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Is rice good for weight loss?

Here's how this grain impacts your body.

Rice and Weight Loss: What You Need to Know | Juniper

Since rice was first domesticated in the Yangtze River valley in China over 8,000 years ago, it's become a food staple for over 4 billion people around the world [1].

It's known for its versatility not just in cuisine, translating both to that heat in a Spanish paella and that umami flavour in Japanese sushi, but in the very nature of the grains themselves. From white to brown to wild, rice comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, and each form comes with not just unique flavours and textures, but with different nutritional value for your body.

Increasingly, rice's place in the world as a crucial part of many diets has meant those nutritional benefits (and some of its drawbacks) have been put to the test, giving us a greater understanding of the grain rice and its impact on your body.

A part of these studies has been devoted to understanding rice's effect on both weight gain and weight loss, and the results might not be quite as straightforward as you'd think.

So, to determine whether rice is good for weight loss, we must first take a closer look at what, exactly, rice is.

What are the different types of rice?

While there are many different types of rice, as any trip to the grocery store can attest to, generally speaking, all rice can be categorised into 2 distinct varieties: wholegrain rice and refined rice.

Wholegrain rice is effectively the same as any other whole grain and naturally contains 3 edible components — the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Brown rice is the most common form of whole rice, although black rice, red rice, and purple rice are all wholegrain kinds of rice too [7].

Refined rice, on the other hand, is rice that has been milled and polished to remove the layers of bran and germ so that only the starchy white endosperm is left, hence the name 'white rice'. White rice itself can also be found in the variations of jasmine rice and basmati rice [7].

Given that there are still some differences between these variations of wholegrain and refined rice, it can be useful to also understand the difference in each rice's unique nutritional properties.

Below are the calories and nutrition facts per half a cup of uncooked rice:

White rice

  • Calories: 123kcal 
  • Carbohydrates: 22.5g
  • Protein: 2.2g
  • Micronutrients: calcium (8mg), iron (1mg) and potassium (27.7mg)

Odds are, when you think of eating rice, white rice is the first thing that springs to mind. Served commonly in restaurants, and quick and easy to cook, white rice is a polished form of rice with minimal calories.

Brown rice

  • Calories: 109kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 23g
  • Protein: 2.3g
  • Micronutrients: calcium (9.8mg), iron (0.5mg) and potassium (77mg)

Brown rice is a rice grain that still has its bran layer. It often takes longer to cook due to its additional fibre, and while it's higher in calories than white rice, it also contains more nutritional value [6].

Coloured rice (black, red, and purple rice)

  • Calories: 102.5kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 22.5g
  • Protein: 2.2g
  • Micronutrients: calcium (8mg), iron (1mg) and potassium (27.7mg)

Coloured rice is short or medium-grain rice that contains antioxidant properties that are also found in blueberries and blackberries, giving them unique health properties among the grains of rice [5].

Basmati rice

  • Calories: 102.5kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 22.5g
  • Protein: 2.2g
  • Micronutrients: calcium (8mg), iron (1mg) and potassium (27.7mg)

Popular in Indian cuisine and often served with curry, basmati rice is long and slender and has a naturally lower GI than other forms of rice helping it to prevent blood sugar spikes [6].

Jasmine rice

  • Calories: 102.5kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 22.5g
  • Protein: 2.2g
  • Micronutrients: calcium (8mg), iron (1mg) and potassium (27.7mg)

Originally from Thailand, jasmine rice is a very fragrant rice that's traditionally steamed instead of boiled [6].

Wild rice

  • Calories: 83kcal
  • Carbohydrates: 17.5g
  • Protein: 3.3g
  • Micronutrients: calcium (2.5mg), iron (0.5mg) and potassium (82.8mg)

Rich in minerals, vitamins, protein, starch, and dietary fibre, while also being low in fat, wild rice is a particularly healthy option, especially if you're looking to lose weight. It's also been found to have some benefits in preventing heart disease and lowering cholesterol [8].

What are the health benefits of different types of rice?

While there are many different health benefits across rice, there are consistencies too which make all rice valuable in maintaining a healthy diet. In particular, all rice is gluten-free and it is the most non-allergen of all grains [6].

Rice is also low in fat, with the small amount in it being mostly unsaturated, which makes the fats it does contain healthy fats. All forms of rice also contain varying levels of B-group vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and pantothenic acid, as well as vitamin E, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous selenium, copper, manganese, and calcium [6].

In this sense, rice consumption can absolutely mark a crucial part of a healthy diet and be vital in maintaining your body weight and energy reserves.

That said, not all rice is made equal, at least when it comes to nutritional value.

White rice may be lower in carbohydrates and calories than brown rice, and a better source of energy, particularly for athletes, but it's also rice that has been milled and polished to remove the bran and nutritious germ components [4]. This process sees white rice stripped of some of its nutrients, namely its B-group vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and iron, and most critically when it comes to weight loss and your digestive system, its fibre.

Being reduced to its starchy endosperm means that white rice has a high glycemic index, particularly compared to brown and black rice. This can cause blood sugar spikes that can have detrimental effects on your health and even lead to a risk of type 2 diabetes [7].

That bran and nutritious germ component remains intact in all forms of brown rice, meaning that, in eating brown rice, you get the full nutritional benefit, while also getting a healthier calorie intake. Brown rice has a lower glycemic index, and it has been found to reduce blood sugar levels and potentially even lower high blood pressure and the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and some types of cancer [2].

Is rice a good carb for weight loss?

It can definitely be. Rice being high in carbohydrates can sometimes make people nervous that consuming it might lead to weight gain, but the reality is the opposite.

Eating whole grains like brown rice has been found to be really good for weight loss, with one study finding that people who regularly ate high-carbohydrate whole grains such as brown or coloured rice had a higher resting metabolism and didn't absorb as many calories during digestion [9].

Does the type of rice you eat impact your weight loss?

While specific studies have been conducted on the overall relationship between rice and health, the studies between rice and weight gain and weight loss are a lot less concrete. A few studies have suggested that due to white rice's higher glycemic index, it can increase weight gain, with one study even specifically linking white rice to belly fat, but other studies have shown no real link between white rice consumption and where you gain weight [10].

If you choose brown or wild rice though, you are choosing to eat whole grains over refined grains which have been found to not only support weight loss and weight management but also improve other health issues such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar [5]

What is the recommended serving size of rice?

In the UK, a serving size of rice is 50g uncooked or 150g cooked [3].

How to include rice in your weight loss diet

The versatility of rice means that it's an exciting addition to any diet and can be utilised both as a belly-filling side or a feature of a dish. Maybe next time you're cooking, try making a fried rice chock full of leafy green vegetables, or a hearty rice-based soup to ward off those between-season chills.

Unsure how best to navigate the world of rice? Juniper's Weight Reset Programme has your back. With expert health coaching and dietitian support, this programme is specifically designed to equip you with the tools to achieve both the body weight and the healthy lifestyle you want.

Through professional guidance and ongoing support, Juniper's Weight Reset Programme has the map ready to help you on your weight loss journey.

Image credit: Pille R. Priske / Unsplash