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Black and Red Rice Are Better than Brown, Which Is Healthier than White

Why does switching from white rice to brown rice enable overweight individuals to significantly reduce their weight, their waist size, their blood pressure, and the level of inflammation within their bodies? That’s the topic of my video Brown, Black, Purple, and Red (Unlike White on) Rice.

We think it might be the fiber. Brown rice has four times as much dietary fiber as white rice, including prebiotic types of fiber that foster the growth of our good bacteria, which may help account for the anti-obesity effects of brown rice.

Besides the prebiotic fiber, when brown rice is milled into white, there are all sorts of vitamins and minerals that also are lost, as well as phytonutrients such as gamma oryzanol, which may help shift one’s preferences to healthier foods. Petri dish studies suggest gamma oryzanol may help lower cholesterol. And, along with other compounds found in the rice bran, which is what makes brown rice brown, gamma oryzanol may inhibit human cancer cell growth through antioxidant means, anti‑proliferative and pro-cancer cell suicide mechanisms, immune system modulation, and increasing barrier protection. However, this was all seen in test tubes, not people.

There are two human studies, though. The Adventist Health Study found that brown rice was one of four foods associated with significantly decreased risk of colorectal polyps, which can turn into colorectal cancer. Eating cooked green vegetables every day was associated with 24 percent lower risk, which was as much as eating dried fruit just three times a week. Eating beans, chickpeas, split peas, or lentils at least three times a week was associated with 33 percent lower risk, but brown rice seemed to garner 40 percent lower risk, and that was just a single serving or more a week.

The other human study reported increased muscle strength after supplementation with a brown rice compound in hopes that it could provide a side effect-free alternative to anabolic steroids. The dose the researchers were giving, however, is equivalent to approximately 17 cups of brown rice a day, so it’s not clear if it works at practical doses.

Naturally pigmented rice, such as black rice and red rice, may be even more nutritious than brown rice. During the last decade, research has shown that these natural anthocyanin plant pigments may have a variety of beneficial effects. Anthocyanins are what make blueberries blue and red cabbage red. “Recent recognition of the fact that taking diet rich in plant foods lowers the risks of cancer promotes the enthusiasms in isolating…[these components as] pharmaceutical agents”—but why not just eat the blueberries or add some red cabbage to your stir fry atop some colorful rice?

Black, purple, and red rice—and their pigment compounds—have been found to be involved in a variety of antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-heart disease, anti-diabetes, and anti-allergy activities, but these were all studies done in a lab. We don’t yet have clinical studies, but these pigmented rice varieties have everything that brown rice has, plus five times more antioxidants and a variety of extra benefits. That’s why I, or rather my rice cooker, has always cooked red, black, or purple rice with a handful of lentils or split peas thrown in for good measure, since they cook in the same time frame. If you see below to my arsenic in rice series you’ll note I’ve since diversified my grains.

But why don’t most people even choose brown over white? Well, brown rice does not last as long on the shelves, so it can actually be more expensive even though it’s less processed. White rice, on the other hand, is like food for the apocalypse, even putting Twinkies to shame. White rice was still edible after 30 years—though, by then, it may have a “slight playdough” odor.


For more on rice, see:

Several years ago, I made a video on Arsenic in Rice, which deserved an update so I took a deep dive into the arsenic issue and produced a whole video series so everyone can make informed choices:

And, for more on the potential wonders of the blue/black/purple anthocyanin pigments, check out these videos:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


43 responses to “Black and Red Rice Are Better than Brown, Which Is Healthier than White

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  1. Would precooked brown rice which is then microwaved still contain all the benefits?
    Referring to Trader Joe’s specifically. It is in their freezer section in single pouches.

    1. Dr Greger has mentioned several times that he personally is exploring other grain options due to the arsenic levels in rice. I just re-read his video on cooking methods.

      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-to-cook-rice-to-lower-arsenic-levels/

      Soaking rice (brown, red, black, any colour)and then boiling in copious amounts of fresh water has worked ok for us on the rare occasion we eat rice. I have seen partially cooked brown rice in microwavable packages for sale. Though the convenience factor appealed to me, I could not be sure how the rice was cooked initially, and the arsenic that might remain. A call to the manufacturer might solve the question.
      https://nutritionfacts.org/video/do-the-pros-of-brown-rice-outweigh-the-cons-of-arsenic/

      1. I haven’t seen any studies indicating that soaking brown rice reduces arsenic levels, however there are studies indicating that boiling rice in a ratio of 6-12 cups of water to one cup of rice does reduce arsenic levels. Dr. Greger’s research indicates that combining turmeric with rice, and eating carotenoids like sweet potatoes with rice, are also ways to reduce arsenic.

