Qn of the Month: Brown Rice Vs. White Rice: Is There a Real Difference?

IMG_0295A: Well, let’s compare them side by side. One cup of cooked long grained unenriched white rice (195 grams in weight) provides about 205 calories, 4.25 grams of protein, 0.44 grams of  fat,  44.5 grams of carbohydrate, 0.6 grams of fiber and very small amounts of the B vitamins and other nutrients  like iron, zinc and calcium (for instance, 16 milligrams calcium, 0.32 milligrams iron, 0.77 milligrams zinc).

In contrast, one cup of cooked long grained brown rice (195 grams in weight) provides almost the same amount of calories and carbohydrate, and only a very tiny bit more of protein, B vitamins and other nutrients (e.g., 5.03 grams of protein, 20 milligrams calcium, 0.82 milligrams iron, 1.23 milligrams zinc). The real difference? That same cup of brown rice provides six times the fiber content (3.5 grams) and slightly more fat content (1.76 grams) but this is comprised of a greater proportion of the healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (0.6 grams) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (0.6 grams).

What I have found personally though, is that eating brown rice is more helpful than white rice when trying to control blood sugar levels, especially when one has diabetes or gestational diabetes. This is likely because the glycemic index of brown rice is just 50, compared to that of white rice being 89, for a 150 gram portion. This is equivalent to brown rice having a glycemic load per serving of 16 compared to the glycemic load per serving of white rice being 43. The glycemic index is one method of categorization which helps to indicate how quickly the carbohydrates are broken down by the body and the glucose is released into the bloodstream. For reference, glucose (a form of simple carbohydrate) is very easily absorbed in the body and has a glycemic index of 100.

My Conclusion?

Brown rice does appear to be slightly more nutrient dense compared to white rice, with one of the key benefits being an increased fiber content. However, you can make up for the fiber by consuming other whole grain products and foods such as bread, whole wheat pasta, bran flakes, old fashioned oatmeal and beans . Nowadays, it is even possible to buy whole wheat bread with as much as 5 grams of fiber per slice! So don’t worry if you’re not consuming brown rice with its higher arsenic content. However, it may be worthwhile investigating if switching to brown rice from white rice has a positive impact on your blood sugar levels, if you are having diabetes or gestational diabetes.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/. Accessed August 29, 2015.

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods.  Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods. February 3, 2015. Accessed August 29, 2015.)

Arsenic & Rice (Part 3): What Are Others Saying About It?

To eat or not to eat? - Dietitianmom.com

To eat or not to eat? – Dietitianmom.com

In the 3rd part of this series, we will examine the positions and recommendations from a few other sources. First, the concern of arsenic in rice drinks is not a new one. As early as 2003, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom has been conducting surveys regarding levels of arsenic in rice and rice products. In February 2009, they released key results in a food survey information sheet regarding arsenic in rice drinks. It was found that arsenic was detected in all samples of rice drinks at low concentrations. Hence FSA advised against using rice milk to substitute for breast milk or for cow’s milk infant formulas for toddlers and young children who are 4.5 years of age and under. This recommendation is not only for nutritional reasons as rice milk is nutritionally inadequate compared to breastmilk or infant formula, but also to reduce arsenic exposure and intake by young children.

In November 2 014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provided some advice regarding the use of infant rice cereal for infants and older children who need this due to special needs including dysphagia or gastroesophageal reflux. The AAP’s interim advice is that oatmeal can be used as a preferred thickener instead of rice cereal. This can be done through the use of infant oatmeal cereal. For older children, cornstarch or gum based thickeners can be suitable alternatives.

More recently, in January 2015, the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (ESPGHAN) released some guidelines and recommendations regarding the issue of arsenic in rice. In the report, it is stated that inorganic arsenic is considered a

“first level carcinogen because long-term exposure is associated with increased risk for various carcinomas including skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, and prostrate. Furthermore, exposure is also associated with alterations in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, hematological, pulmonary, neurological, immunological and reproductive/developmental function”.

Further, infants and children may be more susceptible to toxic effects, with a “higher exposure reported to be associated with increased infant morbidity and mortality and impaired development“. The ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition caution that rice, especially rice bran, contains high levels of inorganic arsenic, and rice drinks should not be used in infants and young children. This group also encourages a wide consumption of different grains in the diet to reduce inorganic arsenic exposure from food, such as oat, barley, wheat, maize and rice.

All this serves to show that the issue of arsenic in rice is a real one, and one worth noting. There will likely be more data and guidelines out in the near future, especially from the United States Food and Drug Administration, so keep watching this topic. In the meantime, there are many action steps that you as a consumer and parent can already take for yourself and your child [see posts on Arsenic & Rice (Part 2): Action Steps You Can Take Right NOW and Qn of the Month: How Can I Reduce the Arsenic Content of Rice Through Cooking?]!


