Brown rice vs. White rice. But wait, what about the Arsenic?!

Last weekend I was doing a nutrient comparison between brown rice vs. white rice.

As I started digging I came to learn about how much of a big deal the arsenic in rice is and how we should be paying closer attention to this.

Before I dive deep into the arsenic, let’s quickly chit-chat about the difference between brown & white rice.

Looking at just calories, there isn’t a major difference between the two:

  • 1 cup of cooked white rice = 205 calories
  • 1 cup of cooked brown rice = 215 calories

But brown rice has more minerals & fiber than white rice. Minerals such as selenium, thiamine, niacin, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus & manganese that we need for overall health.

And fiber is important because this nutrient will help keep us full for longer periods.

So looking at calories, no major difference. And looking at nutrition, brown rice definitely wins.

But now this brings me to the arsenic in rice.

There are two types of arsenic- organic & inorganic.

Inorganic arsenic is a heavy metal that is naturally present in the soil, water, and rocks. Rice will absorb this arsenic as it grows and long-term consumption can be toxic and is linked to the increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. (Consumer Reports)

To brown rice lovers like myself, arsenic is naturally higher in brown rice vs. white rice because there’s more arsenic present in the bran, which is a layer in brown rice removed to make white rice.

So, should you be concerned about consuming either brown or white rice?

Yes.

It’s worth being mindful of moving forward.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has no set guideline on how much is safe for adults to consume.

But I did some digging because I had to know what is generally considered safe.

According to Consumer Reports, “white basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. on average has half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of most other types of rice.”

According to an article in Environment Health Perspectives, jasmine rice from Thailand seems to be lower in arsenic as well.

Consumer Reports indicated that “brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type. Brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan is the best choice; it has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other brown rices.”

Let’s summarize what we know:

  • Brown rice has more arsenic than white rice.
  • Brown rice has a better nutrient profile than white rice so we don’t want to stop consuming brown rice. It’s likely best to mix up your rice with brown and white rice or brown rice with other types of grains like quinoa, buckwheat, or barley.
  • If you are going to consume white rice, stick to basmati or jasmine rice varieties from California, India, Pakistan, or Thailand.
  • If you are going to consume brown rice stick to basmati rice from California, India, or Pakistan.
  • General rules for brown rice consumption- about 1/4 cup uncooked rice twice a week.
  • General rules for white basmati or jasmine rice consumption- about 1/4 cup uncooked rice four times/week.
  • Doesn’t matter if the rice is organic or conventional, arsenic is present in both.
Photo via Consumer Reports

A lot of research also looks at ways we can prepare our rice to reduce the amount of arsenic present.

Two things you can do moving forward:

  1. Rinse the rice before cooking- this can remove 10-28% of the arsenic.
  2. Boil the rice in a 6:1 ratio of water to rice and then remove the excess water once the rice is cooked. This can help to remove the arsenic by 30-60%.

Here’s a recipe on how to boil rice. This recipe uses 12 cups of water to cook 1 cup of rice. It’s kind of like cooking pasta. This method does remove some of the nutritional value present in the rice grain but on the flip side, you remove some arsenic.

Remember, you want to focus on your diet as a whole here.

I personally consume brown rice 4-5x/week because it’s such an easy go-to carbohydrate for me during lunch.

This is likely a lot of brown rice consumption based on this research so here’s what I plan to do moving forward.

  • If I consume brown rice, I’ll stick to brown basmati rice from India (you can get this at Trader Joe’s or any grocery store, see the photo below).
  • I’ll rinse my rice before cooking it and try the 6:1 boiling ratio to remove some of the arsenic present.
  • If I make rice for the week I’ll be having it five days in a row probably, it just makes my life easier making one carb for lunch during the week. And brown rice still offers a lot of beneficial minerals & fiber our bodies need. I’ll continue to eat it 5 days a week for lunch but make sure that I switch it up for the following weeks and have a different grain or carb.
  • I plan to switch up my carbs at lunch with potatoes, whole-wheat sliced bread, whole-wheat pasta, and other grains that I rarely eat enough of like barley, quinoa, or farro.
Brown basmati rice from India, sold at Trader Joe’s

You can continue to enjoy brown or white rice in your diet. The type of rice you consume, where it’s grown, and how often you prepare & consume it will be something important to consider moving forward!

And once again we will end another nutrition article with.. everything in moderation.

Photo: https://unsplash.com/@pillepriske

Sources:

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