White rice doesn't quite have the same healthy reputation as its higher-fiber counterpart, brown rice, but it can absolutely be part of a balanced and nutritious diet.
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White rice may be at the top of the list for foods that have a bad reputation. Not only is it looked down upon because of its starchy composition, but it's also often picked less because of its white coloring. Even health practitioners are more likely to dismiss white rice when making recommendations to their patients without considering cultural preferences or food access. You'll find that in most countries around the world, white rice is consumed way more than brown rice.

So, is white rice healthy? Let's set the record straight—white doesn't mean devoid of nutrients. And although white rice is indeed lower in certain nutrients than its counterpart, brown rice, the benefits of white rice should be looked at with a closer lens. Here's what this dietitian has to say about the benefits of white rice.

How is white rice different from brown rice?

White rice is rice that has had its bran (the fiberous outer layer) and germ (the nutritious core) removed during processing, making the taste, texture, color and nutrition breakdown of white rice different from that of brown rice. Due to this, it is not surprising that the nutrient value of white rice is different from brown rice as is seen below.

White rice nutrition

Here's the nutrition breakdown for 1 cup of cooked long-grain enriched white rice :

  • 205 calories
  • 28g carbohydrates
  • 0.6g fiber
  • 4g protein
  • 0.4g fat

Here's the nutrition breakdown for 1 cup of cooked long-grain enriched brown rice:

  • 248 calories
  • 52g carbohydrate
  • 3g fiber
  • 6g protein
  • 2g fat

Is brown rice healthier than white rice?

Here's how brown rice and white rice stack up against each other. A cup of cooked brown rice is slightly higher in calories, as well as protein, fat and fiber. There are also some vitamin and mineral differences, with brown rice edging out white rice in B vitamins and phosphorus. These slightly higher numbers can be attributed to brown rice's bran and germ content.

Although the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that half of the grains we consume come from whole grains to increase our intake of fiber and other beneficial nutrients and decrease the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, we do not have to exclude foods such as white rice. Plus, it's not often that you're just eating white rice on its own. When white rice is paired with other nutritious foods — like a healthy protein source, veggies and healthy fats — the differences between white rice and brown rice are negligible.

homemade cooking rice
Credit: Getty Images / harwan

Health benefits of white rice

1. It's a quick source of energy

Because white rice is missing the bran and the germ—and the fiber and fat content that goes with them—it's a simpler carbohydrate, meaning your body has an easier time breaking it down, allowing for quicker absorption of the nutrients, namely the carbohydrates. This makes white rice a great option for people who need a quick source of energy, like athletes or anyone engaging in a longer workout or activity.

2. It's easily digested

Those who suffer from certain digestive conditions may have a harder time digesting complex carbs' fiber, protein, and fat content. While brown rice or other whole grains may not be an option for them during a flare-up, easily digested white rice makes a great option to minimize uncomfortable bloating and irritation. Even if you don't have a diagnosed digestive problem, white rice can come in handy if you're dealing with something like a nasty bout of diarrhea.

3. It's accessible

White rice is typically more affordable than its whole-grain counterparts, making it more accessible to people of all economic backgrounds. And in areas where healthier food options are lacking, white rice may be one of the only grains accessible at corner stores or bodegas. By dispelling the notion that white rice is unhealthy, we can encourage people to pair this easy-to-make, versatile grain with other nutritious ingredients to create a healthy meal.

4. It's comforting

Who doesn't love a bowl of steaming white rice? Be it with curry, kimchi, covered with roasted veggies or topped with a bit of butter and salt, it's delicious and comforting. And there's something to be said about the health benefits that come with enjoying your favorite comfort foods—think happy feelings and less stress. So the next time you're craving it, make it and enjoy it.

Bottom line

So, is white rice healthy? White rice alone may not be as nutrient-dense as brown rice, but there are benefits to eating white rice that makes the lack of nutrients insignificant!  And chances are, you're not eating white rice on its own. Most often, it's paired with a protein source and veggies that help to up the protein and fiber content of the meal—and with it, the satisfaction. Making half of your grains whole grains means that there's still room in your diet to enjoy white rice and other refined grains.