What is the healthiest rice?

Rice has been one of the most widely produced and consumed grains worldwide for centuries, and for good reason. Rice contains fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and even some healthy proteins and fats. It is a versatile grain that appears everywhere and can be used in almost any dish. There are several types of rice based on differences such as kernel size, aromatics, processing and color.

Here we explore four different types of rice: white, brown, black and red, based on color and what contribution they may or may not make to our diets. For recipe ideas, check out 5 Healthy Brown Rice Recipes for Weight Loss.


The most common of all rice varieties, white rice is ubiquitous in many places in the grocery store, is often a staple ingredient in meal kits, and appears on many popular restaurant menus. It’s an affordable food that soaks up flavor and pairs well with a wide variety of dishes, from curry to sushi to jambalaya and everything in between. White rice is a fortified rice, usually containing added iron, thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3) and folic acid. It has been ground to remove not only the outer husk, but also the bran and germ layers of the kernel. It has about 160 calories per dry ¼ cup.

integral rice

Brown rice is one of the most recognized whole grains, along with some of its cousins ​​such as oats, whole wheat and quinoa, as it contains the three important parts of the grain: bran, endosperm and germ. Interestingly, however, brown rice only has about 1.5 more grams of fiber on average per ¼ cup dry serving compared to white rice, so it doesn’t have the same fiber impact as other whole grains in the market against their refined counterparts. While the extra gram of fiber, which is mostly insoluble, can be helpful for digestive health by acting as a mild laxative, the difference isn’t as striking as, say, a sweetened refined cereal versus a bran cereal.

cooked forbidden rice

Black rice, also known as purple, forbidden, or emperor rice, has been popular among eastern cultures for years, but has been slower to make its way into the western part of the world. Black rice looks black when dry, but once cooked, it takes on a more purple hue. This heirloom rice has been studied for its concentration of anthocyanins, a flavonoid pigment, which may be associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and protection against neurodegenerative diseases. Black rice packs a bigger punch in fiber and protein than brown rice, at around five grams of protein and three grams of fiber per ¼ cup dry serving. Black rice is best enjoyed in porridge, rice salads or as fried rice.

red rice in bowls with a fork and spoon

Red rice is a deep red, honey-colored grain with a slightly salty, nutty flavor and chewy texture. Some existing research has investigated the positive inhibitory effects of red rice on leukemia, cervical and stomach cancer cells due to its proanthocyanidin content. Red rice may also have anti-diabetic effects, as studied in a 2016 paper Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study found a 2.3- to 2.7-fold increase in basal glucose uptake (important for proper blood sugar regulation) from exposure to red rice bran extracts. Analyzes of various types of rice also tend to find that red rice is higher in tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E, which is linked to neuroprotection, anti-cancer activity and cholesterol-lowering qualities. Red rice works wonderfully in pilafs, salads and soups.

So, which rice should you choose? Select a rice that suits your taste buds and is suitable for certain dishes, making sure to check the ingredients to avoid added seasonings or salt so you can control these additions in your cooking. If you’re open to any form of rice to round out your meal, snack, or dessert idea, look to black rice as your top choice for its impressive fiber, protein, and potential chronic disease-fighting abilities.

Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD

Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian. Read more about Molly

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