        1. hi!

          That is so true. Arsenic levels are reduced by adding water when cooking.
          As for the effects of carotenoids with arsenic, carotenoids reduce the DNA damage caused by arsenic. Therefore, in the end carotenoids does not reduce arsenic levels but helps with the DNA damage.

          Yared, Health Support Volunteer

          1. This article fails to mention the arsenic content of each kind of rice, especially brown rice, so I don’t think Dr. Greger provided enough of the right kind of info, such as, does black or red rice have less arsenic than brown rice? I stopped eating brown rice because of the arsenic levels, so I’d need more info to make an educated decision addressing both the risks versus the benefits. Does to benefits of eating brown rice outweigh the risks? I’d like to know, what kind of health issues are developing in people who have been eating brown rice despite the arsenic? Is there any statistical difference?

      2. I understand that rices from India Pakistan and California tend to be lowest in arsenic
        https://nutritionfacts.org/video/which-brands-and-sources-of-rice-have-the-least-arsenic/

        Also arsenic in brown rice may be less bioavailable than arsenic in white rice because it is largely bound by the fibre although basmati rices (both white and brown) may be the safest options
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1764129/

        Also, eating rice with Canadian lentils high in selenium ay be useful since selenium copetes with arsenic for uptake by the body

        “Selenium and arsenic work antagonistically in the body by competing in many biological functions [11]. In the blood, selenium interacts with arsenic to form a complex which is excreted in the bile [12], thereby lowering the arsenic body burden. Thus, higher selenium intake may be crucial to combat arsenic toxicity. ”
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848822/
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095528631500159X
        https://vet.ucalgary.ca/files/vet/2013-smits-vandenberg-sah-rat-arsenic-selenium-lentils.pdf

  2. So looking at the transcripts it appears as though pretty much all types of rice contain unusually high levels of arsenic. Some have less than others but the lowest seem to still be in the danger zone. Would you recommend avoiding rice altogether?

    1. Hi!

      I recommend you dont eat too much rice, instead eat lentils, chickpeas and always add vegetables. Soak the rice at least for 20 minutes and rinse. This should be enough to prevent high levels of arsenic. There is no need to exclude it completely from your diet.

      I hope this helps!

      Yared, Health Support Volunteer

  3. I don’t understand. You put rice from Green to either red or yellow. In this post doesn’t say anything about arsenic. Getting mixed messages about a food doesn’t help. Please in the future be clear and consistent in your advice and assessment. I’m going to have to go look for other authority on rice since you can’t seem to make up your mind. Paul

    1. Paul,

      The arsenic is more about where the rice comes from than anything.

      Plus, Dr. Greger has people boil it in extra water to lessen the amount.

      That advice from Dr. Greger still applies.

  4. I’m going to stick to my short grain, organic brown rice. Once in a while, I can find black, red, and purple on sale or use a coupon. It’s a bit more money than I’m used to spending on a staple in my diet. Regarding the arsenic issue, I had recent blood tests and my levels were super low, but I eat organic brown rice grown in California. On another side note, I rarely eat white rice, but when I do, it’s in small amounts, say at my fave Indian restaurant that serves beautiful, delicious vegan food. I know that brown rice is more nutritionally dense and “better” for me, but billions of people in the world eat white rice. So, eating white rice once in a while isn’t a horrible thing to do. Please don’t tell the food police, hahaha!

      1. I don’t eat it more than 4x per week. I think I eat white rice twice per month. I eat organic, short grain brown rice, as per my post above. Regarding diabetes, I defer to Neal Barnard, MD for his work and research on diabetes. Personally, I have ALWAYS had a perfect A1C, even before I began eating a low fat, whole food plant-based vegan diet. I have a family history on both sides of diabetes and so far, my health is FAR better than any of my family members, both living and deceased, having overcome so much of my so-called genetic destiny. Eating white rice 2x per month isn’t going to cause me to get diabetes. Besides, it’s the saturated and other fats that are a problem in diabetes more and I eat very low fat.

        1. I agree with you Lisa, though I will say that I believe that for people who are trying to get over Diabetes, Dr. Barnard does say to be careful with high glycemic index – white potatoes and white rice. He says it on his site. Not sure he says to avoid them, but he does say to be careful with them.

          Though, Dr. Greger adding lentils to rice does affect blood sugar spikes.

