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How to Choose Rice for Weight Loss

While you may have heard that there's no room for rice in your diet if you are trying to lose weight, that's simply not true. Rice is a staple for so many cultures, many of which don't have the same challenges with weight as seen in the United States

A bowl of brown rice and lentils being served with a wooden spoon
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Rice can be a part of a diet that supports healthy weight if you understand the importance of portion size, pairing rice with foods that promote satiety and fullness, and how rice can differ in nutritional content.

In this article, we'll explore all there is to know about rice for healthy weight so you can make the best choices for your own diet and nutritional needs.

Rice 101: Not All Rice Is Created Equal

Rice is a grain that is the seed of the Oryza sativa plant.1 It's a staple food for more than half of the world's population and is often called "The grain of life."2 It's a carbohydrate, which means after it's digested, rice will turn to glucose and elevate your blood sugar.

There are two main types of rice eaten in the United States: white and brown. White rice is the most common type of rice consumed. It's milled to remove the outer layer (the bran) and the germ, leaving only the endosperm. This process makes the grain more shelf-stable, but it also removes some of the fiber and nutrients, making it a refined grain.3

Brown rice is less processed than white rice and still has the bran and germ intact. This makes it a whole grain richer in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.4

There are many other types of rice available as well, including:

  • Basmati: A long grain, aromatic rice popular in Indian cuisine.
  • Jasmine: A long grain, fragrant rice popular in Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Arborio: A short grain, starchy rice often used in risotto.
  • Sushi: A short grain, sticky rice used in sushi rolls.
  • Red rice: A type of rice high in antioxidants that give it a deep red color.5
  • Black rice: A kind of rice that is actually a deep purple color and has a nutty flavor.
  • Wild rice: Not technically rice, but rather the seeds of an aquatic grass, and it has a chewy texture and nutty flavor.

Short grain means the grains are shorter and plumper than long grain rice. Long grain rice is longer and thinner.

Is Rice Good for You?

The answer to whether rice is good for you isn't black and white because it depends on the type of rice (and more factors as you'll learn below), but overall, rice does have some health benefits:

  • Rice is a good source of carbohydrates, which is your body's primary energy source.
  • Whole grain rice, like brown rice, is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, niacin, and vitamin B6.6
  • Depending on the type, rice can be a good source of fiber. Fiber from whole grains is important for digestive health, blood sugar balance, and satiety, and it's also linked to weight loss.7
  • Some types of rice, such as red and black rice, also contain antioxidants that protect the body against free radical damage.8
  • Brown rice, in particular, has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, hypertension, and inflammatory markers.9 10

What's a Serving Size of Rice?

A serving size of rice is typically 1/2 cup or about the size of a deck of cards.11 

Here's where rice can either be supportive or detrimental to weight loss—portion size matters. It's easy to eat much more than this, which is part of the reason rice is often overlooked as a food to include in a healthy diet. Too much can add extra calories that may add up fast.

Can Rice Help With Weight Loss?

Like many foods, rice doesn't have a magical weight loss or weight gain property, but it can be a part of a healthy diet. Too much of anything, even healthy foods, can lead to weight gain.

If you follow a low-carbohydrate diet, rice isn't usually included because it's a high-carb food. But for, other diet preferences, including certain types and amounts of rice in your diet could support a healthy weight. Here's what to keep in mind.

Rice and Glycemic Index

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a food raises your blood sugar. Foods with a high GI are digested and absorbed quickly, causing your blood sugar to spike. Foods with a low GI are digested and absorbed more slowly, resulting in a gradual rise in blood sugar. Higher GI foods are linked to weight gain.12

White rice has a high GI, while brown rice has a lower GI—but it's still higher than other fiber-rich foods like vegetables or some legumes.13 The type of rice you choose can make a difference in how quickly it raises your blood sugar. More fiber typically means a food has a lower GI, and white rice has less fiber than brown rice, which translates to feeling fuller longer with fewer blood sugar spikes.

