Is White Rice Better Than Brown Rice?
- Published on: 24 March, 2015
- Last update: 10 August, 2017
Let’s talk about white rice. Isn’t white rice bad? Isn’t brown rice better?! Does white rice spike your blood sugar? No, no, and it depends.
Has brown rice ever sat in your stomach causing bloating/discomfort? If you have a strong “spleen” (stomach) Qi, maybe not. But if you have digestive troubles (“spleen Qi deficiency“), maybe yes! For me, brown rice sits like rocks in my stomach. Lily, my Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor, told me that there’s a reason Asian people have eaten white rice for thousands of years. Removing the bran (aka peeling the grain) takes away the part of the plant that chemically protects it from being eaten. Here’s the deal:
Isn’t brown rice healthier because of nutrients?
1) Brown rice has slightly more vitamins than white, but hardly enough to make a difference. The truth is, rice itself (and all grains for that matter) are just not nutrient dense foods. This is why it’s so important to eat a balanced diet. Rice and grains should be a very small part of your wide spectrum of whole foods and high quality protein. If you compare the nutritional content of both white and brown rice to that of an egg or spinach, you’d be shocked! Dani from Ancestral Nutrition did that here, and it helps you understand why nitpicking about nutrients in brown vs. white rice is futile. Rice is a side dish meant to occasionally add flavor and energy to your dish, and should not be a major ‘superfood’ in your diet.
I don’t eat rice for the nutrients (which is a Western way of looking at food), but rather for its energetic properties (an Eastern way of evaluating food). In TCM, white rice nourishes and heals the stomach while giving crucial yang energy that “moves upward.” Brown rice contains yin and yang in perfect balance, and is more appropriate for cleansing (brown rice fasting) rather than daily building of the stomach/digestive energy.
2) There are some things brown rice has that white rice doesn’t: anti-nutrients. Brown rice is full of phytates and lectins. Phytates (such as the phytic acid in rice) binds to crucial minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium, calcium, preventing them from being absorbed into your cells. Phytic acid also inhibits pepsin and amylase, digestive enzymes needed to break down protein and sugar. This throws off the whole process of digestion and explains why brown rice can cause such bloating and discomfort. Especially because so many of us are low in stomach acid, we need all the digestive enzymes we can get! You can slightly break down these anti-nutrients by soaking (see the end of this post) and pressure cooking.
As you can see, polished rice has much less phytic acid than brown rice!
According to Ramiel Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay, for our optimal health, “phytates should be lowered as much as possible, ideally to 25 milligrams or less per 100 grams [of dry food].”
3) In brown rice, the bran and germ are still intact. This makes it much harder to digest. After all, the bran and germ are what protects the plant from predators! They can irritate your gut lining if you have leaky gut, an auto-immune disorder, or food allergies. If you have no digestive issues whatsoever, you may be fine with brown (as long as you soak before eating, see below). Everyone is different.
Blood sugar spikes
4) Yes, grains spike blood sugar. White rice is an easily absorbed form of glucose and digests more easily than brown rice (like I said), making it spike a bit faster. White rice is a medium glycemic index food, on the same plane as sweet potato, which I eat every morning for breakfast with a fat (grass-fed ghee) to bring the GI down.
If you have known blood sugar issues, do not eat rice or a significant amount of any grain for that matter. Stick to fibrous vegetables, soup, protein, nuts, etc.
Plus, there’s a solution: You can cut the glycemic load of white rice it with fat, protein, or vinegar. I presume that none of us are eating a bowl of white rice alone. We eat it as a part of a dish that contains fiber, protein, and fat, which makes the glycemic load of rice a minimal issue. I cook my white rice with full fat coconut milk or grass-fed organic ghee, just like how I dress my sweet potato.
5) Arsenic: Rice does not inherently contain inorganic arsenic. But pesticides do! There is a small amount of naturally occurring organic arsenic (meaning from the earth) present in soil. This is why foods like apples have very low levels, but are still safe to consume. Inorganic arsenic on the other hand (meaning chemically synthesized) comes from the pesticides that have been poisoning our soil for years. Years ago, arsenic based pesticides were doused all over the Southern United States. Although banned, the traces still linger today.
White basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan and sushi rice from the U.S. carry, on average, half the amount of arsenic than that found in most other types of rice. Brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type. (source)
What about the time white rice caused beriberi?
Jason Bussell Ph.D and Licensed Acupuncturist explains it best:
Brown rice was touted as being superior because of the experience of the Japanese armada. They fed their navy white rice, and they developed beriberi (a disease due to deficiency of B1). Then they fed the brown rice and the beriberi resolved. So there is some B1 that we can pull out of the brown rice. Does that mean we need it? No.
The thing about this experience is: That’s all they were feeding the soldiers. Only rice, nothing else. Almost every other fruit, vegetable and meat out there has B1. If you are eating any semblance of a balanced diet, you don’t have to worry about beriberi. Vegetables will give you all the vitamins and fiber that you need.
I would never recommend anyone to survive off of rice alone, whether brown or rice. The soldiers who ate rice along developed beriberi, but the rich people who could afford meat with their white rice never got the disease. It’s about balance. We are so lucky that we have such a variety of food available to us today.
Soaking to deactivate anti-nutrients
I mentioned soaking several times above. All grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans) have anti-nutrients (naturally occurring chemicals) because all living things have a mechanism for survival. Plants can’t run away and have no claws, so they secrete chemicals to protect themselves and their babies (seeds). By soaking rice for 24 hours before cooking, you can neutralize some of the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors. It does not remove all anti-nutrients from brown rice, which is why I choose white rice in small amounts (moderation) as part of my balanced diet.