A Guide to Rice: How to Pick Which One is Right For You

Rice is a staple food for over half the world’s population, particularly in Asia. A rich source of carbohydrate, rice plays an important role in fuelling these populations and delivering important nutrients. There are 5,000 different varieties of rice from around the world. Along with a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes, they come with a number of different health benefits. 

Here are a few facts about rice.

The level of processing matters. The most commonly consumed rice in Asia is refined white rice, but unrefined brown rice is widely recognized as a healthier option because it still has the bran layer intact. This layer contains important health-promoting nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, iron, and essential fatty acids, which are removed during the milling process used to create white rice. What’s left is mostly refined carbohydrates.

The length of the grain determines the texture. The main carbohydrate found in rice is starch. There are two types of starch: amylose and amylopectin. Long grain varieties like basmati and jasmine are high in amylose, which doesn’t stick together when cooked. Short grain varieties, typically Asian-style types of rice, are high in amylopectin, which makes the grains stick together when cooked. Medium grain varieties like Italian arborio and paella-style types of rice are somewhere in between, which results in  a creamy texture when it is cooked.

Different varieties are digested at different rates. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure that ranks different carbohydrate-rich foods according to how they affect your blood glucose levels. Low GI carbohydrates (GI of 55 or less) provide steady energy and so naturally keep you feeling fuller for longer. High GI carbohydrates (GI of 70 and above) make your blood glucose levels spike and dip more quickly, which can result in cravings and hunger. 

There are two important factors that determine how quickly your body digests a grain of rice: the predominant type of starch it contains (amylose versus amylopectin) and the resistant starch content. Resistant starch is a type of fiber that is more difficult to break down and so results in a slower releasing of glucose into your bloodstream.

Amylose starch, which is more difficult to digest and absorb than amylopectin, has a slower rate of digestibility, which makes it a better choice when trying to manage diabetes and can also help to control appetite, body weight, and energy levels by providing a longer sustaining energy.

Types of rice

White rice 

Glycemic Index: 72, can get up to 89 (High)

1 cup contains: 204 calories, 1 g fiber, 4 g protein

Other vitamins and minerals: negligible

White rice parboiled

Glycemic Index: 38 (Low)

1 cup contains: 194 calories, 1 g fiber, 4 g protein

Other vitamins and minerals: Vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Specialty rice, Thai glutinous rice

Glycemic Index: 98 (High)

1 cup contains: 169 calories, 2 g fiber, 4 g protein

Other vitamins and minerals: negligible

Basmati rice

Glycemic Index: 56, can get up to 69 (Medium)

1 cup contains: 191 calories, 1 g fiber, 6 g protein (depending on the brand)

Other vitamins and minerals: Vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

Brown rice

Glycemic Index: 50 (Low)

1 cup contains: 216 calories, 4 g fiber, 5 g protein

Other vitamins and minerals: Vitamin B1, B3, and B6, manganese, phosphorus, and iron.

Wild rice

Glycemic Index: 87 (High)

1 cup contains: 166 calories, 3 g fiber, 7 g protein

Other vitamins and minerals: Vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

The bottom line: The less processing the better. Choosing lower GI varieties will help you feel fuller for longer, as well as managing your blood glucose levels better. Swapping white rice for brown rice is ideal, but if you can’t give up on white rice, then give long grain or basmati rice a try. But remember, rice is rich in carbohydrates, so the amount that you eat matters. Follow the healthy plate guide and stick to only filling ¼ of your plate with rice or other healthy carbs.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.

Amirah Rahmat

Amirah is one of Fitbit’s Health Coaches. After she attained her honors degree in Food and Human Nutrition from the United Kingdom, she began practicing digital therapeutics and has been helping people make positive lifestyle behavior changes for the past five years. She is an enthusiastic home chef and loves to experiment with new recipes in her free time. She also enjoys doing outdoor activities with her loved ones, especially running, cycling, and rock climbing.

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