Why I eat white rice instead of brown

Been thinking lately about rice, and wanted to share about my experience with white vs. brown rice.

When we went Paleo in December of 2012, I didn't cut rice out of my diet entirely. We never make it at home, but I have no issue eating it with sushi or at Thai restaurants. I used to always order brown rice when possible when dining out, because I thought that brown rice, with the fiber and husk, was a "healthy whole grain" and was slightly healthier than white.

But I've learned a lot since then about white and brown rice, and there are several factors that have contributed to me choosing white rice instead, for health reasons!

White rice is healthier than brown?

What the heck, you might ask. We've been taught in recent years that whole grains are better than white.

First, why are brown (whole) grains harmful?

We don't eat grains and legumes as part of our "Paleo"-based diet. (Mark's Daily Apple has a great post on why grains in general are often harmful; so does The Paleo Mom.) In summary, there are a few reasons for this.

  • Grains contain proteins called lectins, which are the plant's defense mechanism and so can cause autoimmune reactions in the gut, as well as cause leptin resistance (leading to fat storage). 
  • Grains also contain phytates (phytic acid, the main storage form of phosphorus in bran and seeds), which irritate the gut and can block nutrient absorption. This is why removing grains on a raw vegan diet temporarily cured my wife's digestive issues, and why grain-free diets often help people with IBS issues. (Legumes and seeds also contain phytic acid; hence beans being called the "musical fruit"--the gas reaction is due to irritation in the gut lining, and is not a good thing!)
Many people on standard American diets, with grains at nearly every meal, can develop leaky gut for this reason. (Side note: just read a great summary post about healing leaky gut. Intro to leaky gut here.) Our guts do not have the enzymes needed to break down these proteins and acids.

  • Phytates also block the absorption of essential minerals because they bind to the magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron we are digesting and take it out of our bodies. Many people are deficient in these micronutrients, if they're not eating enough vegetables and nutrient-dense animal products, so removing them can have a huge range of negative effects depending on what you're already low on.
But some grains are worse offenders than others!

What about rice bran?

Rice is often considered the least offending grain, and most people can digest it fairly easily. So, a lot of people on Paleo and real foods diets eat it. Dental health and nutrition expert Ramiel Nagel wrote this intense piece about phytic acid; as he explains, the phytates are stored in the bran and germ of grains, so white rice and white bread are lower in phytates than brown.

  • Brown rice: 12,509 mg of phytic acid per 100 g
  • White rice: 11.5 - 66 mg of phytic acid per 100 g

Yes, brown rice and whole grains are much higher in phytic acid than white rice, making it much harder to digest, contributing to digestive and calcium issues. Also contained in the rice bran are polyunsaturated oils (unstable, go rancid easily). Unstable fats are inflammatory and can lead to another range of health problems. (I've also heard about arsenic in brown rice, but I don't know much about that issue.)

What about the benefits of whole grains for fiber and blood sugar regulation?

Yes, it's true that the glycemic index of whole grains is lower than that of white, shelled ones (meaning, they digest slower than white). But on a real food, Paleo/primal or Bulletproof Diet, where healthy fat is not the enemy, we simply add a lot of grassfed butter or coconut oil to carb-heavy foods like rice or squash or sweet potatoes, which dramatically slows down the digestive process and improves absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. (Even better: Cook white rice in homemade bone broth from pastured animals, rather than water! Great way to get even more nutrients into a meal!)

Easy, delicious, healthier

Indeed, it's taken quite the mental shift for us to think of a white grain as being healthier than a whole grain. But I feel good when I eat it, I know I'm absorbing more micronutrients, and I've still lost 40 pounds in the past year eating a higher-fat, processed food-free, grain-free (except the rice) diet. It's been a good shift!

As I wrote this post, I found this article on the same topic--check it out if you want more reasons!


  1. Did you also know brown rice has higher levels of arsenic then white? Another reason to eat white rice!

  2. Totally seconding cooking rice in broth instead of just water- so much more flavor, not just more nutrients!


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