The fact that a few billion people worldwide rely on rice as a daily staple is probably enough to squelch the suggestion that rice might be bad for your diet. Of course, some types of rice are significantly more nutritious than others, so buy wisely at the grocery store. In terms of dieting, refined white rice spikes blood sugar and may lead to overeating, whereas brown rice has more fiber and nutrients and may keep you feeling full for longer.
Rice is a type of carbohydrate relatively rich in starch. Starch is a complex sugar readily digested, but not as quickly as simpler sugars such as fructose, sucrose or lactose. As such, starch impacts your blood sugar levels, but not as much as the sugars found in most baked goods or desserts. Regardless, diabetics need to be cautious with the amount of rice they consume during meals. The nutritional content of rice is extremely variable and depends on the type, as well as the method of processing.
Brown vs. White
The most nutritious types of rice are wild brown varieties because they are the least processed. Brown-colored rice indicates that it still contains the germ of the grain and sometimes the husk. As a result, brown rice is a good source of most B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, zinc and fiber. In contrast, white rice is milled and processed, which strips the grain of most of its nutrients and fiber. For example, 1 cup of brown rice contains about 3.5 grams of dietary fiber, whereas the same portion of white rice typically contains less than 1 gram. On the other hand, some brands of white rice are enriched with vitamins, minerals and fiber, so read the labels carefully before you buy.
In moderation, rice is an excellent addition to a healthy diet, especially if combined with vegetables, legumes and lean meats. Brown rice is often preferred because of its higher nutritional value, although both brown and white varieties are similar in terms of calories, protein and fat. For example, 1 cup of steamed brown rice contains 215 calories, 4.5 grams of protein and 1.5 grams of fat, and an equal amount of white rice contains around 200 calories, 4.3 grams of protein and 0.5 grams of fat. Both types of rice contain the same amount of starch and other sugars – about 45 grams per cup, which is 15 percent of the recommended daily amount of carbs.
Rice is certainly a low-fat food, but not a low-carbohydrate or low-calorie choice. However, in small portions, rice can fit in nicely to a low-carb diet, and it's versatile enough to be paired with almost any type of meat or fish. Additionally, the fiber in brown rice can help with weight loss because it satisfies your hunger for longer, which is likely to reduce your snacking between meals, and it promotes regular bowel movements. Fiber also helps blood glucose levels from spiking, which keeps too much insulin from flooding your bloodstream. Too much insulin triggers fat storage and makes you hungry sooner. Furthermore, steaming your rice, instead of frying it, is the best way to keep the calories down.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero et al.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images
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