Rice Makes You Fat: Myth or Reality?

Rice

As a dietitian, I can no longer count the times I have heard the following phrase: “I want to lose weight, so I stopped eating rice.” And even though my focus is already directed towards health promotion and not weight loss, I always get a lot of questions regarding rice consumption and body weight.

But is rice really fattening, or is it another food demonized by diet culture ? Can it be part of a balanced diet? What is the healthiest type of rice? Find out everything related to this controversial food, here!

Nutritional properties of rice

Rice is a cereal grain, and is considered the most consumed staple food by a large part of the world’s human population, especially in Asia. It is the agricultural product with the third highest global production, after sugar cane and corn. It grows in more than 100 countries. I, like a good Latina, love rice: I grew up with it, I eat it almost every day, and there is nothing in the world that will make me stop consuming it!

Rice in its whole state (or brown) has the following components:

  • Bran: A hard outer layer that protects the seed. Contains fiber, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Germ: A nutrient-rich core containing carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other plant compounds.
  • Endosperm (or white rice): Most of the grain. It is made up almost entirely of carbohydrates and a small amount of protein.
  • In addition to having good flavor and being super versatile when it comes to cooking, rice contains important nutrients. Specifically, it is a good source of magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron, folate, thiamine, niacin, and selenium. Plus, it’s naturally low in fat and sodium free.
  • Although brown rice has more nutrients, fiber and bioactive compounds, white rice is the most consumed worldwide. However, white rice can also be part of a healthy diet, as we will see later.
  • There are more than 40,000 varieties of rice! Here, I am going to present the nutritional properties of the 2 most common, white and brown, as evidence that rice is not the enemy!

·         White rice

  • White rice is rice from which the husk, bran and germ have been removed. This is known as the refinement process. If we see the diagram above, it is only the endosperm part. Refining alters the flavor, texture and appearance of rice and helps prevent spoilage and extend its shelf life. After being milled, the rice is polished, resulting in a seed with a shiny white appearance. However, it loses all its nutritional parts in this process, which is why it is enriched with certain vitamins and minerals, as we will see later.
  • A serving of cooked rice is ½ cupaccording to MyPlate , and ⅓ cup according to the American Diabetes Association . In the table below, I will present the most important nutrients in white rice, based on a ½ cup serving, as this is the recommendation for healthy populations.
  • Remember that if you have diabetesor another health condition that requires controlling your carbohydrate intake, your recommended serving of rice may be different. Below are the most important nutrients in ½ cup cooked rice, medium grain, enriched :
Nutrients Amount % Daily Value (DV) based on a 2000 calorie diet
Calories 121 6%
Protein 2.2g 4.5%
Total Fat 0.2g 0.5%
Saturated fat 0.05g 0.5%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.05g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.05g
Total Omega-3 9.3mg
Total Omega-6 42.8 mg
Total carbohydrates 26.6g 9%
Dietary Fiber 0.3g 1%
Sugars
Vitamin A 0 UI 0%
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Vitamin D 0 UI 0%
Vitamin E (AlphaTocopherol)
Vitamin K
Folate 54 mcg 14%
Thiamin 0.15 mg eleven %
Niacin 1.7mg 9%
Magnesium 12.1mg 3%
Manganese 0.35 mg 18%
Selenium 7 mcg 10%
Calcium 2.8mg 0.5%
Iron 1.4mg 8%
Potassium 26.9mg 1%

·         Is white rice healthy?

  • As we can see, white rice is low in fat, but it is also low in fiber, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), vitamin C and minerals such as calcium and potassium.
  • However, it is highin water-soluble B-complex vitamins such as folate and thiamine. Thiamine is an important cofactor in carbohydrate metabolism. Additionally, it helps with protein synthesis and neurotransmitter production. For its part, folate is involved in the synthesis of DNA, RNA and protein metabolism. In fact, a folate deficiency can cause an indirect thiamine deficiency, and deficiency of both is involved in certain neuropathies .
  • White rice is also highin minerals such as manganese, selenium, and has some iron. Manganese is involved in the metabolism of amino acids, cholesterol, glucose and carbohydrates; in antioxidative activities; in the formation of bones; in reproduction; and in the immune response . Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that fights oxidative stress and helps defend your body from chronic health conditions.
  • So, let’s not have a phobia of white rice. As we have just seen, its nutritional contribution is no small thing!