          “He and his colleagues conducted a study that looked at the effects of doing just that—blending in lentils to lessen the rise in blood sugar common with high glycemic foods like rice and potatoes.1 By replacing a portion of the potatoes and rice with lentils, Dr. Ramdath confirmed that they were able to reduce blood sugar spikes effectively, following these meals.1”

  5. I bought black rice without having seen your black rice video because of your colored food principles from other foods.

    I had wondered if I could throw lentils in and you say it cooks the same amount of time, but does that depend on the lentils being black, red, green, brown, etc.

    My rice cooker has white and brown rice buttons. I assume black is brown, but does it need longer than brown? Lentils are different. Is rice?

  6. I would like to share my experience eating rice with regard to arsenic levels. I can’t eat oats or wheat (intolerant to both). Rice has become my staple grain since corn has just been recently reintroduced in my diet and I only eat it occasionally. I eat rice daily…often several times a day. I eat it in the form of whole grain brown rice, rice cakes, rice crackers, and rice when I go to restaurants. When I cook my rice, I soak it overnight, drain it, and cook it in my Instant Pot (1 1/3 cup water to 1 cup dry rice). Of course when I eat rice that others have prepared I assume it has not been soaked prior to cooking.

    I recently asked my doctor to test my blood arsenic levels. I was very relieved to learn that the result was “none detected”. Yay!

  7. hi Norman, basmati can be either white or brown. Brown rice has higher arsenic levels than white, but if you wash/soak the rice, and then cook it in a pot with lots of water (like you would cook pasta,) then arsenic levels can approach that of whit according to Dr Greger.
    Each rice growing region and year will have differing arsenic levels. Here is a video answering your question https://nutritionfacts.org/video/Which-Brands-and-Sources-of-Rice-Have-the-Least-Arsenic/

  8. Much like Greger and others, from perhaps a slow schism from Descartes and scientific positivism, and a start of breaking free from from earlier concepts such as doctor (expert), dis-ease, art (manner of doing), etc. –, that there is a sense of seeing this as a whole, as they say lifestyle – btw, dieta is Greek, I believe vaguely translated as way of life – there is a dynamism (dunamos), a constant change (phusis, physics, physician) in states of the body, and dis-ease is perhaps a stagnation of state, lack, excess, malnutrition, indulgence, etc., yet our language is not yet able to articulate it as such since thinking disappeared perhaps before the Romans, certainly with Latin. The best doctor is also a philosopher (lover of wisdom). Galen. Science itself, sciencia, is now conceived as mathematical, looking at single actions, and no longer wisdom, sapere (homo sapiens). Art doesn’t convey such meaning but the Greek techne (technology, techno-logos) does. We’ll see how many millennia it takes before begins thinking.

    Without seeing the tens of thousands of varieties of rice, without knowing the varities that still exist, variations perhaps in carb, protein, other unknown micronutrients, some unique, semi-wild, local adaptations perhaps to water and the environment, etc. that exists in all foods, and comparison with every other possible grain, such as understanding why, when, how much, by season, excess, undernourishment, weather, activity level, and so forth, choosing each by moment, knowing all grains, all varieties, and all other possible foods, knowing each when to use etc. and combining them, perhaps as a staple hundreds of foods, out of knowledge of many thousands, out of the possible million plus, taking extremely strong tastes and cooking only with water – porridge, stew, soup, gruel, like ancient times) –, combining tastes to get the right balance, and loving foods that taste as bitter and strong as dirt itself when needed, we’re not gonna do better than as an examples, avoid some condition like heart disease. Amla, amalaki, “yuck” ? It’s all about the wild foods. Brassicas with who knows what is the upper limit, so far tested one with 100x the levels of glucosinolates than broccoli. If we’re going to be able to go beyond avoiding common issues, but reversing them, truly understanding them, and even “curing” cancer, HIV, having an immunity to all possible bacteria, viruses, etc. – it is possible, we need more. Knowledge of all plants, and all plant parts – fruit, leaf, stem, bark, root, flower, others? – knowing why some part absorbs something more than others, perhaps in process of delivery to another part, one part perhaps reacting to the environment, such as my instinct of flowers as being perhaps a concentration of among other things antivirals, and so forth, until we see the cosmos as endless change (phusis, physics, physician), where we’re headed so far seems to be only towards more decline.

    1. Perhaps, but people who know even a little bit of it live longer.

      There are people who know nothing at all, but they grew up eating fruits and vegetables and seeds and nuts and whole grains. My grandmother and great-grandmother would have laughed at your sentences into their nineties, but not in a mean-spirited way. They would have cut open a melon and poured a cup of coffee and asked how you know so much and I laugh because they would have convinced you that they knew nothing at all, and you might have missed that they knew how to live a long life and laugh every single day and die well and how to love and forgive and all sorts of handy things. They were simple people.

