What’s Healthy About Brown Rice?

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<p>Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images</p>

Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images

Medically reviewed by Jonathan Purtell, MS, RD, CDN

Brown rice is made up of three different parts: a germ, bran, and endosperm. It is less processed than white rice and gets its color from the remaining bran and germ layer. Brown rice is considered healthier than white rice because of its nutrient content, which contains dietary fiber and many vitamins and minerals.

This article discusses brown rice’s benefits, varieties, and nutritional information.

<p>Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images</p>

Kinga Krzeminska / Getty Images

Benefits: Why Is Brown Rice Good for You?

There are several health benefits associated with eating brown rice because it contains the bran and germ, which are removed during processing to make white rice.

These parts of brown rice offer several nutrients not found in white rice. Some possible health benefits of consuming brown rice are listed below.

Heart Health

Brown rice is considered heart-healthy because of the nutrients it contains, such as fiber. Dietary fiber has been shown to benefit heart health by reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Other compounds found in brown rice, known as lignans, also help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease by:

  • Reducing blood pressure

  • Lowering harmful cholesterol levels

  • Decreasing any stiffness in the arteries that can drive heart disease

Lignans are polyphenolic compounds, meaning they have antioxidant properties. They can benefit health if consumed regularly. They are naturally found in plant foods, such as whole grains like brown rice.

Read Next:Choosing Whole Grains May Improve Your Cardiovascular Health

Digestive Health

The health of the digestive system can affect overall health because other systems, such as the immune system, rely on it to function properly.

In people who eat whole grains, such as brown rice, digestive health is often better than in those who do not get enough whole grains in their diet. The reason for this is the dietary fiber found in whole grains.

Dietary fiber benefits the gut microbiome, which is the collection of microorganisms that live within the gut, by encouraging the survival and growth of good gut bacteria.

Anticancer

Brown rice may also possess anticancer benefits. Research has found that consuming dietary lignans can help to lower the risk of developing cancers such as:

  • Esophageal cancer (cancer of the esophagus, or food tube)

  • Gastric adenocarcinoma (stomach cancer that starts in mucus-producing cells)

  • Colon cancer (cancer in the tissues of the colon, which runs from the pouch at the top of the large intestine to the rectum)

While preliminary studies in humans have found it beneficial to consume products with lignans, such as brown rice, more human research is needed to see the long-term benefits of consuming the compound through food and its connection to a lowered cancer risk.

Weight Management

Many people who are overweight or obese may turn to a low-carb diet to lose weight, but that cuts out even healthy carbohydrates such as brown rice. Research has shown that consuming brown rice—even though it’s a carbohydrate—can positively affect weight loss.

The benefit may come from its nutrient content. For example, the dietary fiber found in brown rice can reduce overeating by keeping you fuller for longer. Consuming brown rice fiber may also help reduce fat in troublesome areas, such as the belly.

Protection Against Oxidative Stress and Inflammation

Oxidative stress is a state within the body that is caused by an overabundance of free radicals, which are unstable molecules made during normal cell metabolism. Free radicals can cause damage to cells and tissues in the body, leading to widespread and chronic inflammation and an overactive immune system.

Flavonoids and phenols, which are plant compounds that act as antioxidants within the body, can help to stabilize free radicals so that they cannot cause damage. This helps to reduce oxidative stress and lower inflammation.

Other diseases marked by high levels of inflammation may also benefit from the consumption of brown rice because lignans have been shown to reduce inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), in some studies.

Chronic inflammation leads to the damage of healthy cells, tissues, and organs within the body. It can also damage DNA. Chronic inflammation can drive or increase the risk of long-term diseases later in life.

Bone Health

Brown rice contains various nutrients, such as manganese, that can benefit bone health. Manganese plays a role in bone formation and density, and research shows that people who do not get enough of the mineral run the risk of impairing bone health. Since brown rice contains high levels of manganese, consuming it regularly can encourage healthy bones throughout life.

Diabetes-Safe

Simple carbohydrates, such as white rice, can have a damaging effect on blood sugar levels in people who have diabetes because they quickly break down into glucose. Choosing complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, has been shown to help control glucose levels in the blood better than other types of carbohydrates.

Brown rice has a lower glycemic index than white, which is a measurement of how quickly and how high blood glucose can riser when affected by foods. Foods that take longer to digest, such as brown rice, are better for blood sugar levels because they deliver a steadier supply of glucose than a lot all at once.

While brown rice is a safer alternative than white rice for people with diabetes, eating too much of it can still have a negative impact on blood sugar control. Because of this, people with diabetes should eat only small portions of brown rice.

