Whether serving up arroz con pollo, a tasty stir-fry, or a mushroom risotto, rice is a staple in most diets and cuisines. "Rice is not only affordable and accessible, but it's relatively easy to make," says Claire Carlton MS, RD, LD/N, a North Carolina–based registered dietitian nutritionist and digestive health expert. "Rice is also a fiber-rich source of nutrients, and naturally gluten-free."
Of course, there are a slew of healthy grains to choose from, but rice is among the most readily available, especially white and brown rice. Plus, rice comes in a wide variety of colors, textures, and sizes, each with its own distinct flavor and health benefits. We asked experts to reveal which rice grains offer the healthiest benefits, and to give us the good, bad, and ugly on brown rice nutrition and white rice nutrition.
Although sometimes harder to find, black rice is the number one nutritional rock star when it comes to rice varieties. It's high in fiber and nutrients that lower cholesterol, promote healthy digestion, and stave off chronic disease. "Black rice has been shown to have the highest level of antioxidants of all rice varieties, due in large part to the anthocyanin content—a powerful anti-inflammatory that gives the grains their dark purplish hue—as well as flavonoids and carotenoids," explains Megan Roosevelt, RDN, LA-based registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of HealthyGroceryGirl.com. Your black rice bowl can also give you a hearty hit of protein, serving up almost 10 grams in 1 cooked cup.
Another healthy rice winner is this chewy, long-grain version, native to North America. Like the black rice, the high level of fiber in these brown and black grains aids in digestion and lowers cholesterol. Wild rice is also packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and vitamin C, Roosevelt says.
With its nutty, dense texture, brown rice is one of the better-for-you starch options out there, high in B-vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. "It's also a whole grain and high in fiber, which helps to stabilize blood sugar and promote a feeling of fullness," explains Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN, CFMP, a California-based functional medicine doctor and clinical nutritionist. "Brown rice gets things moving in your digestive tract as well while feeding healthy bacteria in your gut."
The Word on White Rice Nutrition
While it may be more palatable to some, white rice isn't nearly as good for you as the more colorful varieties. "It's been processed to strip away the hull, bran, and germ, which is where most of the nutrition is found," says Roosevelt. "It gives it a softer texture than wild or brown rice, however it's less nutritious, lacking fiber and having a higher glycemic index." That being said, many white rice brands are artificially fortified with folic acid, calcium, and iron, which boosts its benefits a bit. Plus, the lower fiber may be preferable to those dealing with digestive issues.
Should I be worried about rice being high in arsenic?
As you may have heard, rice is high in arsenic, which is a known carcinogen that contributes to higher rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and autoimmune disease. "For adults, the recommendation is to eat no more than two servings per week, which includes rice syrup and rice flours that may be on the labels of some pre-packaged foods," warns Petersen. "Short-grain rice has less arsenic than long-grain rice. Also, a study from Consumer Reports found that brown basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan are some of the safest rice sources."
Here's the good news: You can reduce the carcinogen content in your rice with proper cooking techniques. Petersen recommends first rinsing your rice about five times in a sieve. Then, cook the rice as you would pasta, using a 10-to-1 ratio of water to rice instead of the typical 2-to-1. Once the rice is cooked thoroughly, drain and rinse it again. To counter any ill effects, she also suggests serving your rice with foods high in antioxidants, like dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, cruciferous vegetables, and turmeric. Once cleaned, your colorful rice grains can be a tasty, nutritious addition to your weekly diet.