Blood sugar spikes are linked to weight gain because of insulin. Insulin is released to remove the sugar from the blood, which is a normal healthy response. But if insulin levels remain high, it can promote fat storage.14 

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that eating more white rice (greater than or equal to five servings a week) was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In comparison, more brown rice (greater than or equal to two servings a week) showed a lower risk.15 White rice is also linked to higher rates of obesity and a lower intake of fiber.16

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Rice and Resistant Starch

Resistant starch is a type of fiber that is not digested by the body. As it moves down your GI tract, it enters your large intestine, where it's fermented by your gut bacteria (which also helps support a healthy gut).

When rice is cooked and cooled, the starch molecules rearrange and become more resistant to digestion. Resistant starch is considered supportive for weight loss because it takes more energy to digest and improves satiety.17

A study examining freshly cooked white rice versus cooled rice found that cooled rice had significantly more resistant starch. It also lowered the glycemic response compared with freshly cooked rice.18

This means that when you eat cooled rice, it has a lower GI and is less likely to spike your blood sugar. You don't have to eat the rice cold because the rice was reheated in the above study and still had positive effects on blood sugar. 

Are Some Types of Rice Better for Weight Loss?

While all rice can be a part of a healthy diet, whole grain rice options like brown, black, or red rice are generally the best choice for weight loss. These types haven't been stripped of the nutrients and are higher in fiber than white rice, keeping you feeling full and can help with blood sugar control. You can still include white rice in your diet too, but overall whole grain options are more nutrient-dense.

How to Include Rice in Your Diet for Weight Loss

If you want to lose or maintain weight, the best way to include rice is to eat it as part of a healthy, balanced diet. This means including a variety of other nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats. Here are some ways to make sure rice is supporting your health goals:

  • When cooking rice, try to make ahead and cool it before eating. This will turn the starch into resistant starch, which has a lower GI and is less likely to spike your blood sugar.
  • Pair your rice with lean protein and vegetables. This will help to keep you feeling full and satisfied. You may consider eating protein and fiber first or even starting with a salad. Research shows that eating protein and fiber-rich foods can help minimize blood sugar spikes.19
  • Be mindful of portions. Keeping an eye on how much rice you eat at a meal can help you control your calorie intake and lose weight. A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with a carbohydrate like rice, and a quarter with protein.
  • Choose brown rice or wild rice over white rice. Brown rice and wild rice are generally better for weight loss because they're whole grains and higher in fiber (but you can still have white rice sometimes, too, just mix it up!).
  • Monitor your blood sugar. Keep an eye on your personal response to rice. If you are trying to minimize spikes, tracking your personal reaction to rice and how your blood sugar responds to pairing it with other foods can help you make the best choice for your body.

Is Rice Good to Eat Before or After Exercise?

Whether rice is good before or after exercise depends on your goals. If you are an athlete, eating rice before exercise could provide a quick energy source in the form of carbohydrates or after could help you replenish glycogen stores (stored glucose).20

If you are exercising for weight loss, rice can be part of a meal that also includes fiber and protein but isn't necessarily any better than other types of carbohydrates.

Use a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) to Track Your Response to Rice

If you're interested in monitoring your blood sugar response to eating rice as part of your weight loss program, you may want to consider using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM is a small device worn on your body that tracks blood sugar levels in real-time. 

A CGM can help determine which types of rice or how much rice affects your blood sugar. Each of us has a different response to rice, so tracking your own blood sugar response can be a valuable tool in helping to create a healthy diet that works for you. Using a CGM paired with the Signos app gives feedback to personalize your weight loss plan.

So is rice good for weight loss? The takeaway is that rice doesn't have to be off limits if you want to lose weight. When eaten with other nutrient-rich foods, you can keep enjoying rice as part of your daily diet.

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References

1.  Garris, A. J., Tai, T. H., Coburn, J., Kresovich, S., & McCouch, S. (2005). Genetic structure and diversity in Oryza sativa L. Genetics, 169(3), 1631–1638. https://doi.org/10.1534/genetics.104.035642 

2.  Chaudhari, P. R., Tamrakar, N., Singh, L., Tandon, A., & Sharma, D. (2018). Rice nutritional and medicinal properties: A. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 7(2), 150-156.