AAP Arsenic in Rice Expert Work Group. AAP group offers advice to reduce infants’ exposure to arsenic in rice. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/35/11/13.1.full. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Food Standards Agency. Survey of total and inorganic arsenic in rice drinks. Food Survey Information Sheet 02/09. http://tna.europarchive.org/20140306205048/http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/surveillance/fsisbranch2009/survey0209. Accessed July 20, 2015.

Hojsak I, Braegger C, Bronsky J et al. ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition. Arsenic in rice: a cause for concern. JPGN 2015;60: 142–145. http://www.espghan.org/fileadmin/user_upload/guidelines_pdf/Hep_Nutr/arsenic_in_rice.pdf. Accessed July 20, 2015.)

Qn of the Month: How Can I Reduce the Arsenic Content of Rice Through Cooking?


Cooking Rice to Reduce Arsenic Levels – dietitianmom.com

A: One of the ways to reduce the arsenic content of rice prior to consumption is through cooking.  Here is the rice cooking method that both FDA and Consumer Reports suggest to help reduce the final arsenic content in cooked rice: Cook one cup of rice in 5-6 cups of water. Note that you would need to use a big pot to cook the rice on the stove if you employ this method. Apparently this is a traditional method of cooking rice, but it does produce a more watery product. Based on experience, I recommend the following to minimize the water content of the cooked rice and reduce its sogginess:

  • Using a big pot (a pasta drainer pot with holes in the lid works great!), rinse and wash 1 cup of rice. Then add 5-6 cups of water.
  • Bring water in the pot to a boil on medium heat with the cover on. Once the water starts to boil, turn down the fire so that the pot is just simmering and cover the pot again. Set the timer for 15-20 minutes.
  • Once the timer is up, take a spoon to check and taste to see whether the rice is done. If it is, immediately turn off the fire, and drain as much of the excess liquid from the pot as you can.
  • Then let the pot sit uncovered for at least 5-10 minutes to allow further excess moisture to evaporate.

Optimal cooking times can vary depending on the type of rice you use (e.g., brown rice versus white rice, short grain versus long grain). In general, brown rice will take a bit longer than white rice to cook through. To help reduce cooking time for brown rice, soak it beforehand for a few hours in cold water, then discard the water prior to rinsing the rice. Also, feel free to increase the number of cups of rice you cook at one time depending on your family’s size. Just add the corresponding ratio of water prior to cooking and know that the overall cooking time will need to be extended.

Note also that even if you use these steps above to prepare your rice, the cooked rice will still turn out a bit ‘wet’ or soggy, so you may have to get used to the change in texture over time. It would also be helpful to rinse the rice a few times in water before beginning the cooking process. Although rinsing and cooking the rice in excess water will inevitably lower its nutritional content (especially as rice grain products in the United States are often enriched with iron, folate, thiamin and niacin), it may be well worth it if the arsenic content of the rice could possibly be reduced by as much as 50 percent! Plus, any amount of B vitamins and folate lost through this cooking method can likely be made up quite easily through certain other foods consumed.

Questions & Answers: Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products. US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm319948.htm. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed June 19, 2015.

How Much Arsenic is in Your Rice. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm. November 2014. Accessed June 19, 2015.)

Arsenic & Rice (Part 2): Action Steps You Can Take Right NOW

Having read my first post (Arsenic & Rice: Why this Affects You & Your Family), you may wonder if there are steps you can take immediately to reduce you and your child’s arsenic intake. Yes, there is! The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did issue some advice for consumers, as they continue their investigation with a risk assessment to determine the potential health risk from long-term exposure to the arsenic in rice and related food products. The FDA provides the following guidance:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. This enables good nutrition and reduces the negative health consequences from eating too much of any one food.
  • Vary your grains. Eat a variety of different grains besides rice like wheat, barley and oats.
  • Consider alternatives for an infant’s first solid food. Parents are encouraged to offer a variety of grain cereals to infants, which can be used as a first solid food instead of only rice cereals. This is in accordance with the view of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which states that there is no medical evidence that rice cereal has any advantage over other grains as a first solid food, and infants would likely benefit from eating a variety of grain cereals.

Consumer Reports, a consumer watchdog organization in the United States, echoes these recommendations above. To help increase the variety of grains consumed, Consumer Reports encourages consumption of lower arsenic alternatives such as buckwheat, amaranth, millet, bulgur, farro, quinoa, barley, polenta or grits (note that bulgur, barley and farro contain gluten).  In addition, they provide the following specific recommendations which are helpful:

