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Nutritional Value Of White Rice: Pros And Cons To Consider Before You Dig In!

Is White Rice Nutritious?

Contrary to popular belief, white rice isn’t all empty calories and carbs! It is a good source of nutrients like selenium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium. It even has some protein. But it may not fare better than brown rice nutritionally. Don’t overdo your intake, switch it up with other whole grains as much as you can, and you’ll be fine!

Whether it’s a heaping serving of fragrant white basmati rice with an Indian curry, a delicious Middle Eastern pilaf, or a perfectly made plate of saffron-scented Milanese risotto, a well-made rice dish is hard to resist! This versatile grain is easy to make and pairs well with most veggies and meat. And for many cultures, especially in Asia, it is very much a staple. If you are a regular rice eater and are curious about its nutritive value, here’s a closer look to help you plan your meals and calorie intake.

1. A Serving Of White Rice Has 205 Calories

White rice is no diet food. With just over 200 calories per serving (1 cup) of cooked rice, you are already eating well into your calorie count for the day. Add on the calories from a serving of meat, fish, beans, or tofu, plus a salad or serving of vegetables and condiments and you are having a sizeable meal.1

2. It Is A Carb-Heavy, High GI Food

With 44.51 gm carbs per cup of cooked rice, white rice is a carb-heavy food.2 Its glycemic index (GI), a measure of how it affects your blood glucose levels, is a whopping 73. That’s even higher than sugar which has a GI of 65. Barley, a healthier whole grain alternative, has a GI of just 28, which is the same as a serving of chickpeas.3 And while this makes white rice a great way to quickly up your energy levels when they’re flagging, it isn’t a good idea to have too much white rice when you’re on a low-carb diet or trying to lose weight. It will also cause your sugar levels to spike suddenly but drop off just as abruptly, a potential problem for those who are diabetic and need to keep their blood sugar levels steady.

3. It Offers Up Many Vital Nutrients

If you’ve developed a love for this kind of rice, you should also know that besides being delicious and easy to digest, it does have nutrients that are good for you.

32.4% DV Of Manganese

White rice is an easy way to consume manganese, a mineral needed for normal growth and reproductive function. It also keeps your bones healthy and boosts your metabolism of carbs, proteins, and fats.4 A cup of cooked white rice has 0.746 mg of manganese, meeting 32.4% of daily value (DV) requirement.5

21.5% DV Of Selenium

White rice is a really great source of selenium, a trace mineral your body needs for DNA synthesis, reproduction, normal hormone metabolism, and thyroid function. It also helps protect against oxidative damage and infections.6 You stand to get about 21.5% DV, that’s about 11.8 mcg, of this trace mineral from a cup of cooked white rice.7

12.1% DV Of Copper

When you have a cup of cooked white rice, you’ll consume about 0.109 mg of copper.8 That’s around 12.1% DV of the nutrient. This mineral, along with iron, helps your body make red blood cells and keeps your immune system, nerves, blood vessel, and bones in good health. You also need copper for iron absorption.9

8.6% DV Of Vitamin B6

While rice does contain smaller amounts of B vitamins niacin, thiamin, and folate, its vitamin B6 content is most notable. You can expect to get about 0.147 mg (8.6% DV) of vitamin B6 per serving of white rice.10 The vitamin is involved in protein metabolism, hemoglobin formation, enzyme activity, cognitive development, and immune function.11

7% DV Of Zinc

If it is zinc intake you’re trying to increase, white rice can help a little. A cup of cooked white rice will fetch you about 0.77 mg of zinc per serving.12 That’s about 7% DV. This essential mineral is needed for cellular metabolism, the activity of a hundred enzymes, normal immune system function, and even DNA and protein synthesis.13

5.4% DV Of Phosphorus

A serving of cooked white rice gives you 68 mg of phosphorus or 5.44% DV.14 15 This mineral helps build strong bone and teeth and is involved in the growth, maintenance, and repair of your tissues and cells. It also helps store energy and is needed for normal kidney function, nerve function, and muscle contractions.16 You can consume your rice alongside foods like meats and milk to meet your phosphorus numbers for the day.

4.5% DV Of Magnesium

While it isn’t a rich source of magnesium, with about 19 mg to the cup, white rice can contribute to your daily intake numbers along with other magnesium-rich foods like nuts, legumes, whole grains, soy, and milk.17 A serving of white rice gives about 4.5% DV.18 You need the nutrient to maintain normal muscle and nerve function, energy production, and good immune system health. The mineral also helps strengthen your bones and regulates heartbeat and blood sugar levels, making it a vital nutrient for your body.19

4. It Contains Protein, Too!

Surprising though it may seem, while we often think of rice as a carbohydrate source alone, it also contains protein. While brown rice has a little more protein (5.53 gm per serving) than white rice, white rice isn’t too far behind.20

Rice, in general, is a low-fat food, and white rice is no exception. Fats comprise just 0.44 gm of its 158 gm weight per cup. But the way you cook and serve the rice will also add to its fat content. For instance, cooking it in a chicken broth or stirring in some butter or ghee can raise the fat content.

A 1-cup serving of cooked white rice has 4.25 gm of protein.21 The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 gm of protein to every kilogram of body weight. So a 140-pound adult would need 53 gm of protein if they lead a sedentary life.22 Your rice would only give you about 8% of your recommended intake, but considering it isn’t your primary protein source, this amount is a bonus! Consume lean proteins like seafood, and meats and poultry as well as eggs, legumes, beans, and soy with that rice and you’ll get to your daily numbers quite easily.