·         Integral rice

  • The husk is removed from this type of rice but the bran is left intact. The bran gives it the chewy texture and nutty flavor characteristic of brown rice. Additionally, it requires a longer cooking time because bran is a barrier to water. However, as we mentioned previously, it has more nutrients and is richer in certain vitamins and minerals than white rice.
  • Some local varieties of brown rice have low glycemic index properties, which could be useful in counteracting the development of type 2 diabetes. In addition, it has certain bioactive compoundsthat white rice loses when processed.
  • Just as we did with white rice, we will explore the nutritional properties of brown rice, based on ½ cup of brown rice, medium grain, cooked:
Nutrients Amount % Daily Value (DV) based on a 2000 calorie diet
Calories 109 5%
Protein 2.3g 4.5%
Total Fat 0.8g 0.5%
Saturated fat 0.15g 0.5%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.3g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.3g
Total Omega-3 12.7mg
Total Omega-6 276mg
Total carbohydrates 22.9g 8%
Dietary Fiber 1.8g 7%
Sugars
Vitamin A 0 UI 0%
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Vitamin D 0 UI 0%
Vitamin E (AlphaTocopherol)
Vitamin K
Folate 3.9 mcg 1%
Thiamin 0.1mg 7%
Niacin 1.3mg 7%
Magnesium 42.9mg eleven%
Manganese 1.1mg 54%
Selenium 5.7 mcg 10%
Calcium 2.8mg 1%
Iron 0.5mg 3%
Potassium 77mg 2%
  • When comparing, we see that brown rice is higher infiber, magnesium and manganese than white rice. It’s also slightly lower in carbs, which also translates to fewer calories per serving. However, white rice is higher in folate, iron, and the B vitamins. This is because in the U.S. and many other countries, white rice is generally fortified with additional nutrients, such as iron, folic acid, niacin and thiamine. Brown rice is generally not enriched.

·         Which is the healthiest rice: brown rice or white rice?

  • To start, remember that weight gain happens when you consume more energy (calories) than you need. The body stores excess energy as body fat. If we look at the tables above, we can see that, per serving, both white and brown rice have about the same amount of calories (white has about 12 more calories).
  • White rice is considered a refined grain, and many studies have linked diets high in refined grains to weight gain. In contrast, whole grains, such as brown rice, are associated with helping maintain a healthy weight. This could be attributed to the fiber, nutrients, and plant compounds found in whole grains. They can increase the feeling of satietyand help you consume fewer calories at a time. Therefore, everything indicates that white rice does make you fat, right?
  • Well, it’s not that simple. According to scientific studies, results have been quite inconsistent when it comes to white rice. Let’s go to the data.
  • For example, this studydid find a positive association between consumption of white rice, kimchi, high-fat foods, sweets, and coffee with obesity in Korean adults.
  • However, another study investigated the effect of substituting brown rice for white ricein an Indian population. Interestingly, the white rice group unexpectedly experienced slight reductions in body weight, body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, and blood triglycerides. However, the differences were not statistically significant (remember what I said about inconsistencies in the results?)
  • Similarly, in this other research,the authors concluded that “although replacing refined grains with whole grains within a weight loss diet does not beneficially affect the loss of abdominal adipose tissue, it appears to be effective in normalizing blood glucose concentrations.” We continue to see that there is still not enough evidence that white rice causes weight gain compared to brown rice.
  • So, to summarize this point, white rice appears to be neither “good” nor “bad” for achieving a healthy weight. However, whole grains arebetter for our overall health, and tend to help achieve a healthy weight more consistently than refined grains. So, brown rice is the most favorable option , since it is higher in nutrients, contains more fiber and provides certain antioxidants to fight diseases. However, a little white rice from time to time can also be part of a balanced diet.

·         Does rice make you fat at night?

