The truth about rice – white rice vs. brown rice


By Dr. Justin Marchegiani


Dr. Justin Marchegiani:  Hi, there!  This is Dr. Justin Marchegiani here and  today’s talk is gonna be on the truth about rice, white rice, brown rice, kind of the pros and cons of each, and again who may benefit from white over brown, etc.  I get this question all the time in my practice and I had a patient bring this question up to me recently so I decided to make a video of it for everyone at home here.  So again, the truth about rice.  So let’s contrast.  We have some of the attributes, the good and bad about white rice on the bottom, and we have the good and bad about brown rice on the top.  So let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.

White Rice and Glucose

So white rice, a couple of good things about white rice, it’s pretty easy to digest.  It’s refined.  A lot of the–the fiber and the germ are taken out so you pretty much just have the–the glucose portion of the rice.  So easy to digest, good source of carbohydrate.  Paul Jaminet would call it a–a safe starch, if you will.  Higher in glucose, lower in fructose.  This is important.  A lot of Asian cultures for instance that consume lots of rice, they’re able to do even though it’s very high in carbohydrates, they do okay because it–the rest of their diet is relatively low in fructose.  So when we deal with carbohydrates, quick little thing–imagine this being your muscle belly right here.  This is your muscle belly and this is your liver–so I’ll put an L for liver.  When you take in fructose, 80% percent of fructose, 80% percent actually goes to the liver while the other 20%–20% goes to the muscle.  Now this is actually flipped when we’re consuming glucose, it’s actually about 80% go to the muscle while only 20% go to the liver.  So this is important because the muscles can hold about 6–about 350 to 400 grams of carbohydrate while the liver can only hold 60.  So about 6 times more in the muscles than the liver.  So you get insulin-resistant faster when the carbs or when the sugar you’re eating goes to the liver over the muscles.  So the nice thing about rice, it’s gonna go over to the muscles over the liver, and if you’re a CrossFitter or someone who’s exercising a lot, doing high intensity interval training, lifting weights, it’s gonna benefit you having a nice safer glucose source than fructose.

Prolamin and Gluten

Next, the prolamin content is about 5%.  So what’s a prolamin?  Prolamins in the family of gluten, right?  Because rice–rice is technically considered to be a grain and the family of gluten, prolamins are the overarching family of proteins and if you look at the family of proteins in rice, it’s arginine, the content of prolamins is 5%, where if you look at corn or wheat you’re up in the 60-80% area.  So what that means is less protein means it’s more hypoallergenic or less I immunological activity from your immune system.  That’s actually kind of a cross right there, a little more hypoallergenic and it’s easy to digest.  Negative portion is white rice is an incomplete protein.  It’s higher in lysine–or sorry, it’s actually incomplete in lysine, it’s actually higher in your sulfur amino acids.  So lysine’s really important especially with viruses, especially the oral herpes virus, lysine is very effective at knocking out the herpes virus but again incomplete in the lysine.  So you wanna make sure if you’re taking in rice, you pair it with for instance, legumes.  Legumes will have the balance of the lysine, so you typically pair rice and legumes together.  The only problem with that is you get about 80-90 grams of carbohydrates to 15 grams of protein.  So the problem is you get a lot more carbohydrate, a lot less protein, so it depends on how carbohydrate-sensitive you are.  If you are carbohydrate-sensitive and you can’t handle that much carbs, then this won’t be the best way to get your complete protein.  It’d be negative and you’d be getting a little bit of lysine but a whole bunch of carbohydrates.  So what’s worse?  If we’re choosing meat sources or animal sources, the nice thing about animal sources is you don’t get almost any carbohydrate at all when you’re choosing animal sources plus you’re getting the full spectrum of the 9 essential amino acids, meaning your body can’t make it and lysine’s one of those.

For more information on the type of rice to eat or whether you should eat rice, click here!

Carbohydrates and Protein

I already kind of mentioned it’s higher in sulfur amino acids.  Now this only matters if you’re doing really a rice protein because you have to get about 100 grams of carbs to get about 5-7 grams of protein.  Not really good, I mean, your typical post-workout shake is gonna be about 20-30 grams of protein at a minimum.  If you’re a bigger guy, maybe even 40 or 50, that’s 300 grams of carbohydrate.  I mean, I won’t eat 300 grams of carbohydrate in 4 or 5 days.  So that’s a lot of carbohydrate to be taking in.  But if you’re doing a rice protein powder then you can still get those sulfur amino acids and if you combine the rice protein with pea protein, then you get the–then you get the higher amount of lysine because rice is higher in the sulfur while the pea is higher in the lysine.  So if you combine the pea and the rice, you get both the lysine and the sulfur.  So that’s really a good winning team to go.  And I kinda also mentioned this, it’s hypoallergenic not just from the prolamin standpoint but also from the lectin standpoint.

