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Is White Rice Healthy?

The Final Word on Whether White Rice is Healthy for Your Family

As one of the world's major crops and a staple in many cultures – from South Asian to African to Latin American cuisines – chances are, rice makes a regular appearance in your family's diet. And that can be good for your health, since even white rice has some nutritional benefits that can benefit the whole family. However, white rice isn't generally the healthiest option, and you'll get more health benefits by switching to brown or other whole-grain varieties of rice.

White Rice Nutrition Basics

Like most starchy foods, white rice isn't exactly low in calories. One cup of cooked white rice has 194 calories, the majority of which come from carbs. Each cup supplies 41 grams of total carbohydrates, of which a scant 1 gram is dietary fiber. Rice also has 5 grams of protein per cup, and less than half a gram of fat. The high carb count in rice is both a blessing and curse: If your family needs to carbo-load for a tough hiking trip or a day-long soccer tournament, carb-heavy foods like rice can help. But rice's high calorie count means overeating it can easily lead to weight gain, which can negatively affect your family's health.

The Benefits: Iron and Other Enriched Nutrients

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As a refined grain, white rice lacks the natural nutrients found in whole grains. So to compensate, food manufacturers enrich the rice with vitamins and minerals, such as iron. That makes white rice a surprisingly good source of iron, a mineral that helps circulate oxygen throughout your body to keep you alert and energized. A cup of cooked white rice has 3 milligrams of iron – a significant amount toward the 7 to 15 milligrams needed by your children (depending on their age) and about 17 percent of the 18 milligrams you need daily. Through enrichment, white rice also supplies B vitamins that help you convert the nutrients in food into energy.

The Drawback: Lack of Whole Grains

The biggest nutritional downside of white rice is that it's a refined grain, not a whole grain. That means white rice is missing the healthful dietary fiber found in whole grains like brown rice. That fiber would otherwise help keep you satisfied between meals, so a meal containing white rice is likely to bring on hunger pangs faster than one made with brown rice. Diets rich in refined grains are also linked to higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, indicating they're not great for your long-term health. These downsides don't mean you need to avoid white rice entirely – just ensure you're getting at least half your total daily grains from whole grains to reap their benefits.

Healthier Alternatives to White Rice

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Of course, the healthiest option is to simply switch to brown rice or another whole-grain variety in place of white rice. If you hate the longer cooking times associated with whole-grain rice, look for instant brown rice at your grocery store – it will allow you to cook brown rice in as little as 10 to 15 minutes, making it just as convenient as white rice. Alternatively, experiment with speedier cooking methods. Cooking brown rice in your electric pressure cooker may take just 20 to 25 minutes, which is only slightly longer than the cooking time for white rice cooked in a regular pot. And if you don't mind a longer cooking time, look for red or black as a whole-grain alternative to white rice. Not only do these heirloom varieties count as whole grains, they also contain antioxidants for added health benefits.