  • There is a very common belief that eating at night (or after 6 pm) causes weight gain. This belief especially extends to the consumption of rice, and many have told me that they do not eat rice for dinner so as not to gain weight.
  • There is some truth to this belief, but the evidence is not conclusive. For example, in this study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , it was found that “food consumption during the circadian afternoon and/or evening…plays an important role in body composition.” In other words, they found that eating later in the day can result in a change in weight. However, these observations were more associated with circadian time than with clock time. OK, what am I talking about? Let’s see…

·         Circadian cycles, thermic effect of food and body weight… whaaaat?

  • Circadian rhythmsare the cycles that tell the body when to sleep, wake up, and eat. They are the biological and psychological processes that oscillate in predictable patterns each day. They form our internal clock, and are influenced by external signals, such as sunlight and temperature. Additionally, they help determine whether one feels energized or exhausted at different times of the day. These rhythms also regulate the production of the hunger and satiety hormones ( ghrelin and leptin ), as well as other hormones such as corticosterone and insulin.
  • The study I mentioned above investigated the relationship between circadian rhythm and the thermic effect of food (TEF). The thermic effect of food is the energy required for the digestion, absorption and elimination of ingested nutrients. That is, the body “burns” a certain amount of calories when we eat, due to the digestive processes.
  • Commonly, TEF is estimated as an expenditure of approximately 10% of caloric intake, although the effect varies according to different food components. For example, the thermic effect of digesting protein is greater than that of digesting carbohydrates, since protein is more difficult to process.
  • Nutrition in action:Applying a TEF expenditure of 10%, a person who consumes 2,000 calories a day “burns” around 200 calories a day in the digestion process.
  • Following the results of the aforementioned study, the authors propose that eating later in the day may result in a decreased thermic effect (TEF), and that this is related to the circadian phase. We will see…
  • A marker used in the circadian phase to determine the onset of the biological night is dim light melatonin secretion (DLMO). Melatonin is the hormone that tells your body when it is time to sleep. Its secretion varies in each individual, and there is great genetic influence.
  • The researchers were able to show that there is an association between body composition and meal timing in relation to the circadian phase and not the clock time. Apparently, “the morning-afternoon difference in TEF was mainly caused by the circadian system.” Therefore, a possible consequence of eating closer to or after melatonin secretion (which varies by individual) may be a lower TEF response. By lowering the thermic effect of food (TEF), a positive energy balance occurs and therefore weight gain over time.

However, according to this literature , “the lack of homogeneous study designs to date prevents reaching firmer conclusions. Currently, only superficial consideration has been given to diurnal and/or circadian changes…” Therefore, no concrete conclusions can be reached about how meal timing, circadian timing, and the thermic effect of food influences the weight gain. In addition, other factors must be taken into account such as the secretion of other hormones, sleep and the intestinal microbiota, for which we do not have enough evidence yet.

The same authors express that comparing the energy expended during the day versus that expended at night in relation to the TEF “would not provide substantial weight loss and caution should be used when drawing these conclusions.”

Factors to consider with meal times

So far, what you have to keep in mind as to whether you gain, lose or maintain a specific weight, regardless of meal times, is:

  • What foods are being consumed regularly. If food intake frequently includes those that are high in calories and low in nutrients (for example, “junk” foods), weight gain will occur no matter what time of day they are consumed.
  • How much food is being usually consumed. If you are consuming more energy (calories) than necessary, the body will store them as fat and weight gain will occur.
  • How much physical activity you do throughout the day. Frequent and consistent physical activity is a vital key to achieving a healthy weight (as well as overall health).

Additionally, many people eat at night for reasons other than hunger (such as satisfying cravings or out of boredom or stress). And, if after-dinner snacks tend to consist of large portions of high-calorie foods (like chips, cookies, candy), unwanted weight gain is more likely to occur. Also, if you eat in front of the TV or computer, it will be too easy to consume the entire bag, carton, or container before you know it. In addition to these extra calories, eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and trouble sleeping.

So, although there is no specific evidence on whether eating rice at night (or eating at night as such ) has a direct effect on weight gain, it is more useful to consider our overall diet and physical activity habits for research purposes. achieve a healthy weight.

Does rice make the abdomen fat?

