Rice has been a common mainstay for years, but recently quinoa has emerged as a viable alternative. When choosing quinoa vs rice, both have health benefits and add nutritional value to your diet. However, variations in vitamin and mineral content may have slightly different effects on your health.
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What’s the Difference?
Quinoa is actually the dicotyledon seeds of the goosefoot plant, but is eaten in a manner similar to a grain. Nutritionally similar to other grains, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans considers quinoa a whole grain and categorizes it as a member of the grains food group.
Quinoa seeds are small and round, about the size of a sesame seed. Although typically light in color, quinoa is available in various colors including red, purple and black. Quinoa has a rich nutty flavor and can be used as a side dish or added to soups, salads and baked goods.
Rice is a cereal grain consumed by more people in the world than any other grain. It is available in many varieties, such as basmati, jasmine and arborio. Rice can vary in size, such as long grain and short grain.
Unlike white rice, which has the husk, bran and germ removed, brown rice only has the husk removed, so it retains the nutrient-rich fiber and germ. For this reason, Dietary Guidelines classifies brown rice a whole grain.
Comparison of Macronutrients
According to the American Heart Association, you should strive for 6 to 8 servings of grains each day. At least half of these should consist of whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice. A serving size is one-half cup, or the equivalent of the size of a baseball.
The calorie content of quinoa vs rice is similar, but brown rice has slightly less, according to USDA. The amounts, per half-cup serving, are:
- Quinoa (cooked): 111 calories or 6 percent of the daily value (DV)
- Brown rice (cooked): 109 calories or 5 percent DV
For comparison, quinoa also has more calories per half-cup when measuring the content of quinoa vs oatmeal and quinoa vs pasta, according to USDA.
- Oatmeal (cooked): 83 calories or 4 percent DV
- Pasta (cooked): 98 calories or 5 percent DV
Both low in fat, brown rice has slightly less than quinoa. You need dietary fat to provide a source of energy for many vital biological and physiological processes in your body. According to USDA, the comparison of fat content, per half cup, is:
- Quinoa: 1.8 grams or 3 percent of the DV
- Brown rice: .8 grams or 1 percent of the DV
If you follow a low-carb diet, a serving of quinoa and brown rice are both good food choices. Your body needs carbs to fuel your brain, kidneys, heart, muscles and central nervous system. The content, per half cup, is:
- Quinoa: 19.7 grams or 7 percent of the DV
- Brown rice: 22.9 grams or 8 percent of the DV
Read more: Can You Eat Quinoa on a Low-Carb Diet?
Comparison of Protein Content
Protein is necessary for the proper growth, development and repair of every tissue in your body. Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which your body cannot produce on its own and must come from your diet.
Although quinoa has more protein per serving than brown rice — 4.1 grams and 2.3 grams respectively — a chart from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which compares the protein breakdown of various grains, shows both quinoa and brown rice exceed the recommendation for all essential amino acids for children 3 to 10 years of age.
Although all grains contain some amino acids, most are low in lysine. By eating a varied diet, you will get all the protein your body needs. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends you consume 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories from protein, which amounts to about 46 grams for adult females and 56 grams for adult men.
Quinoa Is Higher in Fiber
Quinoa is higher in dietary fiber than brown rice, with the following content per half-cup serving, according to USDA:
- Quinoa: 2.6 grams or 10 percent of the DV
- Brown rice: 1.8 grams or 7 percent of the DV
Fiber is essential for maintaining the health of your digestive system. Dietary fiber is the portion of food that your body cannot fully digest, so it remains relatively intact, traveling through your digestive tract, adding bulk to your stool and helping to keep your bowel movements regular.
Fiber not only helps to prevent constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome, but its bulking action may help you maintain a healthy weight_._ By slowing down digestion, fiber can make you feel "full" longer. The increased satiety and reduction in hunger may make it less likely you'll overeat.
A study published by Annals of Internal Medicine in February 2015, found that simply adding more fiber to the diet of 240 adult participants was a reasonable alternative approach to weight reduction over a more complicated diet regime. Furthermore, a review in Nutrients, published in December 2018, reported that high fiber may help decrease caloric absorption by binding with fat.
