Grains · Wholesome Ingredients

Feel Bad About Eating White Rice?

I used to, till I learned the facts I’m about to convey to you :-).

Odds are you eat white rice. And if you’re concerned about health I’d bet you feel kinda bad about it too. It started in the 70’s I think, the belief that brown rice was the way to go, or maybe a little earlier with Adelle Davis and her faith in whole grains. Gotta love Adelle for her early stance against processed foods but she wasn’t right in everything :-).

I’m here to tell ‘ya that you can feel good about eating white rice again! I’ve never cared much for brown rice and I bet you feel much the same. I’ve had maybe one or two good plates of brown rice in a lifetime. Most brown rice in the US is rancid long before it gets to you. That’s why it generally tastes rather bitter not nutty as it should if it were fresh.

Brown Rice Isn’t Traditionally Eaten

Traditionally, people have tried to remove as much of the hull and the bran of the rice as their processing tools would allow. When I researched traditional grain flours I found the same to be true of them as well. Is this just pure ignorance on the part of our ancestors? Or is there some wisdom at work in this traditional foodway.

In Asia for instance, Wikipedia has this to say:

“Brown rice is associated with poverty and wartime shortages, and in the past was rarely eaten except by the sick, the elderly and as a cure for constipation. This traditionally denigrated kind of rice is often now more expensive than common white rice, partly due to its relatively low supply and difficulty of storage and transport.”

Storage and transport, eh? Think about that for a second. In modern times this rice needs to be refrigerated or even frozen to get even a 6 month storage lifespan out of it. What would our ancestors have done? And we know rice as the staple food for millions was stored for long periods of time … since it’s an annual crop in many regions it would need to last at least a full year. How did they do it? They simply removed the part of the rice that would spoil. That would be the bran.

What About Beriberi?

But don’t we need to eat the bran to get the vitamins and nutrients found there? Isn’t the removal of the bran the source of the discovery of the first nutritional deficiency disease?

The removal of the bran has been tied to beriberi in Asia, ’tis true. But upon closer inspection we find that we haven’t really heard the full story. It’s true that removal of thiamine from rice causes beriberi in peoples that are living on extremely restricted diets. We’re talking about people whose only source of thiamine is in the bran of the rice they are eating. In Asia beriberi has been relatively common in prisoners, sailors and other people on far less than ideal diets. In fact you might say these folks were close to starvation.

The vast majority of people eating large amounts of traditionally de-hulled and de-branned rice did not acquire beriberi and in fact were rather healthy πŸ™‚ If you need more proof simply look to modern populations that eat tons of white rice and ask yourself if they to have any wide-spread symptoms related to beriberi?

Antinutrients in Brown Rice

Phytic acid is very high in brown rice. This is the big antinutrient we are seeking to neutralize as much as possible when we soak grains in an acid liquid or ferment them prior to cooking. Soaking is pretty unsuccessful at reducing phytic acid in brown rice. What works then? Removing the bran which is the part with a great concentration of phytic acid.

Brown Rice Has PUFA’s

That’s the number one big reason it goes rancid so very readily! We could all do with less polyunsaturated oil in our diets here in the western world. And particulary rancid PUFA’s which virtually all brown rice in the US contains.

What About Arsenic?

More recently there has been a lot of concern about arsenic in rice. There are good reasons for concern here, mostly related to modern agriculture. In the not too distant past it was common to treat cotton fields with arsenic as a pesticide. Many of those treated fields are now growing rice instead. So the plants take up the arsenic.

Brown rice contains larger amounts than white rice.

Getting the Best Rice for your Budget

  • Excellent – Organic white rice grown on a field known to have never been used for cotton production. Some small artisan growers, perhaps would be a source or someone local.
  • Great – Organic white rice is the best commercial choice, preferably grown outside the US. While I haven’t found a lot of evidence that arsenic levels are lower in organic rice certainly other pesticide/herbicide levels would be. And the US grown rice has some of the higher arsenic levels.
  • Good – Conventional white rice.
  • Limit – Brown rice. Note that this isn’t an “absolutely avoid” rating here. I’m simply saying that you probably don’t want to eat a diet heavy in brown rice.

34 thoughts on “Feel Bad About Eating White Rice?

    1. please DON’T go crazy!!!! Michaela, I so understand! today coffee is good for you, tomorrow it is bad… one glass of red wine is healthy, even one glass of wine leads to… i recall the oatbran craze to lower cholesterol: you could not find any on the shelf for a while, now, no one cares
      scientists always study some thing and find out a new aspect!

      i for one like brown rice much better than white! will leave more separately, just wanted you to know the fat lady has not sung yet πŸ™‚


  1. With all the opposing dietary information out there, you really should consider citing your sources if you’re going to try to convince people that eating the “less whole” version of rice really is best. I found this post highly interesting, but am nowhere near considering switching to white. The fact is, brown is low glycemic, contains antioxidants, contains phytonutrients, as well as other vitamins & minerals that white is void of. Cite your studies and sources and you might have a bit more credibility here… πŸ™‚


    1. Point taken … I do have links supporting the traditional processing of rice embedded in the article. That’s my primary point and it is supported πŸ™‚ … rice has traditionally been processed to remove as much of the hull and bran as technology would permit. That’s not to say that traditionally absolutely all of the bran was removed, only that an effort was made. It would be nice to see a product that more closely matched the level of processing possible using traditional methods. But in the meantime I think white rice is the closer choice of the two.

      I’d love to write a more detailed post on the nutritional differences …

      Update: For those that can’t wait I’ve added a few links to the article to other blogger’s posts on the subject. Hopefully that’ll hold you for now :D.


