Health Benefits of Rice

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on September 16, 2022
4 min read

Rice is such an important food in some countries that "to eat" means "to eat rice." Nearly half of the people in the world get approximately 50% of their calories from rice. Without rice, or something to take the place of rice, many people would go hungry.

Botanically, rice is the seed of an aquatic grass. It has been cultivated for more than 8,000 years. The Latin name for rice is Oryza sativa. There are many varieties of rice, such as arborio, jasmine, and basmati. It also comes in red, black, and purple, with the colors coming from pigments in the bran layer. The more you learn about the different types of rice, the more you'll appreciate this simple food.

Brown and white rice are the same grain, just milled differently. Kernels of brown rice have the bran layer intact. In white rice, it has been polished away. The presence of the bran layer makes brown rice more nutritious than white, although some white rice is fortified. The bran layer also makes brown rice take longer to cook. For maximum nutrition, choose brown rice. You'll get health benefits like :

Diabetes Control

Brown rice can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar. With a glycemic index of 64, white rice is more likely to spike blood sugar than brown rice, with a glycemic index of 55. Several studies have found that a high intake of white rice is associated with an increased risk of diabetes. 

Heart Health 

Whole grains like brown rice contain more fiber than processed foods. Fiber can lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Since fiber makes you feel full, you may find it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Also, brown rice contains vitamins and minerals that help the blood transport oxygen and perform other vital functions.

Cancer Risk Reduction

Brown rice contains three distinct types of phenolics, which are antioxidants that occur naturally in plants. Antioxidants can reduce the risk of cancer by keeping free radicals from damaging cells. Phenolics occur in the bran layer of rice and in the germ, the reproductive part of a grain. When the bran is removed to make white rice, many of the phenolics are lost.  

Digestive Health

The insoluble fiber in brown rice promotes regular bowel movements. It can also prevent hemorrhoids and improve bowel control. Because it is gluten-free, brown rice is a good food choice for people with celiac disease. Those with celiac disease cannot digest some grains and may have difficulty getting all the nutrition they need.

Brown rice is rich in several vitamins and minerals: 

Nutrients per Serving

White rice has about the same calorie count as brown but only one-third of the fiber and slightly less protein. A half-cup serving of brown rice contains:

  • Calories: 108
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 22 grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Things to Watch Out For

Two food safety issues specifically involve rice. One is Bacillus cereus, a type of bacteria that grows in rice and other starchy foods if they are not kept cool. It causes nausea and vomiting and has prompted some people to say that eating leftover rice is not safe. To avoid this issue, refrigerate leftover rice promptly and use proper kitchen hygiene.

The second hazard associated with rice is arsenic (a highly toxic chemical) in the grain. Arsenic is present in the earth’s crust. Soil and groundwater contaminated with fertilizer and pesticides add to the arsenic level. Rice accumulates arsenic more than other grains because rice is grown in water. You can reduce the arsenic in rice by rinsing it and cooking it with extra water.

The traditional method of preparing rice requires one cup of rice to two cups of water. To remove the most arsenic from your rice, boil it like pasta and drain the excess water when the rice is done. 

If the longer cooking time of brown rice is a problem for you, cook a large batch and freeze the extra. You can also shorten the cooking time by using a pressure cooker. 

Experiment with all the varieties of rice. For the healthiest dishes, combine rice with other nutrient-rich foods like vegetables. Here are some recipes to try: 

  • Make a rice and lentil salad with a flavorful dressing
  • Stir-fry rice with pineapple, green onions, and red bell peppers for a sweet and savory dish
  • Stuff bell peppers with a rice mixture for a vegetarian version of a classic recipe
  • Make a Tex-Mex dish by combining black or pinto beans with rice, corn, and salsa
  • Combine black rice with mango and avocado for a colorful salad
  • Sauté shrimp and add rice and peas for an easy supper
  • Make your favorite chicken and rice dish healthier by adding broccoli