Choosing a Healthier Rice

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
May 20, 2024

More than 50 percent of the world’s population relies on rice. It’s a staple in more than 100 countries because it’s affordable, convenient and versatile, lending itself to many different dishes and types of meals.

Generally, rice is gluten-free, high in carbohydrates, with some fiber and protein and very little sugar and fat. Many rice varieties are rich in vitamins, minerals and flavonoids – plant pigments with possible anti-cancer properties.

Yet, rice is controversial among nutritionists because it’s often processed. This helps prevent spoilage, extends storage life and makes the rice easier to digest. Processing also can improve the taste, texture and appearance of rice. But processing also alters the nutritional content of the rice because it usually involves removing the bran and germ – the most nutritious portion of the rice.

This is why white rice, which is very processed, is considered empty calories by many experts. Moreover, regular consumption of processed rice is linked to high blood pressure, triglycerides and blood sugar and lower good cholesterol (HDLs). And processed, pre-packaged, flavored rice products and cereals get a bad rap for being high in calories, sodium, artificial flavors, preservatives and having gluten.

Tips on Buying Rice 

This doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite rice recipes. Instead, choose a rice variety that’s less refined. If you’re buying packaged rice, look for a brand that has:

  • The word “whole” at the beginning of the ingredients list.
  • Lower amounts of sodium, salt and saturated fat. 
  • About three grams of fiber per serving.
  • A package that’s well-sealed and with a current expiration date.

Need a little help deciding which type of rice to buy? Below are brief descriptions of common types of rice.

Black Rice 
This also is known as forbidden rice and is available in short, medium and long grains. It’s a purplish-black rice that gets its color from anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid. Other foods high in anthocyanins include eggplant, blueberries and cabbage. Black rice is a significant source of antioxidants - compounds that protect cells from oxidative stress, which can damage organs, leading to chronic diseases.

Here is USDA nutritional facts for black rice >>

Brown Rice
Brown rice is a whole grain rice with a little processing. The outer protective shell, or hull, is removed, but the bran and germ is retained. This means the rice still has nutrients like fiber, which can you feel fuller longer and contribute to weight loss. Fiber also helps control blood sugar, lowering your risk diabetes and its related complications. Brown rice also is a high in a handful of nutrients such as flavonoids, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorus. This is good news for most people; however, if you have kidney disease, removing excess potassium and phosphorus can be difficult, so consult your doctor before consuming brown rice.

Here are the USDA nutritional facts for brown rice >>

Purple Rice
Purple rice is available as a long grain rice (with two starch components) and sticky rice (processed with one starch component). Although researchers are still studying the benefits of purple rice, it is credited with being a good source of anthocyanins. And results from a small study suggests that eating bread made from purple rice may help healthy individuals control blood sugar levels better than bread made from white rice. Use purple rice as an ingredient in bowls, slow cooker dishes and salads.  

Here are the USDA nutritional facts for purple rice >>

Red Rice
Red rice comes in short-, medium- and long-grain as well as handful of varieties. Red rice is rich in fiber, anthocyanins and other antioxidants, iron and zinc. It also has a lower glycemic index than white rice, making it a better choice if you are trying to manage your blood sugar. Red rice is used as a side dish and as an ingredient in breads, salads and chapati (a pancake in Indian cooking).

Here are the USDA nutritional facts for red rice >>  

White Rice
White rice isn’t a whole rice – it’s processed. As previously explained, the husk, bran and germ have been removed. And many nutrients such as protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and flavonoids are lost in the process.

To remedy this, manufacturers enrich the rice. This means they add nutrients like B-complex vitamins and iron. When looking at the packages of white rice, some brands of white rice may appear to be more nutritious than their whole grain counterparts. But the truth is enriched foods are less healthy than whole foods because your body does a better job absorbing naturally occurring nutrients found in whole foods as opposed to added nutrients in processed foods.

White rice tends to be fan favorite in terms of taste and texture but lacks the nutrients of whole grain rice. It also has a higher a higher glycemic index than whole grain rice.  

Here are the USDA nutrition facts for white rice >>

Wild Rice
Wild rice is often marketed as a health food because it’s low in fat and sodium, while being a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and alpha lipoic acid (ALA). Studies show that wild rice may help improve heart health by lowering cholesterol levels; manage type 2 diabetes by as ALA encourages insulin secretion and sensitivity and lowers the risk of diabetic nerve damage. Wild rice is commonly used as an ingredient in side-dishes, casseroles, salads and soups.

Here are the USDA nutritional facts for wild rice >>

Yellow Rice
Yellow rice includes Jasmine and Saffron rice, and has some pros and cons. Let’s start with the drawbacks it’s a little low in fiber and has a small amount of fat from Omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation. On the plus side, it’s a great source of B-complex vitamins and a handful and minerals. And its yellow color, often derived from turmeric, offers anti-inflammatory properties. Yellow rice is popular in casserole and one-pot meals. You’ll also find it used in yellow rice cakes.

Here are the USDA nutritional facts for yellow rice >>

Storing and Cooking Rice

After buying your rice, store in an air-tight container at room temperature. You also can freeze it, as long as it’s in a sealed package.

There are several methods for cooking rice. Check out these instructions from Food Network >>  

After cooking, make sure you completely cool the rice before using. Some experts even suggest refrigerating rice for a day. Cooling rice increases the amount of resistant starch it has. Resistant starch is a carbohydrate that your small intestine digests. Instead, the starch ferments, feeding good gut bacteria.


About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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