  • Choose where your rice comes from. Choose white or brown Basmati rice from India, Pakistan, or California
  • Type and processing method of rice matters.
    • Sushi rice from the U.S. was found to have low levels of total inorganic arsenic.
    • Parboiled rice tends to have relatively high inorganic arsenic levels.
    • Quick or instant cooking white rice tends to have pretty low levels of inorganic arsenic.
  • Avoid/limit overconsumption of certain rice and rice products with relatively high average levels of inorganic arsenic, such as
    • Basmati rice grown in south-central U.S. (Arkansas and/or Texas) or rice that does not have any specific origin information other than ‘United States’.
    • Hot cereals, rice pastas, rice cakes, and some ready-to-eat rice bran cereals (see 7 Points a Week Guide section below).
  • Children should rarely eat hot rice cereals or rice pastas, and should avoid rice drinks. Note that rice drinks are often referred to as “rice milks”, and are marketed as a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk.
  • 7 Points a Week Guide. Data is used to assign a point value to types of rice and other rice containing foods. Consumer Reports recommends on average not consuming more than 7 points per week from the following table. Note that the risk analysis conducted was based on weight, so a serving of any food will give children more points than adults.CR_2014ricetable

There is one more action step you can take. Both FDA and Consumer Reports also suggest the following rice cooking method to help reduce the final arsenic content in cooked rice: Cook one cup of rice in 5-6 cups of water. In my next post, I will provide some tips on how to do this without ending up with excessively soggy rice.

FDA Explores Impact of Arsenic in Rice. US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm352569.htm. Updated September 6, 2013. Accessed June 19, 2015.

Questions & Answers: Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products. US Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm319948.htm. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed June 19, 2015.

Report: Analysis of Arsenic in Rice and Other Grains: Executive Summary. Food Safety and Sustainability Center, Consumer Reports. http://www.greenerchoices.org/pdf/CR_FSASC_Arsenic_Analysis_Nov2014.pdf. November 2 014. Accessed June 19, 2015.

How Much Arsenic is in Your Rice. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm. November 2014. Accessed June 19, 2015.)


Arsenic & Rice (Part 1): Why this Affects You & Your Family


In these few upcoming posts, I would like to focus on a hot topic in the US consumer realm, and one close to our hearts: rice. This is an issue all too important to ignore, especially for families that frequently eat rice-based meals, and one that impacts both children and adults. Today’s post will provide the background and some key details a consumer should know.  My goal is to assimilate some of the latest reports and recommendations from various respected national and international bodies to provide you – parents – the information you need to make the best food decisions for yourself and your family.

 So what’s the Deal on Arsenic & Rice?

Arsenic is a chemical element present in water, soil, air and food through human and natural means. Examples include mining, the use of arsenic based fertilizers in agricultural production, arsenic containing animal feed, volcanic eruptions and the erosion of arsenic-containing rocks.  Besides rice, other foods found to contain arsenic include fruits, vegetables and fruit juices.  Although arsenic has also been detected in fish, it is in the organic chemical form, which is generally of less concern than the inorganic chemical form, which is considered more toxic. Arsenic is an issue because there has been an association between long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic and an increased incidence rate of skin, heart disease, as well as bladder and lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, arsenic has been classified as a human carcinogen.

In the United States, food (as opposed to water) tends to be the main source of arsenic exposure, with rice being one of the greatest contributors. This is due to the common agricultural production method of rice used and the nature of rice plants which make them susceptible to taking up more arsenic from the soil, causing arsenic to accumulate in the rice grains. Hence, the issue of arsenic in rice not only touches pure rice consumers, it also affects those who consume rice based products which include many gluten-free products and other commercially processed foods that contain rice or a rice derivative as an ingredient.

In the last few years, a consumer watchdog organization in the United States called Consumer Reports tested over 400 rice and non-rice grain samples and found varying but concerning levels of arsenic in the products they tested. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also released a report in September 2013 of their findings from testing over 1300 rice products samples in the United States. Similar findings were found in that the levels of inorganic arsenic are higher per serving of brown rice compared to white rice. The FDA concluded that the levels of inorganic arsenic found in the samples were too low to cause immediate or short-term health damage. However, FDA is in the midst of conducting a risk assessment to better analyze the long-term risks of consumption of rice and rice products containing arsenic. The results of this risk assessment were anticipated to be released in 2014, but have not come out yet.

Regardless, here are a few key facts about arsenic to note:

  • Organic arsenic can be converted to inorganic forms in the soil
  • When comparing the same type, brown rice will always have a higher level of inorganic arsenic than white rice (because less of the outer layers of the rice grain are removed during the processing of brown rice). According to the 2014 November Consumer Reports article, brown rice has on average about 80% more arsenic than white rice for a particular type.
  • Actual arsenic concentration in rice is influenced by a variety of factors such as: the brands of fertilizer used, seasonal variability, agricultural practices (especially water use practices), and soil concentration.

Though the results of the risk assessment are still pending from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are many things that you, the consumer, can do now. See my next upcoming post for practical tips that can be implemented relatively easily to protect the health of you and your household.


Questions & Answers: Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products. US Food and Drug Administration.
http://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm319948.htm. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed June 9, 2015.

Report: Analysis of Arsenic in Rice and Other Grains: Executive Summary. Food Safety and Sustainability Center, ConsumerReports. http://www.greenerchoices.org/pdf/CR_FSASC_Arsenic_Analysis_Nov2014.pdf. November 2 014. Accessed June 9, 2015.)