition in a bowl, claims that many people in the United States overlook the nutritional benefits of white rice. “Nutritional recommendations in the United States have been mostly Eurocentric and fail to take into account the cultural importance of foods like white rice,” she says. “It is not only a staple food in many different cultures, but is also enjoyed in combination with a source of protein and vegetables.”
Already starting to think about white rice in a new way? Keep reading to find out exactly how eating it can benefit the body and how it compares to brown rice.
White Rice Nutrition Statistics
According to united states department of agriculturehere’s what you’ll get per 1 cup serving of white rice:
- 205 calories
- 4g protein
- 0.4g total fat
- 44g carbohydrates
- 0.6g fiber
- 16mg Calcium
- 2mg iron
- 19mg magnesium
- 68 mg of phosphorus
- 55mg potassium
Health benefits of white rice
1. It helps to provide energy to the body.
One of the reasons many consider white rice unhealthy is its carbohydrate content. Chou offers this alarm clock: The carbohydrates in white rice are exactly one of the reasons why it is a healthy food. “Carbohydrates also provide energy to other cells in our body, including muscles,” she says. “Our body breaks down carbohydrates, like rice, into glucose, which is your brain’s preferred source of energy.”
Besides carbs, Chou points out that white rice contains protein, another nutrient that provides energy to the body. In this way, eating it can help energize the body in not one, but two ways.
2. It supports brain health.
Chou says white rice also contains B vitamins, which are essential for brain health. B vitamins are linked to supporting cognitive health and reducing chronic inflammation in the brain.
3. It could improve your mood.
What we eat has the potential to directly affect our mood. B vitamins and folic acid in white rice are both linked to reduced risk of depression. The fact that white rice is comforting to eat, soaking up all the delicious flavors it’s associated with, could certainly be a mood lifter as well.
4. It is the ideal vehicle for eating other nutrient-dense foods.
“The fact that white rice is usually eaten with protein and vegetables is also often overlooked,” Chou says. For example, if you are using white rice to make a sautéed with chicken, bok choy and red peppers, you’ll get plenty of glorious protein and gut-healthy fiber. And let’s be honest, the dish might be a lot less appealing to make without the rice.
“Some of the misconceptions that white rice is ‘less healthy’ view it only as a standalone ingredient, which is not how it is used in daily life. Rather than focusing on specific nutrients in an ingredient, it’s more helpful to look at a recipe or meal as a whole,” says Chou.
5. It supports cellular health.
Another often overlooked nutrient, Cabbage, points out that white rice contains phosphorus. Phosphorus is important for cellular health, helping to grow new cells as well as maintaining and repairing existing cells. If the cells in the body are not in top shape, the body will not function properly, which is why this nutrient is so important.
6. It’s good for your bones.
Keeping the body’s cells in good shape isn’t the only hat that phosphorus wears; it is also a key nutrient for bone health. The same goes for calcium, another nutrient you’ll find in white rice. This is yet another overlooked health benefit of white rice.
Are there any downsides to eating white rice?
Clearly, white rice has many health benefits, but white rice has a high glycemic index, which means it can cause blood sugar spikes. This means people with type 2 diabetes need to be careful about their consumption of white rice.
“People with type 2 diabetes or blood sugar issues can still benefit from white rice by adding a source of protein, fat and fiber to it,” Chou says, adding that if you’re worried, it’s always best to talk to your health care provider first. “Incorporating a source of protein and vegetables will help with a more gradual rise in blood sugar,” she says.
In general, Chou sees no harm in eating white rice. “It’s generally more accessible, has a longer shelf life, is quicker to cook, digests easily and is comforting to eat,” she says.
Is it okay to eat white rice every day?
Sassos says white rice readily absorbs arsenic from its growing environment more than other foods. “Arsenic is found in two forms, organic and inorganic, and is a naturally occurring element in water and soil according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,” she explains. “Arsenic is a known human carcinogen and can be harmful when consumed in excessive amounts. If you eat rice every day in significant amounts, the arsenic content may pose a health risk.
If you’re concerned about arsenic exposure, Sassos says you can reduce the arsenic content of rice by first washing it and then cooking it with clean, low-arsenic water. “As long as you eat rice in moderation — no more than a few times a week — and wash it before cooking, it should be perfectly safe to eat,” she says.
How does white rice compare to brown rice?
First of all, it is important to know exactly how they are different. “Brown rice contains all three parts of the grain grain and is considered a whole grain. White rice differs from brown rice in that the bran and germ are removed,” says Sassos. She also explains that white rice is usually fortified, meaning nutrients are added to it, so it’s not necessarily less nutritious than brown rice.
Sassos points out two advantages of brown rice over white rice: it’s slightly higher in fiber and has a lower glycemic index, which means it won’t raise blood sugar as much.
“When comparing white rice to brown rice alone, white rice has slightly less fiber and nutrients overall,” Chou says. But she points out that doesn’t mean one is healthier than the other. “Since rice is usually paired with other foods, the difference in nutrients overall is negligible,” she says. His advice on which to choose is to pick the one that tastes the best. “Those who enjoy the taste and texture of brown rice more than white rice or who need to increase their fiber intake beyond adding more fruits and vegetables to their meals can benefit from eating [brown rice instead of white rice],” she says. “But in general, I don’t see any benefit in replacing white rice, especially if that’s what you grew up eating.”
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that there are many other varieties of rice beyond white and brown. For example, Sassos says that wild rice (which is actually a type of aquatic grass) is slightly higher in protein than other types of rice, and it contains up to 30 times the amount of antioxidants that white rice has. It just goes to show that cooking with different types of rice not only adds variety to the taste of your meals, but also gives a wider range of nutrients.
Conclusion: Is white rice healthy for you?
With all of that in mind, consider the debate over whether white rice is healthy and officially settled. White rice has many health benefits and minimal downsides. White rice is not usually eaten on its own and is often paired with other nutrient-dense foods like lean sources of protein and vegetables, making it an excellent vehicle for incorporating nutritious foods into a balanced diet.
Emily is a freelance writer and certified health coach who specializes in writing about issues of mental health, fitness, healthy eating, and social justice. Emily spent six years as an editor and writer at Well + Good, covering everything from food trends to serious issues like America’s opioid crisis and gun violence. She also worked at Seventeen, Sheand Turn magazines. She writes regularly for publications such as Forbes, Parade, Form, and the Huffington Post. Emily lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her cat Evie.
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