5. It Has Low Levels Of Fiber

White rice does have some amount of fiber to its name – but too little to make it matter. A serving contains just 0.6 gm of fiber, which barely makes a dent in the 25 to 30 gm a day you should be gunning for.23 24 By comparison, a similar portion of brown rice has 3.2 gm of fiber, getting you 10 to 13% of your daily recommended intake.25

Brown Rice Offers More Nutritional Value, Though

Brown rice intake may help cut inflammation and cardiac risk in those who are obese or overweight, due to its relatively high amounts of nutrients like magnesium and selenium.26

While the manganese and copper content of white rice is already impressive, brown rice does one step up on this! It contains about the same amount of selenium. But what about the other minerals and vitamins that white rice contains in small amounts? Here’s how the numbers compare:27 28:

Nutrient Brown Rice Regular White Rice
Manganese 1.967 mg (85.5% DV)  0.746 mg (32.4% DV)
Copper 0.214 mg (23.8% DV) 0.109 mg (12.1% DV)
Selenium 11.7 mg (21.3% DV) 11.8 mcg (21.5% DV)
Zinc 1.43 mg (13% DV) 0.77 mg (7% DV)
Phosphorus 208 mg (16.6% DV)  68 mg (5.4% DV)
Magnesium 79 mg (18.8% DV) 19 mg (4.5% DV)
Calcium 6 mg (0.5% DV) 16 mg (1.23% DV)
Iron 1.13 mg (6.3% DV)  0.32 mg (1.8% DV)
Potassium  174 mg (3.7% DV)  55 mg (1.2% DV)
Vitamin B6 0.248 mg (14.6% DV) 0.147 mg (8.6% DV)
B2 or riboflavin 0.139 mg (10.7% DV) 0.021 mg (1.6 % DV)
B1 or thiamin 0.36 mg (30% DV) 0.032 mg (2.7 % DV)
B3 or niacin  5.173 mg (32.3% DV) 0.632 mg (3.95% DV)
B9 or folate 18 mcg (4.5% DV) 5 mcg (1.25% DV)

Enriched White Rice Has Added Iron, Folate, Thiamin, And Niacin

Enriched white rice puts back some of the nutrients lost when processing white rice, making it a better source of some nutrients. That said, it still isn’t a whole grain and is a refined product. Here’s a quick look at how some numbers compare to regular white rice:2930

Nutrient Enriched White Rice Regular White Rice
Folate  153 mcg (38.3% DV) 5 mcg (1.25% DV)
B1 or thiamin 0.258 mg(21.5% DV) 0.032 mg(2.7 % DV)
B3 or niacin 2.332 mg (14.6% DV) 0.632 mg (3.95% DV)
Iron  1.90 mg (10.6% DV) 0.32 mg (1.8% DV)

Whole Grains Offer A Healthier Deal

If you want to go easy on your white rice intake and cut down on refined grains, give other grains like quinoa and bulgur a shot too. Here’s how they fare against white rice in nutritional value:

  • A serving of quinoa could give you 8.14 gm of protein, 5.2 gm of fiber, 3.55 gm of fat, and 39.4 gm of carbs. It also contains nearly 16 times the amount of folate, 10 times the riboflavin, nearly 9 times the amount of iron, 6 times the magnesium, potassium, and thiamin, 4 times the phosphorus, 2.6 times the zinc and twice the amount of calcium.31
  • A serving of bulgur also has more to offer than white rice – 5.61 gm of protein, 8.2 gm of fiber, 33.82 gm of carbs, and just 0.44 gm of fat. It has 6.6 times the folate, 5 times the iron, 3 times the magnesium, thiamin, and niacin, 2.5 times the riboflavin, and twice the potassium of white rice.32

All in all, whether or not you choose to swap your white rice for brown rice or whole grains which offer more nutrition is a personal choice. But if you can’t do without your white rice, eating it in moderation should be a good idea. You still stand to get a good amount of minerals, vitamins, and even a little protein from your serving of rice!

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 21, 23, 28, 29. Rice, white, long-grain, regular, unenriched, cooked without salt. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
3. Glycemic index for 60+ foods. Harvard Health Publishing.
4. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. National Academy of Sciences.
6. Selenium. Office of Dietary Supplements.
9. Copper in Diet. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
11. Vitamin B6. Office of Dietary Supplements.
13. Zinc. Office of Dietary Supplements.
15, 18. Labeling Daily Values. National Institutes of Health.
16. Phosphorus in Diet. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
19. Magnesium in diet. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
20, 27. Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
22. How much protein do you need every day?. Harvard Health Publications.
24. Increasing Fiber Intake. University of California San Francisco Medical Center.
25. Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
26. Kazemzadeh, Mahdieh, Sayyed Morteza Safavi, Shahrzad Nematollahi, and Zeinab Nourieh. “Effect of brown rice consumption on inflammatory marker and cardiovascular risk factors among overweight and obese non-menopausal female adults.” International journal of preventive medicine 5, no. 4 (2014): 478.
30. Rice, white, long-grain, regular, enriched, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
31. Quinoa, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.
32. Bulgur, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.