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Good for Gut Health? White Rice Vs. Brown Rice

written by Skye Sherman - Aug 14, 2023
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Oct 12, 2023

Photo Credit: by Lum3n,
Photo Credit: by Lum3n,

Did you know there’s an Indian rice shortage? While you may not be clear on how this will affect you, you might be aware that there’s some controversy around how healthy rice is. Some people see it as good for gut health while some see it as a starch that doesn’t have much nutritional value.

Be aware that the rice shortage in India is leading to some panic buying of rice. Toronto City News reports, “Rice is a staple for billions of people around the world but India has imposed a ban on the export of non-Basmati white rice products. A Toronto South Asian grocery store says it is already feeling the pinch, leading to a spike in panic buying. … for the time being, the popular South Asian grocery store has implemented a restriction, allowing each family to buy just one bag of rice.”

The article also reports, “Canada relies on rice imports since the grain is not cultivated locally India stands as the third-largest rice-importing country for Canada. It’s not clear how long the ban will stay in effect but experts warn the move could see food costs spike globally.”

Rice is such a simple food staple around the world that you might not even realize how much you value or use it until you have limited access to it. But is it really good for you? Should you join in the panic buying of rice or should you avoid buying rice since it’s bad for you anyway?

In this article, we’ll take a look at if rice is good for gut health and even some tips for how to make rice more gut-friendly.

Is rice inflammatory?

If you’re wondering whether rice is inflammatory, you first need to know that the answer depends on whether you mean white rice or brown rice. White rice is more processed than brown rice. In fact, that’s the main difference between white rice and brown rice: white rice is basically just a more processed version of brown rice.

To make brown rice white, manufacturers remove the outer layers of a grain of rice, leaving only the starchy center, which is the softer, milder, and more shelf-stable white rice we recognize from many favorite dishes. And this is the heart of what makes white rice more inflammatory than brown rice. Processed foods are more inflammatory in general. The more processed the food item, the more inflammatory it is likely to be.

As Healthline puts it, “Although white rice is processed, it’s usually enriched with added nutrients. Also, its low fiber content may help with digestive issues. The majority of non-organic white rice has also been shown to have arsenic. Brown rice, however, is more nutritious, contains more fiber, and is a better choice for diabetes, heart disease and weight maintenance.”

Healthline also explains the difference between brown and white rice in simple terms: “[White rice] is highly processed and missing its hull (the hard protective coating), bran (outer layer) and germ (nutrient-rich core). Meanwhile, brown rice only has the hull removed. For this reason, white rice lacks many vitamins and minerals that are present in brown rice.”

Another study published by the National Library of Medicine concludes, “[brown rice] replacement in the diet may be useful to decrease inflammatory marker level and several cardiovascular risk factors among non-menopausal overweight or obese female.”

As you can see, white rice is likely to cause your blood sugar to spike more quickly, and unfortunately it’s usually included in lists of foods that cause inflammation, right along with red meat, processed meats, and refined grains, like white bread or pasta. Some even categorize it right alongside junk food like chips, cookies, and pastries.

If you’re hoping for a dietary choice that is gut-friendly and non-inflammatory, look past white rice and consider brown rice as the better choice for your health.

Is rice good for your gut?

Wondering if rice is good for your gut? Most processed foods have an inflammatory effect and are not necessarily recommended for improving your gut health.

However, rice can be a good option for some people, since both white and brown rice are naturally gluten-free. They can be a great carb option for people who suffer from celiac disease or just gluten sensitivity. Obviously, if you are intolerant of gluten, eating rice will be far less bothersome to your gut health than eating a meal chock full of gluten! Be careful though since rice can still be a food that might not be the best options for those with Inflammatory bowel disease. So, in some cases, rice may be a better health choice for your gut and overall health.

People who are taking prescription bowel disease medications like Trulance or Linzess may want to pay special attention or contact their doctor when considering making changes to their diet. Also consider how dietary modifications may affect your medication.

In addition, EatingWell explains it this way: “Those who suffer from certain digestive conditions may have a harder time digesting complex carbs’ fiber, protein, and fat content. While brown rice or other whole grains may not be an option for them during a flare-up, easily digested white rice makes a great option to minimize uncomfortable bloating and irritation.”

The article also explains that even if you don’t have a diagnosed digestive issue, white rice can be a better option if you’re dealing with diarrhea or another short-term acute digestive flare-up.

In addition, as Jean Hailes puts it, “The nutrients in brown rice encourage the growth and activity of healthy gut bacteria. Red and black rice are also good options for the gut and, luckily, are becoming more available in some supermarkets. Wherever possible, opt for brown rice over white rice and get the benefits from this healthy wholegrain.”

As you can see, rice can be good for your gut or harmful to your gut, even at different times of your life. It mostly depends on your individual health situation.

