Top 5 health benefits of rice

April 20, 2024
Top 5 health benefits of rice

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What is rice?

Rice (oryza sativa) is the seed of a cereal grass. It’s one of the most important dietary carbohydrates in the world, with over half the global population depending on it. Typically boiled or steamed, rice can also be ground into a gluten-free flour. It’s a central component of many cuisines including those of India, China and Southeast Asia.

There are many types of rice, but broadly speaking they are categorised by their shape (long- or short grain) and colour – white or brown.

Benefits of rice include:

  • Brown rice may help maintain a healthy weight
  • Brown rice may protect against chronic disease
  • White rice supports energy and restore glycogen levels
  • White rice is a low-residue food and easy to digest
  • Brown and white rice is gluten free

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and also check out some of our delicious rice recipes, from brown rice tabbouleh with eggs & parsley to slow-cooker rice pudding

Nutritional profile of rice

A 100g serving of white long-grain rice (boiled) provides:

  • 131 kcal/560KJ
  • 2.8g protein
  • 0.4g fat
  • 31.1g carbohydrate
  • 0.5g fibre

A 100g serving of brown rice (boiled) provides:

  • 132kcal/562KJ
  • 3.6g protein
  • 0.9g fat
  • 29.2g carbohydrate
  • 1.5g fibre
  • 48mg magnesium
  • 125mg phosphorus

Is brown rice healthy?

Considered a wholegrain, brown rice is less processed than white, the latter having had the fibre-rich outer bran of the grain removed along with the nutrient-rich germ. As a result, white rice has a longer shelf life and is quick to cook but has a neutral flavour; nutritionally, it has less fibre and protein than its wholegrain equivalent. Brown rice contains both the bran and germ, making it nutrient- and fibre-rich and it retains a pleasant, nutty flavour.

What are the health benefits of rice?

1. May help maintain a healthy weight

Brown rice contains fibre and protein, both are known to have a satiating effect and contribute to a lower glycaemic index (GI) than that of white rice. This means the carbs supplied by a portion of brown rice are converted to energy more steadily. For this reason, opting for brown rice over white helps reduce blood glucose and fasting insulin levels. All of which stabilises energy levels, prevents cravings and may help with weight management.

The picture with white rice is less clear, with some studies suggesting an increase in weight gain and especially belly fat, if you eat white rice, while other studies show no connection. However, it is thought that a substantial serving of white rice, eaten on a regular basis, may lead to elevations in blood sugar levels, which, over time, may increase your risk of metabolic syndrome, including weight gain.

2. Brown rice protects against chronic disease

Brown rice retains the bran layer and as such contains protective compounds called flavonoids, examples of which include apigenin and quercetin. These compounds play an important role in protecting against disease. Numerous studies suggest including wholegrains, like brown rice, in your diet may be linked to a reduced risk of conditions such as heart disease, some cancers, including pancreatic and gastric cancers, as well as type 2 diabetes.

3. White rice supports energy and restores glycogen levels after exercise

Athletes often opt for white rice as a preferred source of energy, especially when refuelling after exercise. This is because refined carbs, like white rice, are a source of quick, easily accessible carbohydrate which is needed to replenish muscle glycogen after physical exertion.

4. White rice is easy to digest

White rice is easily digested, low in fibre and when cooked and served correctly is unlikely to cause gastric upset. It may be a useful food for those who suffer from heartburn or nausea as well as during the flare-ups associated with conditions like diverticulitis and Crohn’s disease.

5. It’s a gluten-free grain

Being naturally gluten-free, rice is a valuable option for those with coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. The brown, wholegrain variety is especially useful because it supplies insoluble fibre, which promotes digestive function and ‘fuels’ the beneficial gut bacteria which are so important for health.

Is rice safe for everyone?

Rice is an important dietary staple, however, reports have linked it with arsenic contamination, high levels of which, over a consistent period, have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. The accumulation of arsenic tends to be greatest in the bran part of the grain, which means wholegrain rice may potentially have higher amounts of this heavy metal contaminant than white rice.

Given their smaller body weight, exposure to arsenic is more of a concern for children. This risk is increased by their limited dietary choices and the fact that many first foods are rice-based. For this reason, rice milk, which is made from the bran of the grain, should be avoided for all children under five years of age.

Some useful kitchen tips may help reduce levels of arsenic, such as washing rice before use and using a high volume of water to rice when cooking.

Overall, is rice healthy?

Rice eaten in moderation and as part of a varied, balanced diet should not be a problem for the majority of people. Brown rice is a more nutritious choice, providing a range of vitamins, minerals and protective plant compounds.

If you have specific dietary concerns regarding the inclusion of rice in your diet, please consult your GP or registered dietitian for guidance.

Enjoyed this? Read more:

Is pasta healthy?
Top 5 health benefits of potatoes
Is bread healthy?
Top 11 healthiest cereals

Rice recipes

Rice pudding
Spicy cauliflower & halloumi rice
Prawn fried rice
Paneer jalfrezi with cumin rice
Peanut butter chicken rice bowl
Carrot biryani
Rainbow fried rice with prawns & fried eggs

This article was last reviewed on 27 March 2024 by Kerry Torrens.

Kerry Torrens BSc. (Hons) PgCert MBANT is a registered nutritionist with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications, including Good Food.

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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