Health Topics

Healthy Living

December 2009
5 Reasons Why Brown Rice is Healthier
Dr Sreedevi Yadavalli
It's clearly a case of brown being a superior choice. We're talking about rice, the staple grain that much of the world's population consumes.The more commonly consumed white rice is actually what remains of rice after it has been stripped of its outer layers that are laden with nutrition.

A whole grain of rice has multiple layers. The outermost layer, the hull, is the light brown layer that encases the rice grain, and is clearly visible after harvesting. This layer is inedible, and removing this does not cause much damage to the nutritional value of the rice that is then obtained, which is brown rice.

But this brown rice is further milled to remove the bran, which has commercial value, and is used in the production of cooking oil. The result is a whiter rice that is further 'polished' by removing the aleurone layer of the grain – a layer filled with health-supportive, essential fats. The final product is the familiar white 'polished' rice that is popularly consumed, is easier to cook and has a longer shelf life, thanks to the milling process.

Health Benefits of Brown Rice
More Nutrients in Brown Rice
Both brown and white rice have more or less the same amount of calories, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. But where brown rice scores substantially is, in its share of vitamins and dietary minerals.
  • Magnesium is helpful for reducing severity of asthma, lowering high blood pressure, reducing the frequency of migraine headaches, and reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Manganese helps keep bones strong and healthy, and also helps to synthesize cholesterol and fatty acids.
  • Selenium is important for protection of the body's cells from free-radical damage and thyroid function.
  • The relatively higher amounts of Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and dietary fibre go to make brown rice a more wholesome food.
Cholesterol Lowering Ability
Rice bran oil contains gamma-oryzanol, a compound with the ability to lower cholesterol.
  • In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volunteers with moderately elevated cholesterol levels were evaluated for the effects of defatted rice bran containing only fibre vs. rice bran oil. While the defatted rice fibre did not lower cholesterol, rice bran oil lowered LDL cholesterol by 7%, with the HDL cholesterol remaining unchanged.
  • Another study showed that the use of rice bran oil significantly reduced plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared with sunflower oil.
Beneficial for Diabetes Type 2
Brown rice is more beneficial for diabetes type 2 and hyperglycemic individuals than milled rice.
  • The postprandial blood glucose response of both healthy and diabetes type 2 volunteers to brown rice vs. milled rice was compared. In healthy volunteers, the glycemic area and glycemic index were, respectively, 19.8% and 12.1% lowerin brown rice than milled rice, while in diabetes type 2 volunteers, the respective values were 35.2% and 35.6% lower.
Beneficial for Preventing Cancer
Inositol hexaphosphate, a naturally occurring molecule found in highfibre foods such as brown rice, is a compound that has demonstrable cancer prevention properties. This holds great promise in strategies for the prevention and treatment of cancer.

Weight Watcher's Delight
A common sense approach to obesity control is to eat foods that have low glycemic index (GI) like raw vegetables, fruits or whole grains.
  • A Harvard Medical School/Brigham and Women's Hospital study, which collected data on over 74,000 female nurses aged 38-63 years over a 12 year period, found that women who consumed more whole grains consistently weighed less than those who ate less of fibre-rich foods. Also, they were 49% less likely to gain weight compared to those eating foods made from refined grains.
What is lost in the process of milling and polishing brown rice into white rice

  • 80 % of the vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
  • 67 % of the vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • 90 % of the vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
  • 50 % of the manganese
  • 50 % of the phosphorus
  • 60 % of the iron
  • most of the dietary fibre and
  • all of the essential fatty acids
In the end, after the milling process, only 55 % of the original paddy rice remains.
In some countries like in the US, fully milled and polished white rice must be 'enriched' or fortified with vitamins B1, B3, and iron, and this is enforceable by law. But this has its own drawbacks:
  • Not all nutrients are replaced.
  • Adding back these nutrients is not the same as having them in the original unprocessed version.
  • Such a move, even if it is enforced in India, would have doubtful efficacy because we have a culture of washing our rice thoroughly before cooking it, thus nullifying the benefits of 'fortifying' it with some of the nutrients.
Brown Rice vs. White Rice
Approx. nutrient values per 100 gm
Nutrient Brown Rice White (Polished) Rice
Crude Fibre
Pantothenic acid

7.94 gm
2.92 gm
3.5 gm
77.24 gm
370 kcal
23 mg
143 mg
333 mg
223 mg
1.47 mg
0.401 mg
.093 mg
5.091 mg
1.493 mg

7.13 gm
0.66 gm
1.3 gm
79.95 gm
365 kcal
28 mg
2 mg
115 mg
115 mg
0.800 mg
0.070 mg
0.049 mg
1.600 mg
1.014 mg
    (Source: 24 Letter Mantra)

The Bottomline
For people of Asian origin who are predominantly rice eaters, this piece of news is most welcome, for we don't have to adapt to a whole new alien dietary practice in the pursuit of health. All we need to do is switch to brown rice.

In any case, for those contemplating switching to, or even trying out brown rice:
  • Be prepared to pay a premium for brown rice. White rice is cheaper because the rice mill factories are optimized to mass produce it. Switching equipment and processes costs money.
  • Be prepared to scout for good health stores to buy your brown rice from. Brown rice has a shorter shelf life because the oil-rich bran tends to give it a rancid flavour if stored for long durations. Supermarkets usually buy in bulk, and chances are you could end up with old stock with your purchase. It would be more advisable to buy from a health store where the stock would tend to be faster-moving.
  • Be prepared for comments like brown rice being "peasant's food" or even "animal feed", especially if you have older parents or grandparents at home. Even though for thousands of years everyone ate brown rice, ever since the complex processing equipment needed to make white rice was first invented, the fine texture of polished white rice came to be associated with the food of the upper crust of society.
  • Be prepared for the extra cooking time that brown rice takes, though you wouldn't notice it if you were pressure-cooking it.
  • Be prepared for the slightly 'nuttier' taste of brown rice. But this is more than compensated by the feeling of 'lightness' after the meal, especially in comparison to a meal of white rice.
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
  • See additional information.