Learn More:Eating Rice When You Have Diabetes

Brain Health

Research have investigated the effects of brown rice on brain health and found that people who consume it more may experience improved cognition. One specific study examined the impact of a brown rice diet on people over 60.

Because of the brown rice’s nutrient profile, at the end of the study, people who consumed brown rice daily over six months had higher cognition scores than those who did not. It is thought that the brain benefits stem from its plant compounds and fiber content, as well as the high level of vitamins and minerals found in brown rice.

Safe for Gluten-Free Diets

Gluten is a protein found in various grain products and many other foods. People tend to steer toward gluten-free diets if they have a sensitivity or allergy to the protein, such as with the immune disorder celiac disease, or if they have been diagnosed with another autoimmune disease. Since brown rice is naturally gluten-free, it is an excellent grain choice for those who avoid gluten.

What Makes Brown Rice Harder to Cook?

Brown rice is more challenging to cook than white rice because the bran in brown rice is intact, whereas, in white rice, it is removed.

Also, the bran takes longer to cook, causing brown rice cooking time to almost double that of white rice.

White rice and brown rice grow from the same plant, known as Oryza sativa. The germ and bran that’s retained in brown rice are removed when white rice is processed, leaving only the white grain.

Brown Rice Varieties

There are several types of brown rice:

  • Short grain

  • Medium Grain

  • Long Grain

  • Light brown

  • Basmati

  • Jasmine

All types are similar because the germ and bran are still attached, but cooking times for each will vary.

The only exception is light-brown rice, which has half of the bran removed during milling. Light-brown rice has the least fiber out of all the brown rice varieties.

Brown rice varieties differ based on their:

  • Size

  • Texture

  • Flavor

  • Cook time

How Long to Cook Brown Rice

The time it takes to cook brown rice will differ depending on the type. All brown rice types must be rinsed before cooking. They are also mixed with the same amount of water, which is one part rice to two parts water.

 

Precooking Instructions

Cooking Time in Boiled Water

Texture/Flavor Profile

Short Grain

Soaked overnight

25 minutes

Creamy texture with a sweet and malt taste

Medium Grain

Soaked for at least four hours

15–20 minutes

Fluffy texture with a nutty and sweet flavor

Long Grain

Soak overnight

45 minutes

Firm texture with earthy taste

Light-Brown

Soak for 90 minutes

25 minutes

Chewy texture with an earthy and nutty flavor

Basmati

Soak for 30 minutes

25 minutes

Spongy texture with a mild and sweet nut-barley flavor

Jasmine

Soak at least 90 minutes or overnight

40 minutes

Firm texture with nutty, buttery, rich taste

To cook brown rice, you will:

  • Combine rice with water, butter and salt (optional) in a pot and bring to a boil.

  • Cover and reduce heat to low so that it starts to simmer.

  • Let cook for the appropriate amount of time, depending on the type of brown rice you are making.

  • Remove from heat after the allotted time and keep covered to steam for 10 minutes.

  • Once finished, fluff with a fork and serve.

Brown Rice Servings: Nutritional Value

The nutritional information for one cup serving of brown rice is as follows:

Nutrients

Amount in Grams (g) or Percent of Daily Value

Calories

216

Carbs

44 g

Fiber

3.5 g

Fat

1.8 g

Protein

5 g

Vitamin B1

12%

Vitamin B3

15%

Vitamin B6

14%

Vitamin B5

6%

Iron

5%

Magnesium

21%

Phosphorous

16%

Zinc

8%

Copper

10%

Manganese

88%

Selenium

27%

Potassium

1.7%

Calcium

1%

Related:15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Who Shouldn’t Eat Brown Rice?

Brown rice is safe to consume for most people. If you are allergic or have a food sensitivity to brown rice, you should avoid it.

People who are pregnant should also avoid or limit how much brown rice they eat because it contains a natural element known as arsenic, which can potentially be toxic when consumed in high amounts. Kids in early childhood should also avoid eating too much brown rice for that reason.

Rice contains levels of arsenic because it grows in flooded areas. If the water surrounding the crops is high in arsenic, it can make its way into the rice and onto your plate. That said, the level of arsenic found in brown rice is not usually high enough to cause health issues.

Summary

Brown rice is a healthy carbohydrate option that offers several benefits, such as lowering your risk for heart disease and helping with weight management. The high nutrient content and natural plant compounds give brown rice healthy properties.

The time it takes to cook brown rice tends to be longer than white rice because the germ and bran that are still attached. These parts of the grain provide more health benefits and give it its color. Children and people who are pregnant should avoid eating large amounts of brown rice because of possible arsenic exposure. That said, brown rice is a safe and healthy carbohydrate to consume regularly.

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