Is White Rice Evil?

White rice? But, I thought I was supposed to stay away from anything white. Won’t white rice make me fat? I thought brown rice was better?

Why I Eat It

I like it.
I’m half Persian. Basmati, anyone?
I do really well on it when I do eat it.
It is soothing to my digestive tract and gut, especially when I make it with bone broth.
I think of it as a calorie-dense transporter of nutrients when making it with bone broth; it is great for repair and workout days. 
It is easily digestible and comforting when you’re sick.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, white rice is used medicinally as a congee for food therapy. It is incredibly nourishing to the spleen and gut and you can add whatever medicinal ingredients to achieve what you are going for: ginger, turmeric, bone broth, herbs, etc. 
BUT, I’ll be honest. There was a time when I stayed away from white rice in favor of brown because I thought it was ‘healthier’ and because I thought all white foods were evil. 

Is White Rice Evil?

That depends. How do you feel after you eat it? What does your overall diet look like? Is your gut compromised? Do you exercise? Do you mostly eat a whole foods diet? Do you consume a high amount of sugar in general? We tend to make these one-size-fits-all health claims in our society when what would serve us better is to get connected to our own bodies in a healthy way and start listening to it. Yes, there are one-size-fits-all foods that we know are detrimental to the overall population: chemicals in a package masking as food would be the obvious. But, there are the grey lines that rely heavily on our own bio-individuality. Is white rice for everyone? Maybe not, but it isn’t inherently evil either just because it is a white starch.

What About White Rice and Type 2 Diabetes?

A 2012 publication from the British Medical Journal links the consumption of white rice to Type 2 diabetes risk . The Harvard researchers conducting the study wanted to look at white rice, glycemic index and diabetes. They compiled a meta-analysis, a study in which observations are made across multiple studies to find patterns. They used studies from four countries, China, Japan, Australia and the United States, which included 352,384 individuals. This specific set of people did not have diabetes and were followed (up to twenty-two years) to see if they developed diabetes. Out of the 352+ thousand people studies, 13,284 did develop Type II diabetes, which is about 4%. Furthermore, the people who ate the most white rice had a 27% more likely chance of developing Type II diabetes than those who ate the least amount of white rice. The problem in the study is the scientists conducting it could not quantify its results. The increased risk was only found in Asian populations, not in the Western population [source]. 
One Doc had quite the opinion on the study itself:
The most generous way I can spin it would be that this study, using pooled cohorts that left out tremendously important controls and considerations, when analyzed, suggested that white rice consumption increases the risk of diabetes development in Asian, but not Western, populations.
The worst way to spin it? The fact the cohorts used to determine this study’s conclusions failed to consider incredibly relevant diabetes confounders like family history of diabetes, socioeconomic status, and dietary consumption patterns, including the dietary consumption of other categories of refined grains, makes quantifying the effect on diabetes development due to white rice consumption from this data set impossible [source].
If you are a Westerner, it looks like eating white rice may not increase your risk for Type II diabetes after all.
There is also the whole resistant starch thing I am still figuring out, but white rice makes the cut if done right.

Isn’t Brown Rice Better?

First of all to be clear, white rice is simply brown rice without the outer husk, bran and germ layer. The husk, bran and germ are removed during the milling process and the seed is polished resulting in a white finish. I had to clear that up because some people have told me they thought white rice was brown rice bleached! Many people actually eat brown rice because of the nutrients found in the bran and germ. Brown rice is healthier, they say. There is more fiber and vitamins, they say. All true, but, there is a catch. Also found in the bran and germ layer are anti-nutrients called phytic acid. Phytic acid can bind vitamins and minerals in your gut making them null and void a.k.a. you cannot absorb them. Phytic acid also disrupts digestive enzymes needed to break down food and phytates can decrease the digestibility of all three macronutrients: carbs, proteins and fats. Many folks who already have gut and digestive issues avoid eating foods with anti-nutrients like phytic acid because they only serve to further irritate the gut lining and upset the digestive tract. The very nutrients people want to get from eating brown rice cannot be absorbed because of brown rice’s own anti-nutrients. Crazy.
Some folks say properly preparing your grains by soaking rice to remove the outer layer is enough to neutralize the phytic acid. Others say it’s not enough and the only way to really neutralize the phytic acid is to ferment your brown rice before cooking and eating it. 
Who has time for that? This is just another reason to skip the brown and eat the white. And, if you make your white rice with bone broth and grass-fed butter and celtic sea salt like I do, you’ll be transporting vitamins, minerals and amino acids like nobody’s business. It’s awesome post-workout fuel.
Brown rice does have a great, nutty flavor and if you’re set on eating it, at least soak it overnight to release some of the phytic acid.

