Is white rice bad for you if you want to lose weight?

Is white rice bad for you if you want to lose weight
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Ah, rice. Yet another polarizing topic for the fitness community to debate about. Some say the color (or type) doesn’t matter while some say brown rice is the far superior option. Let me help you get to the bottom of it all. 

So, is white rice bad for you if you want to lose weight? 

The most straightforward answer is no, it isn’t bad per se. However, depending on your circumstances, it might not also be the best choice. 

For instance, you can still lose weight with white rice as a staple part of your diet if you stay mindful of your portions. However, other whole-grain options pack on comparatively more nutrients because they aren’t as processed. 

This opens up more questions. Like, why isn’t as nutritious? Is white rice still healthy or not? Can you eat it every day? What are the pros and cons? 

Let’s discuss them all, starting with:

Is white rice healthy? 

Well, it isn’t intrinsically unhealthy. After all, your body’s preferred energy source comes from carbohydrates and that’s exactly what white rice is. 

However, it may not be the best option. 

For example, white rice and brown rice have roughly similar micronutrients (see table below). 

  White rice (cooked, 100 g) Brown rice (cooked, 100g)
Calories 130 kcal 123 kcal
Carbs (fiber) 28.17 g (0.4 g) 25.58 g (1.6 g)
Protein 2.69 g 2.74 g
Fat 0.28 g 0.97 g

So, based on the most basic weight loss principle of energy balance (i.e. calories in vs. calories out), choosing one or the other makes little difference. 

However, the separation between them both lies more in their micronutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals). 

White rice has been stripped of its bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. According to the Oldways Whole Grain Council, the bran and germ contain vital antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and a bit more protein and fiber. 

This makes white less nutritious but, at the same time, also more starchy. 

The NHS says starchy foods are important to a healthy diet when taken in moderation. Taken in excessive amounts though, is when it becomes a problem as multiple studies have associated that with increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease

This brings us to another question concerning the healthiness of rice.

Is white rice bleached?

This has been an issue with people who’re reluctant to consume white rice (and white sugar, apparently) because, of course, eating food that’s bleached probably isn’t all that safe. 

The good news is that, no, it generally isn’t. White rice is white because it’s had its brown-colored bran removed, leaving only the white endosperm. (On a side note, this process also significantly lengthens the shelf life of white rice while also making it cheaper.)

The final parts of white rice production also include polishing the rice to give it its pearly sheen and separating rice with color imperfections. 

This leaves us, consumers, with the perfect white rice we buy from supermarkets.

Of course, there may be a slight chance that some shady manufacturers bleach their rice to make it somehow make it look better. In this case, perhaps you should buy your rice from the brands you trust. 

I recommend Nishiki’s medium-grain rice, but other brands offered near you may be just as good. 

For a more in-depth look at how rice is made, check out this video from the Science Channel

Moving on…

Is eating white rice everyday good or bad?

Ask virtually any Asian, and probably they’ll tell you that regular white rice consumption never hurts. But, ask anyone else, and they’ll likely give you an entirely different answer. 

I, myself, am an Asian who grew up on rice but I’m throwing away my biases for objectivity’s sake. 

That being said, eating white rice everyday can either be good or bad. 

In terms of impact on your blood sugar, rice has a high glycemic index of 78. Relative to brown rice’s moderate score of 68 (per Harvard), this means white rice gives you an almost instant source of energy.

White rice also lacks phytate, an anti-nutrient found in bran, that research says may interfere with the absorption of iron, calcium, and zinc. 

If you’re an athlete or someone who’s highly active, these reasons make white rice a solid carb source you can eat day in and day out.

However, those reasons are also inherently flawed without a balanced diet. 

While white rice does give you a swift source of fuel, energy levels from high GI foods are also quick to drop. And, while it doesn’t have the nutrient-blocking phytate, it isn’t innately nutritious either.

These issues have easy solutions though. 

For energy, you could always pair your white rice with slower-digesting, high-fiber carbs like fruits and vegetables. You could have those as snacks as well, to sort of bridge the energy gap between your main meals without consuming too many calories. 

