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“No Rice for Me, Thank You” – Is Rice Really the Culprit for Weight Gain?

Rice. The most widely grown and is the staple food of an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide1.

Its production and consumption are among the highest in Asian populations, with approximately 480 million metric tons of milled rice produced annually2. China and India alone account for up to 50% of the rice grown and consumed. It also provides up to 50% of the dietary caloric supply for millions living in Asia.

Despite that, it has gotten a terrible reputation for being a grain with few nutrients and “empty” carbs. Many dieters try to abstain from it in an effort to reduce their carbohydrate intake and lose weight.

But is the sacrifice really worth it?

In this article, we separate fact from fiction and get to the heart of the matter.

Why Is Rice Blamed for Weight Gain?

Rice has always been considered an important source of carbohydrates, protein, minerals, and vitamins. However, most has been processed and refined. During the refinement process, the bran and germ are removed, and only the endosperm remains.

It is often believed to cause weight gain because its fiber is extracted from the grain during the refining process. Healthy diets should consist of whole grains because they contain biologically active elements like dietary fiber, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, and other elements.

In contrast, refined grains, which have been stripped of these elements, are typically rich in energy and poorer in nutrient content.

Grains that have been refined have a higher GI (Glycemic index) and GL (Glycemic load). Previous studies have also proposed that rapid absorption of glucose after consumption of high GI foods could lead to a sharp rise in blood glucose and insulin levels. When glucose enters the body tissues, it inhibits lipolysis and induces lipogenesis and obesity3.

What Is the Difference Between Whole Grain Rice and White Rice?

Besides their appearance, there are many differences between the two. Whole grain rice, also known as brown rice, is the entire grain in its whole form. This includes its bran, germ, and endosperm. It also takes longer to cook and has a nutty and chewy texture.

White rice is essentially brown rice that has been milled and polished. This is a process that strips the whole grain of its germ components and outer bran until only the endosperm remains. Without its bran and germ, white rice tends to cook faster. It also tends to have a longer shelf life and has a better taste4.

Comparing Nutritional Benefits

Now that we’ve established their differences, it’s time to take a deeper dive. Let’s stack them up against each other and talk numbers.

Nutrition Proximate Brown Rice (one cup) White Rice (one cup)
Calories 232 223
Protein 4.88g 4.10g
Carbohydrate 49.7g 49.6g
Fat 1.17g 0.025g
Dietary Fiber 3.32g 0.74g
Thiamin (B1) 0.176g 0.223g
Riboflavin (B2) 0.039mg 0.021mg
Niacin (B3) 2.730mg 2.050mg
Vitamin B6 0.294mg 0.103mg
Folacin 10 μg 4.1 μg
Vitamin E 1.4mg 0.462mg
Magnesium 72.2mg 22.6mg
Phosphorus 152mg 57.4mg
Potassium 137mg 57.4mg
Selenium 26mg 19mg
Zinc 1.05mg 0.841mg
Manganese 1.8mg 0.7mg

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: A comparison. VegKitchen. (2021, August 2). Retrieved March 2, 2022, from https://www.vegkitchen.com/brown-rice-vs-white-rice-a-comparison/

Key Nutritional Differences

Based on the comparison chart that has been presented above, let’s break down the key nutritional difference between the two.

Fiber

As observed, brown rice is generally higher in fiber. While fiber is more known to ease constipation, it also offers a number of other health benefits. It can also help you to5:

  • Feel fuller faster, which can aid in weight management
  • Helps to lower cholesterol levels
  • Helps to control blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of diabetes
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Helps nourish gut bacteria

Manganese

Manganese is a mineral that helps the body form connective tissue and bones to name a few. It also plays a role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism, calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation. It is also a mineral necessary for brain and nerve functions. This makes brown rice an excellent source of this nutrient.

Selenium

Brown rice is a rich source of selenium, which plays an integral role in thyroid hormone production, antioxidant protection, and immune function5.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzyme reactions in the human body. It is also necessary for many vital functions, such as:

  • Blood coagulation
  • Muscle contraction
  • Cellular production
  • Bone development

So, is It True That it Makes You Fat?

Based on a study conducted on the relationship of rice consumption and body weight gain in Japanese workers, it was shown that it was positively correlated with the risk of a 1 year body weight gain of 3 kg or more6.

In the same research, it also revealed that in 1 year, high white rice consumption was significantly associated with increased risk of body weight gain of over 3 kg when compared with low white rice consumption.

Contrary to popular belief, brown rice actually contains more carbohydrates. However, it is important to note that it’s more about the quality of the carbohydrate than its quantity.

It’s Not the Rice

White rice is a refined grain, while its healthier counterpart is a complex carbohydrate that requires a longer time for the body to break down. This means that instead of the insulin spike, complex carbohydrates allow the glucose to be released at a more consistent rate.

The fact is that it all comes down to the overall quality of your diet and how much of it you consume. If you find yourself constantly exceeding the recommended caloric allowance gorging on high-fat sauces and fried foods, you’ll most likely gain weight.

A study conducted on 1,100 subjects, published in the Journal of Obesity and Chronic Diseases in April 2018, assessed the effects of several rice varieties on body weight. Brown rice has been shown to prevent obesity, reduce body weight and promote healthy bowel movements.

Dieters who consumed this type of rice had a lower body mass index (BMI) and lost significantly more weight compared to the other groups6.

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Conclusion

Rice is not your enemy and there is absolutely no need to cut it out completely. Not eating rice for a month or two won’t necessarily help you slim down. It is your overall diet that matters.

While there is no problem with enjoying rice in moderate amounts, try opting for brown rice. It helps keep you full longer and helps with suppressing your appetite.