White rice vs brown rice: which rice is better for you?

If it’s not already obvious, brown rice is a more healthy choice than white rice in almost every scenario since it is less processed and contains more vitamins and nutrients.

Healthline explains it this way: “Brown rice is simply the entire whole rice grain. It contains the fiber-rich bran, the nutrient-packed germ and the carbohydrate-rich endosperm. On the other hand, white rice is stripped of its bran and germ, leaving just the endosperm. It’s then processed to improve taste, extend shelf life and enhance cooking properties. White rice is considered empty carbs since it loses its main sources of nutrients.”

Still, in some countries, white rice is enriched to add back some of those nutrients. But why not just eat brown rice where they remain present in the first place?

Healthline also explains, “In general, brown rice also has higher amounts of vitamins and minerals than white rice. However, enriched white rice is higher in iron and folate. What’s more, brown rice contains more antioxidants and essential amino acids.”

Let’s also consider the nutritional facts of both white and brown rice. White rice is significantly lower in overall calories and carbohydrates, which may make it a preferable choice for some diets. However, it also has much less fiber, protein, and fat, which are vital nutrients.

The benefits of white rice are that it’s a quick source of energy and is pretty easy on our digestive system. Plus, it’s affordable and accessible to people at most income levels, which is why it’s such a common food staple around the world. It’s also lower in arsenic levels since it has been stripped of its outer layer of rice bran, which is where most of the arsenic content resides.

EatingWell puts it this way: “White rice alone may not be as nutrient-dense as brown rice, but there are benefits to eating white rice that makes the lack of nutrients insignificant! And chances are, you’re not eating white rice on its own. Most often, it’s paired with a protein source and veggies that help to up the protein and fiber content of the meal—and with it, the satisfaction. Making half of your grains whole grains means that there’s still room in your diet to enjoy white rice and other refined grains.”

Brown rice may be an overall more nutritious option, but in some cases (especially in cases of food scarcity or insecurity), white rice may be the better or more realistic choice.

How do you make rice gut-friendly?

If you want to eat rice but are concerned about the potential harmful effects, we have good news for you. There are many substitutes that are just as delicious and easy to prepare.

GoodRx reports: “If you are sensitive to grains, then there are also healthy grain-free substitutes such as buckwheat or quinoa that you can enjoy in place of rice. Quinoa has a similar texture to whole-grain rice and is a rich source of fiber and protein. Buckwheat is a gluten-free grain substitute that you can consume as a porridge-style dish, add to soups or salads, or use in its flour form in recipes for pancakes and bread.”

Did you know that even if you don’t want to use rice substitutes, there are ways you can make rice healthier and more gut-friendly? It all has to do with something called resistant starch. Foods that are high in resistant starch can actually help promote the good bacteria in your gut.

According to Life of Pie, “Resistant starch acts more like a prebiotic than a typical starch. Once the resistant starch arrives in the colon, our good gut bacteria feeds on the starch, producing short chain fatty acids like butyrate (butyric acid) which strengthens your brain and gut. It’s also the preferred energy source of the cells lining the colon and helps to increase metabolism, decrease inflammation and even improve stress resistance.”

So is rice high in resistant starch? Only if it’s cooked and then cooled. You can also make rice healthier and more gut-friendly in the following ways:

● Soak rice

○ Life of Pie reports, “Studies show that a simple overnight soak reduces arsenic in the rice by up to 80%. As a bonus, grains are also easier to digest and anti-nutrients like phytic acid (a powerful blocker of mineral absorption in the gut) and lectins (particularly brown rice varieties), are reduced by soaking the grains as well.”

○ Make sure to discard the water and rinse the rice well before cooking.

● Cook rice in bone broth and coconut oil

○ Life of Pie reports, “Cooking the rice in homemade bone broth is a really easy way to incorporate more of the healing benefits bone broth has into your diet. … Include healthy fats, such as coconut oil, when cooking rice. When these are cooked together, the oil binds to the digestible starch in the rice (the starch that converts to glucose). Once bound with the coconut oil, the digestible starch begins to crystallize, creating resistant starch.”

● Cool rice for 12-24 hours before eating (especially after cooking in coconut oil)

○ Life of Pie reports, “One study found this increased the amount of resistant starch by 10-15x as well as reducing its calories by up to 50-60%. As a result, the rice produces a smaller spike in blood sugar because you get more resistant starch to take the place of digestible starch. Plus, the inherent qualities of the resistant starch decrease this smaller spike even further. The result is lower-carb rice.”

If you want to cook white rice, there are some ways to make it more healthy and friendly to your gut. Note that you can still reheat rice after this cooling process, but you don’t want to get it too hot (above 175 degrees Fahrenheit).

Otherwise, consider switching up your weekly meals to incorporate quinoa, buckwheat, or even brown rice instead of white rice and see if your overall health improves.



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