      Anyway, I say it because my dog has cancer and I have pondered what to tell people who have dogs and I could tell them all of this complicated science, which I am learning and about all of the studies or I could tell them the one study by Purdue University where if they fed the dog vegetables they were 90% less likely to get cancer.

      That is the most eloquent type of study. One thing to do. 90% of the problem goes away.

      I found out tonight that a friend of mine has something in her colon. Maybe cancer. The list grows longer. She is one I shared so much with and it turns out that she listened and is aiming WFPB.

      Brilliant.

      1. She still needs surgery, but she has lost over 25 pounds already since last time I saw her. I gave her every Dr. Greger cancer video there is and the funny thing is that she didn’t have cancer then, but might now. Yes, that is according to the magical cancer diagnosis as the start of the disease theory.

        1. And I am lying because when I came to this site there were already 500 videos tagged cancer. I gave her links to my 30 or so favorites.

          1. It is a little bit of a bummer for her that she started doing this program and went and they found something.

            Dr. McDougall says that changing the diet changes the doubling time and that is already a good thing.

            I am praying up a storm that my brothers plural and sisters-in-law plural will eat healthier.

  9. I just got seriously angry.

    I started looking up alternatives to surgery for kidney tumors and they say they only give the alternatives if the patient has other health reasons like one kidney. They remove the kidney, instead of doing cryoablation, where cryoablation is less invasive and gives people kidney function. They said they won’t do it! How dare they!

    https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-03/soir-fkc022709.php

    “There are several retrospective studies supporting the short and midterm outcome and efficacy of percutaneous renal cryoablation. Atwell et al. retrospectively reviewed 93 tumors treated with percutaneous cryoablation, with a mean size of 34 mm. They reported technical success rate of 96% with local tumor control in 95% of tumors and 1 case of local tumor progression seen on follow-up (15). In previous studies with smaller series of patients other authors reported local control rates ranging from 83% – 95% based on short term follow up (16, 17, 18, 19). In a prospective study, Buy et al. reviewed 120 tumors with a mean size of 26 mm. They reported a technical success rate of 94% with two tumors requiring second session of cryoablation (either due to recurrence or residual tumor) with disease free survival rate at 1 year of 96.7% (20).

    More recently Georgiades et al. published the results of a long-term, prospective study reporting efficacy and safety of percutaneous cryoablation for 265 stage 1A/B renal cancers treated over a period of 5 years. The 5-year cancer specific survival was 100% and the 5-year recurrence free survival was 97%. He reported also an overall significant complication rate of 6%, lower than that of other surgical options, with the most frequent being transfusion-requiring hemorrhage at 1.6% (21). The patients in this study were not limited to those with contraindication to surgery. These results are comparable to the gold-standard (partial nephrectomy) in terms of efficacy, and better in terms of safety.”

    1. It can even be done multiple times.

      I am not angry anymore.

      I printed out a few articles.

      There is a choice, which is so much less traumatic.

      And 75% of people with kidney cancer have small tumors.

      That is so much better news than the things I had been reading.

      If you get any condition, keep reading and reading and reading until you find something, which makes you feel happy.

      1. I am interested in statistics on minimally invasive cancer procedures versus radical ones.

        Looking at the cryotherapy, I found something posted online in 2018 saying that the cryotherapy had the exact same 5-year survival rate as the surgery for a kidney mass, with fewer complications.

        What struck me is that it had the exact same survival rate, even though it is being performed on people who are much older and much sicker.

        Seems to me, if they were doing less invasive procedures, people might choose those versus just doing the alternative therapies and dietary changes.

  10. Brown rice might be more nutritious than white, but what about Arsenic? Particularly, Arsenic in black and red rice?

    As per previous articles of Dr. Greger, white Basmati rice imported from India and Pakistan is safest.
    Even though brown rice might be more nutritious, it doesn’t justify ingesting Arsenic.

    It would be like eating an extra plate of veggies to try to counteract that 2L bottle of Pepsi you’ve recently had.

    Dmitriy P,
    Shilajit Secret

    1. Dmitriy,

      Dr Greger has given how to cook rice to lower arsenic and where to buy it from to lower arsenic, plus putting lentils in lowers arsenic, plus, if I remember right, the arsenic in rice wasn’t linked to Cancer.

      1. Thank you, I will look more into it.
        However even if it wasn’t directly linked to cancer, that still doesn’t mean it can be consumed safely, from my perspective. I would go with an ounce of prevention.

        Dmitriy P,
        Shilajit Secret

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