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Fact Check: Brown Rice is better than White Rice

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Old 07-08-2018, 11:30 PM   #1
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Fact Check: Brown Rice is better than White Rice

Recently the government have been actively promoting low GI foods, especially brown rice[2]. But is it based in good science?

Glycemic index

What is the glycemic index?

The glycemic index (GI) ranks food based on how much and how fast they raise blood sugar. A food with high GI will be digested faster and raise blood sugar more than a food with low GI.

How is it determined?
The GI of a food is determined by getting study volunteers to eat a portion of the test food in isolation after an overnight fast.

Blood is drawn at regular intervals to determine how the subjects' blood glucose levels change due to the food consumed. [3]


On average, White rice has a GI of 73 and Brown Rice has a GI of 68[4]. Despite there only being a 5 points difference, white rice is categorized as high GI as it misses the moderate cut-off. Interestingly, coke has a GI of 63! Even lower than brown rice.

However, GI is a poor measure of what is considered healthy. For example, carrots have a GI of 92 while snickers scores a 68! [5] This is because the fats and protein from the nuts and chocolate in the snicker bar greatly lowers its GI.

3 GI classifications:
Low: 55 or less
Moderate: 56 – 69
High: 70+
Besides breakfast, we usually do not consume meals fasted. And in the real world, we seldom eat foods by themselves, we eat a combination of foods. Hence, it would be more helpful to consider the entire glycemic load of the meal.

For example, adding fat and protein will have a greater impact on the glycemic load than switching from white rice to brown rice.

GI decreases when fiber, protein and fat is added.

Nutrient profile

Naturel Brown Rice

New Moon White Rice

The only major difference between brown and white rice is.... 2.5g of fiber. And even so, brown rice is a poor source of fiber according to the below HPB Nutrition Labeling guidelines table. Vegetables and fruits are a much better source of dietary fiber.

For all other macronutrients they are equally matched.


Brown rice has a lower GI mainly due to its fiber content, but it has an almost identical nutrient profile as white rice. Switching out white rice for brown rice will not have a significant effect on your health, especially if you are not watching your diet and exercising regularly.

Eating a low-GI diet consisting of whole grains and unprocessed foods has been linked with better health outcomes. However a food's individual GI index is a lousy indicator of how 'healthy' a food is. It is more important to focus on the larger picture - your diet. What else are you eating with that plate of rice? What makes up your 4 pounds?

Check out my blog for more articles on health and fitness

Brown Rice vs White Rice - read for the part on anti-nutrients

Elements challenging the validity of the glycemic index

Understanding the glycemic index and glycemic load and their practical applications.

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/disea...-for-100-foods
[2] https://www.gov.sg/factually/content...the-difference
[3] https://www.healthhub.sg/live-health...lycaemic-index
[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/disea...-for-100-foods
[5] https://www.fitwoman.com/blog/glycem...s-weight-loss/
[6] http://care.diabetesjournals.org/con.../TableA1_1.pdf
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Last edited by xerref; 10-08-2018 at 08:00 PM..
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Old 10-08-2018, 05:57 PM   #2
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Am aware of such a trend though the facts presented here are new to me. Thanks, I cannot quite make out the nutrition information since I was not trained much in Biology and Chemistry, but I reply to acknowledge that the subject matter enthused me.
I wish for nothing, yet these basic needs I've & discipline to treasure & give thanks for 'em.
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Old 12-08-2018, 12:30 AM   #3
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Fact check: 1 serving of white rice increases the risk of diabetes by 11%

HPB rationale for it's war against white rice is based on this harvard study [1]

This study is a meta-analysis of 4 observational studies which when combined indicated that there is a correlation with white rice intakes and higher reported diabetes incidences

How did they determine 1 serving?

To make analysis easier they assumed each serving was 158g of cooked rice. And used a factor of 2.5 to convert raw rice intake to cooked.

How was the data collected?

The data was collected via interviews and food questionaires. However memory based dietary assessment methods have shown to be unreliable, even for long-term cohort studies such as NHANES.[2] For example, the obese and overweight are more likely to under-report their intake [3].

Problems with the study

1. It does not take into account other lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.

2. The accuracy of the data is questionable due to the way it was collected.[2][4]

3. Correlation does not imply causation. These are observational studies, not experiments. We can not conclude the treatment caused the observed outcome in an observational study, as there is no control for confounding factors and no control group. Hence observation studies can only claim association, but not association. [7]

BONUS FACT CHECK: Replacing a fifth of white rice with brown cut the risk of diabetes by 16 per cent.

This recommendation is based on this Harvard meta-analysis of 3 cohort studies[5].

What does the study really say?

We estimated that replacing 50 g/d (uncooked, equivalent to one-third serving per day) intake of white rice with the same amount of brown rice was associated with a 16% (95% CI, 9%-21%) lower risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas the same replacement with whole grains as a group was associated with a 36% (30%-42%) lower diabetes risk.
50g of uncooked rice = 1/3 serving
150g of uncooked rice = 1 serving
Using a factor of 2.5:
1 serving of cooked rice = 375g
1/3 serving of cooked rice = 125g

Therefore, to reap the benefits stipulated in this study, you need to consume 125g of brown rice for every 250g of white rice. Which is way more than a fifth!

A typical serving of cooked rice in Singapore is 250g[6]

Assuming you eat rice twice a day, 7 days a week.
Weekly consumption = 3,500g = 9.33 servings
HPB recommendation = 700g of brown rice
Study recommendation = 1,166.25g of brown rice
Difference = 466.25g


Both studies are meta-analysis of observational studies. Because these are observational studies, it does not prove that consumption of white rice increases risk of type 2 diabetes or that brown rice has a protective effect. Other lifestyle factors may have accounted for the risk. Randomized clinical trials would be needed to prove that causal link

Further reading:

Observational studies: Does the language fit the evidence? Association vs. causation

[1] https://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e1454
[2] https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.or...319-5/fulltext
[3] https://academic.oup.com/advances/ar...4042#110892993
[4] https://www.nature.com/news/dietary-...le-1.17730#/b1
[5] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jam...article/416025
[6] https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion...-is-white-rice
[7] https://faculty.elgin.edu/dkernler/s.../ch01/1-2.html

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Last edited by xerref; 12-08-2018 at 12:54 PM..
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