    2. We prefer white rice, but knew that it was high on the glycemic index. However, basmati is about the same as brown rice. Even better, converted rice (also known as parboiled) is far lower than brown rice!


  2. Apparently rice grown in California contains less arsenic than that grown in the South (since that was where the cotton was grown!).Unfortunately most of the commercial rice is grownin the South, but I think Lundberg is grown in California. They support GMO labeling and sustainable agriculture too, so they’re a great company to support!


  3. Being Asian, I can tell you that Asian people eat WHITE rice almost everyday. We rarely eat brown rice. It doesn’t taste that good. We eat white rice as a staple along with A LOT of vegetables, and SOME meat. What Kathy said is true as to people eating brown rice sometimes when they are sick or constipated.

    Another BIG misconception is that feeding raw rice to birds will make them explode and die. I just can’t believe how many people in this country buy into that. Chickens in Asia are fed raw rice in hull and none ever exploded.

    Thanks Kathy for being a rare voice in a sea of misinformation.


    1. i so love your bird part!!!! i am envisioning chickens now as they pick rice they blow up like balloons and then pop πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ not being from the USA either that was new to me when i got here, but we had other things that supposedly killed birds πŸ™‚


  4. Kathy,

    Thanks for the interesting article. I grew up on brown rice, brown anything like sugar and wheat flour. We never knew back in the 1950s about soaking. Rancidity must have been the reason why my father did not like rice; however, his family farm way out in the country probably didn’t buy rice.

    Interesting story: My husband met a man recently, who when he was 2 years old fled South East Asia, as his folks had helped the Americans during the Vietnam war. When traveling they had to walk through the jungle as they feared for their life by walking on the roads. His parents and aunt and uncle each carried two 5 gallon buckets of rice. The rice had been pre-soaked and dried to make it quicker to prepare. Most likely it also was white rice to prevent the rancidity.

    I too would like the references. However, what you have written makes lots of sense to me. Mike Adams of NaturalNews wrote not to eat even organic rice from China. It may have been grown organically, but the soils there are full of heavy, toxic metals like cadmium. I guess that means not to eat any food from China.


  5. There is another source of arsenic in rice is commercial chicken is fed arsenic and the manure is spread on fields for rice growing ! So that is a double whammy ! I do love white rice above brown, but tried dilligently in the 70’s to stay with brown. Thanks for the news !


  6. i am one of those folk who could care less about white rice! it is OK if it is sticky and in sushi, otherwise….
    any way, a few questions (nothing new)
    so there are people who tested and researched and wrote books on brown rice and curing diabetes
    usually the refined foods are not as beneficial as the more natural state (sugar, flour…)
    and rice is the exception? hmmm
    i get the phytic acid, but am confused why soaking does not affect it much
    also i never noted my brown rice being rancid… better do a controlled taste test now!!!

    i just always figured people like refined better, it goes better with the taste buds and so we began refining things not only for the king and queen but more and more for the foot folk

    and then the diseases began
    not so with rice it seems
    i MUST dive into that a little more πŸ™‚
    thanks Kathy! though i had heard all the info at some point, i never bothered looking myself, besides i still love brown rice πŸ™‚


    1. Hi Gudrun … The unrefined versions of both rice and wheat flour contain more nutrients to be sure. But they also contain more anti nutrients as well if not handled with extreme care. Update: let me rephrase that … that’s what happens when you do three things at once ;-). I meant to say that if not handled well they contain rancid PUFA’s and that regardless they will still contain significant anti-nutrients, enough to offset the elevated nutrient level.

      This post is making the very specific point that brown rice isn’t really a traditional food. Neither is whole wheat flour. I didn’t want the post to be a mile long so I haven’t addressed the nutritional reasons why that might be so in any great detail. Looks like we’ll need to dive into all of the specifics on fiber and anti nutrients very soon.


      1. Please, please, please do. You have NO IDEA how confused and frustrating life has become since I starting trying to figure out WHAT we should be eating (as opposed to what we should not be eating)……………it seems that the former list would be MUCH shorter. I’m subscribing now πŸ™‚


      2. Kathy, thanks much for your UPDATE!
        i think if i eat a lot of rice in a week i will make white, if i only make it once in a while i will use my brown, until it is gone (now, i could get me some chickens and feed it to them LOL)

        i always like to read your posts! and – i did not comment there- all the scientific research can change in a hurry, as we have seen in the past, so traditional is better in my view any day
        Granny knew without the research how to prepare foods…… good enough for me most of the time!


  7. So happy to read this!

    I had already switched back to white rice (organic this time πŸ™‚ but your post is so informative and organized. I generally enjoy your posts for exactly this reason. It makes the information so easy to share with people.


  8. Do you know about the arsenic levels of the Mahatma brand of Jasmine rice? (It also says Thai Hom Mali Rice , Originated in Thailand). I was curious because we eat it constantly and love it. πŸ™‚


  9. I couldn’t agree more. I studied and practiced Macrobiotics years ago. I’ve probably consumed at least mine and your body weight in brown rice. I ate it because I thought it was healthy, certainly not because I thought it was good. Yuck. And, I never did get healthy from it.


    1. Very true Catherine! It’s why it’s important to be very cautious about health fads. I’m not super old really πŸ˜‰ but I’ve seen a bunch of them come and then be discredited. The current fads will end up discredited too. That’s why history is such a good yardstick. Helps you to sort these things out more easily.


  10. Thanks for this information. We’ve been eating brown rice
    for close to forty years and enjoy it. However, I’ve been concerned
    about the rancidity, so recently I bought a package of white rice.
    I’m looking forward to trying it.


  11. Thank you, Doctor! You are a doctor, right? Nutritionist? Scientist? No? Wait… did you really just cite to Wikipedia???


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