Lectins and Phytates

So lectins are like mineral blockers–I’ll make a little note here–they block mineral uptake.  Lectins and phytates.  Lectins can irritate the gut, too.  They–they’re showing actually poke holes in some of the gut linings as well.  So phytates are gonna be your mineral blockers along with lectins, too, because if you’re causing gut inflammation–if you’re causing gut inflammation, you’re gonna be decreasing vitamins and minerals and not to mention they block enzymes.  So if we’re blocking enzymes, we’re not gonna be able to break down protein as well.  So decreased protein.  Again, everyone’s a little bit more sensitive, again if you’re from an Asian persuasion if you will and if you’ve had rice in your diet for a long period of time and genetically you–you’ve adapted better.  Then maybe that’s okay.  If you have some gut issues and you’re already lower on your CBC and certain minerals or have protein impairment, then you may want to avoid this because of the lectins and the phytates and the enzyme blockers.  So that’s white rice in a nutshell.

white rice vs. brown rice

Brown Rice and B Vitamins

Let’s compare and contrast to brown rice now.  So brown rice is actually higher in B vitamins.  This is important.  I’m gonna go over to the whole beriberi thing in just a second.  Beriberi that’s a–that’s a B1 deficiency and we typically would find a B1 deficiency in white rice.  So I’ll circle around in a second.  Higher B vitamins, that’s a good thing.  One of the problems we have with brown rice is a disease called beriberi, which is a condition that would affect the heart as well as the peripheral and central nervous system and we’ll dial that in one second, it’s higher in vitamins and minerals, higher in phosphorus, higher in magnesium, higher in calcium, where you don’t get so much of that at all in the white rice.  Maybe better if–if you don’t have an autoimmune condition, alright?  If you don’t have any gut issues, if you don’t have an autoimmune condition, you don’t have a history of autoimmune condition, maybe brown rice is better for you.  Again I don’t eat rice too often so I’m not–I don’t worry whether mine’s white or brown because I’d rather just choose a sweet potato over that because I can get the glucose and the starch without all of the potential autoimmune things and you know, I just try to stay away from grains in general because of my autoimmune thyroid.

Dealing with Autoimmunity

So again, maybe better if you don’t, if you have a decreased amount of autoimmunity, right?  If you have a little bit of autoimmunity and you’ve already healed your gut and you’re already doing pretty well and you’re on a healing path, maybe a little bit of some mochi rice or a little bit of rice every now and then every now and then may be good.  I choose the sweet potato instead.  It doesn’t cause beriberi.  Now one of those things I just have a hard time wrapping my head around how something can be good for you if it’s causing nutritional deficiency.

B Vitamin and Nutritional Deficiency

In the late 1800s, white rice was actually causing a condition called beriberi which is a deficiency in the B1 vitamin or thiamine.  Beriberi stands for Swahili for “I can’t, I can’t” and the reason why that came about that way is because the person’s heart would arrest.  They would not be able to–they’d have heart failure essentially, an effect to the cardiovascular system and the nervous system.  They found actually coming in and giving brown rice actually fixed the problem.  Why?  Because brown rice was higher in B vitamins, so it was able to fix that.  So with the brown rice you get some increased B vitamins, also other vitamins and trace minerals may be okay if you don’t have much of an autoimmune risk factor.  Again it doesn’t cause beriberi.  I have a hard time again with people that are huge white rice fans.  I have a hard time getting my head around eating foods that can actually cause nutritional deficiencies, then you think, “Well, how does that happen?  How does it cause a deficiency?”  Well, when you take in food to pump around the kreb cycle which is how your body creates energy and ATP especially with carbohydrate, you–to pump around certain different parts of the kreb cycle, you need certain minerals and vitamins to do so.  So typically food comes in with vitamins and minerals and you use less vitamins and minerals to process it; therefore, you have a surplus.  But if food has none and it takes some to process, then now you’re in a deficit and you’re actually using vitamins and minerals, and that’s how you can actually have a deficit with white rice and cause beriberi.

Fiber Content on Rice

Next, we have higher fiber content.  Again, 80% of rice, 80-90% of rice is gonna be your insoluble fiber.  So that’s the kind of fiber that adds bulk to your stool.  Sort of a half a cup of rice and you get about 3.5 grams of insoluble fiber, that’s the–the kind of fiber that adds bulk to your stool, kinda like psyllium husk, and then 0.5 grams would be your soluble fiber.  I’m a bigger fan of soluble fiber because it helps bind up toxins, helps bind up hormones and–and junk.  You’re getting more of the insoluble fiber so if you have gut issues, you may not do good with it because some people with constipation or Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis or gut issues, that type of fiber can cause irritation, potentially even get stuck in the diverticuli and create some inflammation there.  But again, like I already said, if you have autoimmune risk factors, you may wanna just stay away from rice altogether.

Click here to contact a functional medicine practitioner to find out if you can benefit from eating rice!


So I kinda laid everything out for you, the pro and cons.  If you’re having some gut issues, if you’re having some digestive problems, I strongly recommend keeping away from rice from the time being and if you want more information about me and how I can help you with some of your health challenges, check below.  I have some awesome video series, newsletter, and just different ways to get in contact with me.  And if you have any suggestions of a video that you would like me to do for you, feel free and email or reach out below.

Thanks!  This is Dr. Justin, signing off.

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