The Problem with Brown Rice

The Problem with Brown Rice
Written by Bryce Smith and Kim McLaughlin

When it comes to diet and food choices, most athletes are looking for the best blend of foods for nutrient density. They are looking for food with essential micronutrients for optimal health, growth, and maintenance of structural tissues. The food should enhance lean body mass and overall body composition. It should help provide the body with adequate fuel to support both intense and long training sessions but not so much so that it leads to excessive fat storage. These are major goals of nutrition but all of it has to be done while limiting exposure to food sensitivities and anti-nutrients leading to inflammation, sickness, and negative side effects [3]. The balance is difficult to find but many athletes have found that rice can provide that extra energy without destroying body composition; but, what kind of rice?

Dieticians and nutritionists often insist that people should eat brown rice and whole grains citing  the high protein and fiber content along with the lower glycemic index as their reasoning. This is not necessarily the best advice to listen to especially if you are an athlete who is consistently training hard. It is true that brown rice contains protein, but the protein from this grain is less bioavailable than protein that comes from animals. This means that the protein in brown rice is not as absorbable as the protein that comes from things with a face. Most of what is found in brown rice actually goes to waste. The majority of your protein intake should be coming from an  animal source [3].

Brown rice has also been reported to have high levels of inorganic arsenic which is a toxin known to potentially cause liver, lung, kidney, and bladder cancer. Some arsenic is just a naturally occurring mineral, but the inorganic kind comes from chemicals and pesticides. A researcher named Alan Aragon helped run two different research projects comparing the effects of white rice and brown rice on the body. See his findings below:

White rice actually has an equal or better nutritional yield & also has a better nitrogen-retentive effect than brown rice. This is because the fiber & phytate content of brown rice act as anti-nutrients, reducing the bioavailability of the micronutrients it contains. Since no one is reading the fricking link, I’ll just lay things out here:


Comparison of the nutritional value between brown rice and white rice

Callegaro Mda D, Tirapegui J. Arq Gastroenterol. 1996 Oct-Dec;33(4):225-31.

Cereals are considered an important source of nutrients both in human and animal nourishment. In this paper nutritional value of brown rice is compared to that of white rice in relation to nutrients. Results show that despite higher nutrients contents of brown rice compared to white rice, experimental data does not provide evidence that the brown rice diet is better than the diet based on white rice. Possible antinutritional factors present in brown rice have adverse effects on bioavailability of this cereal nutrients.


Effects of brown rice on apparent digestibility and balance of nutrients in young men on low protein diets

J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1987 Jun;33(3):207-18. .Miyoshi H, Okuda T, Okuda K, Koishi H.

The effect of brown rice with low protein intake was studied in five healthy young men. Feces were weighed, the digestibility of nutrients was determined, and blood tests were made. Each subject followed a diet consisting mainly of polished rice for 14 days and one consisting mainly of brown rice for 8 days. Both diets contained 0.5 g protein per kg of body weight. The brown rice diet had 3 times as much dietary fiber as the polished rice diet. On the brown rice diet, fecal weight increased, and apparent digestibility of energy, protein, and fat decreased, as did the absorption rates of Na, K, and P. The nitrogen balance was negative on both diets, but more negative on the brown rice diet. The phosphorus balance on the brown rice diet was significantly negative, but other minerals were not affected by the diet. The levels of cholesterol and minerals in the plasma were not significantly different on the polished rice diet and the brown rice diet. Comparing these results with data on standard protein intake (Miyoshi, H. et al (1986) J. Nutr. Sci. Vitaminol., 32, 581-589.), we concluded that brown rice reduced protein digestibility and nitrogen balance. [1]

As you can see, brown rice does have some advantages over white rice in protein and fiber content, making it technically more nutrient dense. BUT, as stated earlier, it is not that much more nutrient dense, only slightly more, and the body is not able to utilize much of that protein or fiber.

In addition, the anti-nutrients found in brown rice, known as phytic acid, also make it a bad item to add to your diet. The phytic acid limits the absorption of vitamins and minerals causing adverse health effects and nutrient deficiency in the long run. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, phytic acid grabs on to important minerals and inhibits the enzymes we need to properly digest proteins and starches [2]. This means that brown rice can also prevent us from absorbing the good nutrients in the other foods we are eating. Some of the reported side effects of brown rice are gas, bloating, nasal congestion, lethargy, cramps, constipation, diarrhea, etc…. all the fun stuff [1].

The argument that dieticians use concerning the glycemic index of brown rice does have some validity because this has to do with short term rises and chronically elevated levels of insulin. Brown rice is lower on the glycemic index, however, this is not always most desirable feature. Despite being higher on the glycemic index, white rice is actually a bit better because of other factors, including that it is one of the most tolerated foods on the planet and the rapid spike in insulin that it causes can actually help many athletes control the insulin and cortisol relationship. Stay tuned for a future blog post discussing the benefits of white rice in particular. In the meantime, the phytic acid, inorganic arsenic and our body’s lack of ability to process the protein found in brown rice should cause us to steer clear of this food.


[1] Aragon, Alan, and Jay Aworkoutroutine. “Brown Rice vs White Rice – Which Is Good/Bad, Healthy/Unhealthy?” A Workout Routine., 10 Dec. 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

[2] Hsu, et al. “Improvement of insulin sensitivity by isoenergy high carbohydrate traditional Asian diet: a randomized controlled pilot feasibility study.” PLoS One. 2014 Sep 16;9(9):e106851.

[3] Miyaki, Nate. “The Perfect Carb for Lifters.” The Perfect Carb for Lifters. N.p., 26 May 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

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January 17, 2016 4:49 am

Please edit the CSS on the above article. Whoever designed this has set it so there are arbitrary line breaks INSIDE words (with no hyphen) making it all but unreadable. Re-sizing the page does not help.

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