Exactly How Healthy Is Brown Rice?
Here’s the truth about brown rice, a whole grain that often gets overshadowed by trendier grains like quinoa and farro.
Brown rice is a versatile, nutty-flavored whole grain that’s likely tucked away in your kitchen pantry. It’s easy to cook and makes a satisfying side dish to just about any protein or veggie. But how does it stack up nutritionally? Should brown rice be considered a healthy whole grain, just like quinoa, farro, and freekeh?
Read on to learn the nutrition of brown rice, the best way to cook it, and why you should (or shouldn’t) make it part of your diet.
Brown Rice Nutrition
According to the USDA, healthy adults need about 3 to 6 ounce-equivalents of whole grains each day. A typical serving (or 1-ounce equivalent) of cooked brown rice equals about ½ cup or 1 ounce dry.
Here is the nutrition breakdown for a ½ cup serving of cooked medium-grain brown rice, according to the USDA:
Brown rice is a good source of energizing complex carbohydrates. Compared to simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates are considered healthier because they contain fiber and are broken down more slowly by the body. If you’re looking to cut carbs, however, you may want to consider whole grains with less carbohydrates, such as oatmeal or bulgur.
Incorporating high-fiber foods like brown rice into your diet can help keep you full and prevent overeating. Specifically, brown rice contains insoluble fiber, which helps to keep things moving regularly through your digestive tract.
While you won’t see it on nutrition labels, brown rice notches an impressive amount of manganese. One serving of brown rice packs 1.07 mg, or about 50 percent of your recommended daily intake (2.3 mg). In the body, manganese helps with bone formation and also works alongside essential enzymes like DNA and RNA. Additionally, manganese helps convert energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your body.
Brown Rice vs. White Rice
From a nutrition perspective, brown rice is considered to be a healthier choice than white rice. Brown rice is a whole grain because it’s less processed—the hull is removed, but the bran and the germ remain. White rice, on the other hand, is not a whole grain because its hull, bran, and germ are all removed during processing.
Per serving, white rice and brown rice have about the same amount of carbohydrates and protein. The major difference, however, is fiber content. Brown rice packs a solid amount of fiber for a relatively small serving size, while white rice has none whatsoever. As a result, brown rice is much more satiating than white rice, which is processed more quickly in your body.
Brown Rice and Arsenic
A growing concern is the arsenic content of rice, including both brown and white varieties. Arsenic, a known carcinogen, has been linked to an increased risk of chronic disease. This harmful chemical naturally occurs in the soil and can find its way into water supplies. This is especially problematic for rice, which grows in large amounts of water.
When buying brown rice, double check the source first. A 2014 report from Consumer Reports found that rice varieties from Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana contained the highest amounts of arsenic. The same study also found that brown rice contained higher amounts of arsenic than white rice, but don’t let this deter you. You can greatly reduce the amount of arsenic by soaking the rice overnight, then draining and rinsing it thoroughly. Ignore what you see on the package—and cook the rice using a 1:5 rice to water ratio instead.
The FDA strongly recommends limiting arsenic exposure in pregnant women, infants, and young children. If this is something that concerns you, you can always substitute whole grains with very low amounts of arsenic—such as bulgur, barley, and farro—in place of brown rice.
How to Cook Brown Rice
Cooking brown rice on the stovetop is easy. The key is to gently simmer it in a covered saucepan (no peeking!) until it’s fluffy and fragrant. Hone your technique by making this basic brown rice recipe.
The Verdict on Brown Rice
Brown rice is a healthy whole grain that can absolutely be part of a balanced diet. Another plus: Brown rice is also a gluten-free grain, making it a solid option for those who have celiac disease.
While rising concerns about arsenic levels in brown rice may cause some to seek alternatives, this doesn’t mean you should avoid it entirely. When consumed in moderation, brown rice has plenty to offer nutritionally. To get the most nutrients from brown rice, make sure to pair it with leafy greens and lean proteins.