What About Arsenic?

Arsenic is a chemical element of the Periodic Table. It can be found in nature in rocks, soil, water and also in man-made products and work environments like manufacturing, mining, industrial plants, glass factories, etc. There are two forms of arsenic: organic compounds and inorganic compounds. Organic/inorganic in this sense is the Chemistry definition, not the organic food definition, meaning organic arsenic is arsenic bound with carbon and inorganic arsenic is arsenic not bound with carbon. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen and ingesting it in high levels leads to an increased risk of cancer and other health problems. 
ALL rice contains trace amounts of inorganic arsenic, so is there an amount safe for consumption? It seems no one has set a strict guideline for a specific amount. The maximum allowable limit for arsenic in drinking water is set at 10 parts per billion, but scientists say this amount cannot be directly translated for food. So, if there is no strict guideline as to what is safe, do we avoid rice altogether? Not necessarily. What we can do is vary our grains, especially for folks on gluten-free diets, choose rice that has the lowest amount of inorganic arsenic, rinse rice thoroughly before cooking and avoid or limit rice products in infants and children such as rice cereal, rice crackers, anything sweetened with rice syrup and even store-bought fruit juice.
Brown rice has a much higher concentration of arsenic, an upwards of 80% more than white, because arsenic is found mainly in the bran and germ. Organic and conventional brown rice syrup found in cereal bars and infant formula seem to be of some concern and should be avoided. According to this NPR article, “One toddler formula with organic brown rice syrup as the primary ingredient had arsenic concentrations six times the federal limit of 10 parts per billion for arsenic in drinking water.” (link at the bottom of this post if you need a safe, infant formula).   
Which rice has the lowest amount of arsenic? 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.
Our findings led us to treat those specific rices from those areas differently from other types of rice and rices grown in other regions. Based on our data, we calculated that consumers could have about twice as many weekly servings as we previously recommended if that was the only rice or rice product someone ate. For adults, that adds up to 4½ servings per week; children could have 2¾ servings [source].
When in doubt you can refer to this point system made by Consumer Reports. It is for weekly rice servings based on the data they analyzed.
The rice we eat:

Safe rice for arsenic levels

{Trader Joe’s Organic White Basmati Rice from India}
Here’s another brand you can get from Amazon if you don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby
Lower arsenic levels in white rice may not be exactly a pro for eating white rice and some, understandably, may choose to avoid it altogether, but if you stick to the right source and weekly amounts you should be fine. 

Summing It All Up

White rice can be used medicinally as an easy transporter of nutrients, it doesn’t necessarily increase your risk of Type II Diabetes, it is a much better choice over brown because it lacks phytic acid and has substantially lower arsenic levels and it can be great fuel for your body, especially if combined with other powerful vitamins, minerals and amino acids like bone broth.
So, what do you think? Is white rice evil? Do you think it can be included in a healthy diet? How do you Paleo eaters feel about it?

More Voices on the Topic

Holistic Squid: Why I Eat White Rice Instead of Brown 
Butter Believer: Brown Rice or White Rice: Which is Healthier?
Ancestral Nutrition: Why White Rice is Better Than Brown
If you need a safe infant formula that is half the cost of store-bought formula and void of nasty ingredients, you can find my recipe here.

  Is White Rice Evil?

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4 Comments

  • Cary says:

    I guess I’m one of the few that actually do better with brown rice – every time I eat white rice, it always feels like there is a huge “bubble” in stomach (that’s the best way I can describe it) and I wish I could just pop it b/c it is so uncomfortable. Plus, I like the nutty flavor of brown rice better. Thanks for sharing the info, though – I’ll pass this along to my parents who prefer white rice over brown 🙂

    • Hey, Cary. It’s so interesting how everyone takes to food differently. Prime example of bio-individuality. Bubble in your stomach does not sound fun, I get why you skip it! Thanks for sharing and passing it along. -Rama

  • Raymond Deaner says:

    about your comment on the phytic acid. you are correct on the process of eliminating this nutrient hinderance. soaking or fermenting? both work. ask a POW!. during the campaign, vets would be served very little food or water in isolation pits. their only nutrition came in the forms of some protein, al beit, rats, and unprocessed rice, husks included. in most cases, right from the horses mouth, so to speak, was the spoilage, or fermentation of the rice, that kept these men alive. I have family and friends that served in the Viet Nam war and these are their stories. Its what kept them alive. Thanks for listening

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