3.  Schlesinger, S., Neuenschwander, M., Schwedhelm, C., Hoffmann, G., Bechthold, A., Boeing, H., & Schwingshackl, L. (2019). Food Groups and Risk of Overweight, Obesity, and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 10(2), 205–218. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy092 

4.  Sun, Q., Spiegelman, D., van Dam, R. M., Holmes, M. D., Malik, V. S., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2010). White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. Archives of internal medicine, 170(11), 961–969. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2010.109 

5.  Mbanjo, E., Kretzschmar, T., Jones, H., Ereful, N., Blanchard, C., Boyd, L. A., & Sreenivasulu, N. (2020). The Genetic Basis and Nutritional Benefits of Pigmented Rice Grain. Frontiers in genetics, 11, 229. https://doi.org/10.3389/fgene.2020.00229 

6.  “FoodData Central.” Accessed June 8, 2022. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169704/nutrients.

7.  Watanabe, S., Mizuno, S., & Hirakawa, A. (2018). Effects of brown rice on obesity: GENKI Study I (Cross sectional epidemiological study). J Obes Chronic Dis, 2(1), 12-19. 

8.  Goufo, P., & Trindade, H. (2014). Rice antioxidants: phenolic acids, flavonoids, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, tocopherols, tocotrienols, γ-oryzanol, and phytic acid. Food science & nutrition, 2(2), 75–104. https://doi.org/10.1002/fsn3.86 

9.  Kazemzadeh, M., Safavi, S. M., Nematollahi, S., & Nourieh, Z. (2014). Effect of Brown Rice Consumption on Inflammatory Marker and Cardiovascular Risk Factors among Overweight and Obese Non-menopausal Female Adults. International journal of preventive medicine, 5(4), 478–488.

10.  Kashino, I., Eguchi, M., Miki, T., Kochi, T., Nanri, A., Kabe, I., & Mizoue, T. (2020). Prospective Association between Whole Grain Consumption and Hypertension: The Furukawa Nutrition and Health Study. Nutrients, 12(4), 902. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12040902 

11.  “Grains | MyPlate.” Accessed June 8, 2022. https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/grains.

12.  Brand-Miller, J., & Buyken, A. E. (2020). The Relationship between Glycemic Index and Health. Nutrients, 12(2), 536. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12020536 

13.  Atkinson, F. S., Brand-Miller, J. C., Foster-Powell, K., Buyken, A. E., & Goletzke, J. (2021). International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values 2021: a systematic review. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 114(5), 1625–1632. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqab233 

14.  Trouwborst, I., Bowser, S. M., Goossens, G. H., & Blaak, E. E. (2018). Ectopic Fat Accumulation in Distinct Insulin Resistant Phenotypes; Targets for Personalized Nutritional Interventions. Frontiers in nutrition, 5, 77. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2018.00077 

15.  Sun, Q., Spiegelman, D., van Dam, R. M., Holmes, M. D., Malik, V. S., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2010). White rice, brown rice, and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women. Archives of internal medicine, 170(11), 961–969. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinternmed.2010.109 

16.  Azadbakht, L., Haghighatdoost, F., & Esmaillzadeh, A. (2016). White Rice Consumption, Body Mass Index, and Waist Circumference among Iranian Female Adolescents. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 35(6), 491–499. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2015.1113902 

17.  Higgins J. A. (2014). Resistant starch and energy balance: impact on weight loss and maintenance. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 54(9), 1158–1166. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2011.629352 

18.  Sonia, S., Witjaksono, F., & Ridwan, R. (2015). Effect of cooling of cooked white rice on resistant starch content and glycemic response. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition, 24(4), 620–625. https://doi.org/10.6133/apjcn.2015.24.4.13 

19.  Shukla, A. P., Iliescu, R. G., Thomas, C. E., & Aronne, L. J. (2015). Food Order Has a Significant Impact on Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Levels. Diabetes care, 38(7), e98–e99. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc15-0429 

20.  Mata, F., Valenzuela, P. L., Gimenez, J., Tur, C., Ferreria, D., Domínguez, R., Sanchez-Oliver, A. J., & Martínez Sanz, J. M. (2019). Carbohydrate Availability and Physical Performance: Physiological Overview and Practical Recommendations. Nutrients, 11(5), 1084. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11051084 

About the Author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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