For nutritional content, white rice enriched with folate is becoming more and more popular these days. Plus, with a balanced diet, it’s fairly easy to get those lacking nutrients elsewhere. 

Ultimately, what decides whether eating white rice everyday is good or bad is what you pair it with and how much of it you eat. 

Can you lose weight eating white rice?

Contrary to what most other people will tell you, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that yes, you can lose weight while eating white rice. After all, slim Asians around the world (such as myself) likely still eat white rice regularly. 

However, the same rules that can make eating white rice healthy also apply to make it weight loss-friendly. This means pairing it with food that can offset its nutritional scarcity and being mindful of your portions. 

Oh, and speaking of portions…

How much white rice should I eat to lose weight?

Let me circle you back to the principle of energy balance real quick. 

Whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight depends on the ratio between the energy you consume and the energy you burn. Energy, in this case, refers to calories. 

Specifically for weight loss, you want to consume fewer calories than you burn. 

The concept of losing weight is truly that simple but, as you might already know, it’s easier said than done. 

This is where how much white rice you eat comes into play. 

To get to a state of negative energy balance, you must either reduce the number of calories you consume (e.g. dieting, portion control), amplify the calories you burn (i.e. increased physical activity), or better yet, do both. 

Now, let’s assume for a minute that you aren’t doing any exercise and need about 2000 calories every day to maintain your weight. 

The MayoClinic says you’d need to cut around 500-1000 calories per day to lose 1-2 lbs of weight, bringing your limit to 1500 calories per day if you wanted to shed those pounds. 

According to the NHS’s Eatwell Guide on healthy and balanced diets, starchy foods should make up a little over a third of the calories you eat. Based on the 1500 calorie-limit example I just gave you, this makes your daily ceiling for white rice consumption right around 500 calories. 

Realistically though, you don’t want to use all those calories on just white rice. 

Again, it isn’t as nutrient-dense compared to whole grains. So, if you just wanted rice, it’s generally better to use brown rice instead. 

But, if it’s white rice or nothing, you could also swap/pair portions of that rice with more fiber-rich, nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and other wholegrain alternatives to help fill the nutritional void. 

Keeping those things in mind, here are a few tools/apps that can help you figure out the different components of energy balance. They should help you lose weight while still eating white rice: 

  • MayoClinic’s calorie calculator – Gets you an estimate of how many calories you need to maintain your weight, depending on your activity level, age, height, and sex. Just subtract 500-1000 calories from that total (but don’t go below 1300 calories) to safely lose weight. 
  • MyFitnessPal – Has a similar calorie calculator but it also gives you an estimate of how many calories you should eat per day to achieve your weight loss goals. No math needed. Plus, it also doubles as a food diary so you can keep better track of your nutrients, including vitamins and minerals that you might not be getting with regular white rice consumption.

Advantages and disadvantages of white rice

Before we end this, here’s a list of the pros and cons of white rice. Treat this as a refresher of all the things we just talked about.

Pros Cons
Has roughly the same amount of macronutrients as brown rice (except fiber) Has significantly less fiber and healthy fat with a bit less protein
Longer shelf life Lacks the antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals found in wholegrain alternatives
Significantly cheaper Energy levels crash fairly quickly
Its high glycemic index serves as a quick source of energy (glucose) Excessive intake is associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease
No phytate, so it doesn’t interfere with nutrient absorption  
Enriched versions now saturate the market  
Starchy, so it can be healthy in moderate amounts  

Conclusion

After digesting all that information, let me ask you this:  

Is white rice bad for you?

If I haven’t made it clear yet, yes, it can be bad for you but only when taken excessively. 

Like most other things in life, moderation is the key to losing weight while still eating white rice. And, it might not be as nutritious and fibrous, but it’s also a versatile ingredient that you can pair with more nutritious food that can help fill the void. 

Adios, amigos! Share this with a friend will ya? And maybe give your rice-eating Asian buddies a high five while you’re at it! 

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