Another common belief suggests that eating rice makes the abdomen fat. Rice, especially white, is considered a high Glycemic Index (GI) food. There are studies that propose that rapid absorption of glucose after consumption of high GI foods can cause a sudden increase in blood glucose and insulin level. This in turn promotes glucose entering the body’s tissues, promoting fat storage and obesity.

However, the authors of this research could not find any significant association between the frequency of white rice consumption and body mass index , central (abdominal) obesity, or waist circumference.

Although the jury is still out on whether consuming rice increases belly fat, we do have evidence that dietary fiber affects hunger and satiety by slowing gastric emptying, which helps prevent overeating calories. Other attributes of whole grains, such as their magnesium content or whole-food particle size, may improve insulin sensitivity and therefore prevent body fat accumulation. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of your daily grain intake be whole grains.

What is the portion of rice that should be eaten?

Rice can be part of a healthy diet, as we have already seen. However, the amount and frequency of its consumption depends on individual factors such as:

  • Individual daily energy (calorie) need.
  • Existence of health conditions such as diabetes, hypoglycemia, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular conditions, gastrointestinal conditions, etc.
  • Accompaniments with which rice is served.

We all have different calorie needs. This largely depends on age, sex, physical activity level, body structure, life stage, and the presence of specific health conditions, among other factors. For example, a person may, due to the factors already mentioned, need fewer calories and can eat one serving of rice (½ cup cooked) per meal and maintain a stable weight. While another person who is more active or has a larger body size requires more calories, and may eat 1 cup or more of rice per meal.

We also have to consider what we are accompanying the rice with. It is much more balanced to combine it with some source of protein (whether animal or vegetable), and with non-farinaceous vegetables, such as spinach , carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Again, the MyPlate model can be very useful to visualize those portions. However, remember that this depends on your individual dietary needs, and knowing how much rice YOU can eat needs to be discussed with your healthcare provider.

So, can you lose weight by eating rice?

Clear! As we saw, there is nothing particularly “fattening” about rice, from a nutritional point of view. Therefore, its effects on weight are rather associated with the size of the portion and the overall quality of your diet. Let’s look at some examples with their corresponding scientific evidence.

In this research , data from the 2007–2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were analyzed . Interestingly, rice consumers were found to have a lower waist circumference, lower triceps fold measurement, and were significantly more likely to have a body mass index (BMI) less than or equal to 25 (which is classified as “ healthy weight”-I put it in quotes because I personally believe that a healthy weight goes beyond numbers). Although rice consumers had a significantly higher energy intake, they had a lower percentage of calorie intake from fat and saturated fat. Rice eaters also had significantly higher intakes of a variety of nutrients.

In fact, in countries where rice consumption is common , there is less weight gain, especially compared to those where more wheat flour is consumed than rice. Apparently, compared to wheat flour, “rice absorbs more water when cooked…steamed rice contains twice the amount of water and half the energy compared to steamed bread.” So, the calorie density of rice is lower than a more wheat-based diet. For example, in Asian countries, rice is consumed up to six times a day, but it appears to protect against weight gain.

I personally believe that rice is not the problem: it is the amount, the portion, that we are eating. For example, how many “ladles” of rice do we normally serve here in Puerto Rico in a meal? How many times do we combine it with other carbohydrates such as potato salad or elbows, tostones, yellows, breaded meats? If we reduce the amount of rice consumed a little and do not combine it with other carbohydrates, there is no need to “give up rice”!

In short, any food can cause weight gain if eaten along with an unhealthy diet and without portion control. However, any food can be part of a balanced diet when consumed in adequate portions and combined with a variety of foods that promote our health.

And now it’s your turn: do you think eating rice can be part of a healthy diet, or do you think it’s better to eliminate it? Do you think it can cause unwanted weight gain, or that you shouldn’t stop eating it completely?

Abbas Jahangir

I am a researcher and writer with a background in food and nutritional science. I am the founder of Foodstrend.com, our reputable online platform offering scientifically-backed articles on health, food, nutrition, kitchen tips, recipes, diet, and fitness. With a commitment to providing accurate and reliable information, we strive to empower our readers to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices. Join us on Foodstrend.com's journey toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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