Nutritional values of white rice vs. brown rice

Written by kristin shea
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Nutritional values of white rice vs. brown rice
After brown rice is harvested, it is converted into white rice by removing the grains’ husk, germ, and bran. (rice field image by Xavier MARCHANT from

Rice has been the primary crop staple in Asia for centuries. With its substantial nutritional values and inexpensive cultivation, this grain continues to sustain health around the world. The wide varieties of rice contain different colors, flavors, textures and nutritional value. White rice has penetrated the Western diet as one of the more popular types of rice. Unlike other varieties of rice, white rice is a manmade type derived by processing brown rice. The benefits of white rice, a longer shelf life and softer texture, might not outweigh the nutritional–and for many foodies, culinary–disadvantages, when compared with nutritious, flavourful brown rice.

Discovery of Vitamin B1

An article published by the James Lind Library explains how rice played a pivotal role in the discovery of the nutritional substance we call vitamins. In 1886, Dutch physician Christiaan Eijkman experimented on prisoners in the Dutch colony that is now Jakarta and determined that those who ate polished white rice developed the debilitating disease beriberi, whereas those who ate unpolished brown rice did not. In 1907, the British doctor William Fletcher conducted experiments on asylum inmates in Kuala Lumpur in which he compared the effects of white rice to brown rice on beriberi, and drew the conclusion that rice husks, absent in white rice, prevented onset of the disease. During the next 20 years, chemist Casimir Funk isolated the “anti-beriberi” factor in brown rice, which he called thiamin or vitamin B1.

Processing of Rice

Before rice reaches your supermarket, it must go through a series of processes after harvesting to make it edible. To produce brown, unpolished rice, a huller machine removes the outer husks from the grains. To convert brown rice into white polished rice, producers further process the grains to remove the germ and bran, leaving only the starchy inside kernel called the endosperm. This polishing process also destroys the endosperm, making it easier to chew and digest, but also stripping it of substantial nutrients. According to Green Living Tips, these polishing steps usually utilize talc or glucose.

Nutrients in Brown Rice

Brown rice is a complex carbohydrate, meaning your body breaks it down more slowly than refined carbohydrates like white rice, and so maintains a more controlled release of sugars into your bloodstream. Brown rice contains high levels of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, iron, potassium, magnesium, and folic acid, which the polishing process removes from white rice. Brown rice also delivers a significant source of dietary fiber that the polishing process strips from white rice along with its husk.

Enriched White Rice

An additional manufacturing process creates enriched, or fortified, white rice. The fortifying process introduces synthetic nutrients to replace the natural nutrients stripped from white rice during the polishing process. Food producers add iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid back into enriched white rice, but do not replace fiber.

Type 2 Diabetes

In addition to its complex flavors, its substantial nutrients make brown rice an appealing food choice. If you prefer the lighter texture and flavor of white rice, however, the National Institutes of Health article titled “Think Twice Before Eating White Rice?” may make you do exactly that–think twice. The article describes a study in which researchers followed 200,000 people over 22 years. Individuals who ate five or more servings of white rice per week had a 17 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate less than one serving per month. Individuals who ate two or more servings of brown rice per week had 11 percent lower risk of developing the disease than those who ate less than one serving per month.

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