Is White Rice Healthy? We Asked RDNs About This Staple Starch (2024)

White rice is a staple ingredient in cuisines around the world, particularly in Asian cultures. It’s also popular in the U.S., thanks to its fluffy texture, versatility, and affordability. However, white rice is often perceived as less nutritious than brown rice, especially within wellness-minded conversations. So, is white rice healthy in its own right, and should you be eating it (or eating it as often)? Dietitians share what to know about white rice nutrition, plus the health benefits and potential drawbacks of this common ingredient.

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White Rice Nutrition Facts

White rice includes many key micronutrients, including phosphorus and magnesium, which “both promote healthy bones, play a role in synthesizing DNA and metabolizing energy,” says Laura Iu, RD, CDN, CNSC, a New York–based registered dietitian. It also includes folate (vitamin B9), niacin (vitamin B3), and thiamin (vitamin B1).

Here’s the nutritional breakdown of 1 cup cooked white rice, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • Calories: 242 calories
  • Protein: 4 grams (g)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 53 g
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg

What Is a Healthy Serving of White Rice?

A standard serving of cooked white rice is listed as 1 cup by the USDA.

But it's very important to note: The ideal serving size (of any food) varies greatly from person to person and day to day, says Marissa Meshulam, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of MPM Nutrition. “The proper serving size for you is the amount you need to eat to feel satisfied, energized, and ready to move on with your day,” she explains. In other words, if you still feel hungry after a meal, you didn’t have enough! Likewise, if you feel tired or stuffed after eating, you probably ate more than you needed, Meshulam says.

Meshulam recommends thinking about the proportions of your foods instead of measuring an exact serving size. For a balanced meal, she suggests making half of your plate vegetables, a fourth protein, and a fourth carbohydrates—which, in this case, could be white rice. By following these general proportions, you’ll be more likely to eat a ratio of food that leaves you feeling good while providing enough micronutrients, Meshulam says.

As for how often you should eat white rice? That also depends on your overall lifestyle and diet, according to Meshulam. “If you’re more active, you’ll likely need more carbohydrates and could benefit from [eating] rice more often,” Meshulam says. Additionally, “if you enjoy other carbohydrate sources like bread [and] beans, you might need rice as often because you’re consuming varying carbohydrate sources.” Or if rice is your go-to carbohydrate, it’s perfectly acceptable to have it as part of your regular meals, she notes.

Top Health Benefits of White Rice

1. It provides energy.

Thanks to its carbohydrate content, white rice is an excellent source of energy. A quick explainer: Carbohydrate is a macronutrient (as are protein and fat), meaning you need it in larger amounts. In the body, it breaks down into glucose, the main source of energy for humans. (In fact, glucose is further broken down into ATP, a form of energy that fuels nearly every biological process in the body.)

2. It’s easy on the digestive system.

Fiber is an essential nutrient that promotes bulky stool. It’s important for digestive health, though it can also exacerbate certain gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory disease. In this case, the lower fiber content of white rice, compared to other grains and plant foods, can help, as “low-fiber foods are generally [gentler] on the stomach, [making] it a safe choice for gastrointestinal conditions,” says Iu.

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3. It’s suitable for gluten-free diets.

If you have a gluten-related disorder like celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, white rice deserves a spot on your plate. “Many carbohydrate sources, [like] wheat, rye, and barely—contain gluten, which means those on a gluten-free diet have less carbohydrate options,” says Meshulam. “Rice is a naturally gluten-free grain, so it can [provide] an easy way to add in carbs in a gluten-free diet.”

4. It has important nutrients for pregnant people.

“In the U.S., white rice is generally enriched with [nutrients] like iron and folate, both of which [the body] requires more of during pregnancy,” Meshulam says. Of course, folate is important for everyone, but it’s even more vital during pregnancy. Specifically, it’s needed for the healthy development of the fetus’ neural tube (which eventually forms the baby’s brain and spine), as well as general fetal growth and development, explains Meshulam.

Potential Drawbacks of White Rice

It has less fiber than brown rice (but honestly not that much less!).

According to Iu, brown rice is a whole grain, meaning it contains all three parts of the grain: the fiber-rich bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Meanwhile, the bran is removed from white rice, making it a refined product—by result of the grain refinement process it contains less fiber than brown rice, but this isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, says Iu. Why? The difference in fiber is only 1 gram, according to Meshulam.

“If you enjoy white rice and it [leaves] you more satisfied than brown rice, go for it,” Meshulam says. It’s more important to balance the rice with protein, fat, and fiber (in the form of vegetables) to make it a complete meal, she adds.

It can raise blood sugar, but there’s a catch.

White rice is technically ranked high on the glycemic index. This means its carbohydrates are quickly digested and broken down into glucose, theoretically increasing blood sugar levels. As a result, white rice is often demonized, especially for those with metabolic conditions like diabetes or insulin resistance—but Iu says these groups don’t need to avoid the ingredient. “Instead, they can [focus on] portion sizes and practice pairing rice with protein, fat, and fiber for a more balanced meal [and] better blood sugar control,” says Iu.

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The Bottom Line: Is White Rice Healthy?

In the U.S., white rice is often considered an inferior grain, but it’s a staple ingredient in many cultures around the world, says Iu. Among said cultures, it’s also usually paired with nutrient-dense ingredients like protein and vegetables, which compensate for any potential nutritional deficiencies in white rice for which it's sometimes maligned, she adds.

Bottom line: Whether white rice is your go-to grain or an occasional guest in your kitchen, the integrity of your diet will be defined by your overall meals and eating patterns, not a single ingredient (i.e. eating white rice!). What’s more, white rice has a rightful place in a balanced diet—just like any other food. So cook up some fluffy, white rice, and enjoy!

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