Read more: Quinoa and Weight Loss
Brown Rice for B Vitamins
Although both quinoa and brown rice contain many of the B vitamins, it's brown rice that has more niacin, vitamin B5 and vitamin B6. The B vitamins provide energy for many bodily functions including your heart, brain and blood cells. USDA lists the vitamin-B content, per serving, as follows:
- Brown rice:
Thiamin is needed for the production of energy your body requires for the growth, development and proper cellular function. A thiamin deficiency can cause weight loss, mental impairments, muscle weakness and ultimately lead to damage to your cardiovascular system.
Riboflavin helps your body break down carbs, fats and proteins to produce energy. A riboflavin deficiency can cause sores at the corners of your mouth, cracked lips, sore throat and hair loss in addition to liver, reproductive and nervous system disorders.
Niacin helps keep your skin and nervous system healthy. Niacin also may help to maintain cholesterol levels by increasing your HDL (the "good") cholesterol, and helping to remove LDL cholesterol, according to Mayo Clinic.
Vitamin B5, or pantothenic acid, is a precursor in the synthesis of coenzyme A, which is essential for many biochemical reactions, including protein and fatty acid synthesis. USDA does not list any vitamin B5 content for quinoa.
Quinoa Excels in Folate
In addition to the listed B vitamins in quinoa vs rice, when it comes to folate — quinoa triumphs. According to USDA, the comparison per half cup is:
- Quinoa: 38.9 grams or 10 percent of the DV
- Brown rice: 3.9 grams or 1 percent of the DV
Folate is necessary for the production and division of new cells, including your hair, skin and nails. It helps your body make and maintain healthy blood cells and is particularly important in the synthesis of DNA. According to National Institutes of Health, folate has shown potentially promising benefits for treating depression, autism and reducing the risk of cancer.
Folate is well known for its role in pregnancy. Especially important for growth and development of unborn babies, folic acid has been shown to prevent major birth malformations in the brain or spine and also decrease the likelihood of low birth weight.
Quinoa Is Better for Bones
Both quinoa and brown rice contain the same amount of calcium — 1 percent of the DV — most often associated with bone health. However, quinoa and rice benefits your bones with other minerals they contain. These include magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, copper and zinc.
Quinoa is a better natural source of magnesium, which is a mineral that resides mostly in your bones and contributes to its structural development. According to National Institutes of Health, magnesium can contribute to increased bone strength. The comparison, per half cup, is:
- Quinoa: 14 percent of the DV
- Brown rice: 10 percent of the DV
Quinoa contains more potassium and phosphorus, which are also essential minerals that help form and preserve bones. Insufficient potassium can cause loss of calcium. A severe deficiency of phosphorus can cause bone pain and softening of the bones due to bone loss, warns Linus Pauling Institute. The contents of each, per serving, are:
- Brown rice:
Quinoa also contains more copper, iron and zinc, which are necessary for collagen synthesis needed for the infrastructure that holds your bones together. The amounts per serving, according to USDA, are:
- Brown rice:
The difference between quinoa and brown rice from a nutritional point of view is that quinoa surpasses brown rice in fiber and protein with a higher content of folate, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and trace minerals. Brown rice contains more of some B vitamins, except riboflavin. Both are gluten free and are a good source of nutrients. Brown rice and quinoa can be used interchangeably in your favorite recipe, as they have similar textures and flavors.
- Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council: "Rice"
- Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council: "Quinoa"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns: Food Groups: Grains"
- American Heart Association: "Suggested Servings From Each Food Group"
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Comparison of Cooked Brown Rice, Quinoa Cooked, Cooked Pasta (Unenriched), and Cooked Oatmeal"
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: "Quinoa: Nutritional Value"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"
- Mayo Clinic "Q and A: Diet, Lifestyle Choices Can Lower Risk of Diverticulosis Developing Into Diverticulitis"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Dietary Fiber"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Single-Component Versus Multicomponent Dietary Goals for the Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Trial"
- Nutrients: "Body Composition Changes in Weight Loss: Strategies and Supplementation for Maintaining Lean Body Mass, a Brief Review"
- National Institutes of Health: "Thiamin"
- National Institutes of Health: "Riboflavin"
- Mayo Clinic: "Niacin"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Pantothenic Acid"
- National Institutes of Health: "Folate"
- National Institutes of Health: "Magnesium"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Phosphorus"
- American Bone Health: "Minerals for Bone Health"