Many foods are touted for their ability to help people lose weight — egg whites, beans, broccoli, chicken breast — but white rice isn't one of them. While it's OK to eat it every now and then, eating a lot will likely hinder your weight loss progress. As a refined grain, white rice digests quickly, which can leave you feeling tired and hungry again soon after your meal. When it comes to shedding pounds, white rice for weight loss isn't a good bet.
Types of White Rice
There is probably more than one type of white rice on your grocery store shelves. White rice comes in short, medium and long grain; the shorter the grain, the more "glutinous," or sticky, the rice is. Within each category, there are different varieties. There's regular and all-purpose long-grain white rice; parboiled or precooked white rice; basmati and jasmine, which are both a type of long-grain white rice; and arborio rice with a high starch content that gives risotto its creaminess.
Most white rice varieties have one thing in common: They've been refined in a process that smooths the grain, and in doing so, either the bran or germ or both have been removed. This leaves the soft endosperm, which gives the rice a more tender texture and mild flavor, but also removes much of its fiber, vitamins and minerals. While white rice can be "enriched" or have vitamins and minerals added during processing, its fiber content cannot be replaced.
White Rice Calories
When you're trying to lose weight, your first priority is to reduce your caloric intake below that needed each day to support physiological functioning, daily activities of living and exercise. When you reduce your calories, you have to be sure you're choosing low-calorie foods that pack in a lot of nutrition; otherwise, you may not get the nutrients you need each day for good health.
While these rice calories won't break the bank, many people eat more than this in one sitting, especially when they eat out at a restaurant. If you eat 1 or 1 1/2 cups of short-grain white rice with your takeout Chinese food, that's 266 to 400 calories. Added to the calories in most Chinese dishes, you could be looking at 1,000 calories or more in one meal.
Even if you eat white rice with a sensible meal, the lack of other nutrients in the rice makes it akin to an "empty calorie" food — one that offers calories but not much else of benefit. There are better foods to spend your "calorie currency" on.
No Fiber for Fullness
Your second priority when dieting is to choose low-calorie foods that fill you up, which helps you eat less. Foods high in fiber that digest slowly and stay in your stomach for longer fill the bill.
Dietary fiber is a crucial component of any healthy diet, but especially a weight-loss diet. Fiber is the part of plant foods that your body can't digest. It travels through the digestive system mostly unchanged, absorbing water and bulking in size. This fills your stomach, making you feel full and more satisfied on less food. In a study published in Nutrients in 2018, participants who increased their fiber intake lost weight even when they didn't pay attention to how many calories they were eating.
In light of this, white rice for weight loss isn't going to cut it. One cup of short-grain white rice has no fiber to speak of; with 0.6 gram per cup, long-grain white rice doesn't fare much better. This amount of fiber won't do anything to fill you up, nor will it help you meet the recommended daily allowance, or RDA, for fiber, which is 21 to 25 grams for women and 30 to 38 grams for men.
White Rice and Blood Sugar
Refined foods, such as white bread, white rice and white pasta, are generally considered high-glycemic foods. High-glycemic foods are those that have a marked effect on blood sugar, raising it sharply after a meal. The lack of fiber is partly responsible; fiber-filled foods have less of an effect on blood sugar, because the fiber slows digestion and the absorption of broken down carbohydrates into the bloodstream.
The glycemic index (GI) is used to rate foods according to their effect on blood sugar. The higher the number, the more the food will cause a quick rise in blood sugar. Foods fall into one of the three categories based on their score:
- High glycemic: 70 or more
- Medium glycemic: 56 to 69
- Low glycemic: 55 or lower
The GI of a food varies considerably based on how it's cooked and for how long it's cooked. In general, the longer rice is cooked, the higher the GI. Cooking breaks foods down, which means your digestive system has less work to do once you eat them; the digested sugars are quickly delivered to your bloodstream.
Short-grain rice also has a higher GI than long-grain rice because it is more highly processed. However, other factors can lower the GI of rice, such as boiling it, then putting it in the refrigerator and eating it cold. In general, however, white rice is a high-GI food, typically rating around 70 and up to 90.
Once you've consumed a high-GI food and it enters your bloodstream, you'll get an immediate boost in energy. However, soon after, your blood sugar can fall precipitously. This can lead to fatigue, mood swings and hunger soon after eating, causing you to eat more than you should. According to the Mayo Clinic, a low-glycemic index diet may promote weight loss and help you maintain it.
Better Rice Options
Unless you're following a low-carb diet, rice isn't off limits when you're curbing calories. However, you'll get more mileage in both nutrition and satiety if you choose unrefined rice varieties. These types of rice remain whole during processing and are richer in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. For example, 1/2 cup of long-grain brown rice has 1.6 grams of fiber.
However, you can do even better. Quinoa, one of the top superfoods for weight loss, is a seed that cooks up like rice and easily substitutes for rice in almost any recipe. One-half cup of quinoa has 2.6 grams of fiber and fewer calories than white or brown rice. Another whole grain, bulgur, is even higher in fiber and lower in calories, with 4 grams of fiber and only 75 calories per 1/2 cup cooked.
Bulgur is the grain most often used to make the Middle Eastern dish tabouleh, which also contains parsley, chopped tomatoes and onion, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. This flavorful, low-calorie salad can be eaten as a side dish or topped with a piece of grilled chicken for a protein-packed, fiber-filled, low-GI, diet-friendly dinner.
- Joy Bauer: Refined Grains: How Food Affects Health
- The Rice Association: Types of Rice
- USDA: Basic Report: 20445, Rice, White, Long-Grain, Regular, Unenriched, Cooked Without Salt
- USDA: Basic Report: 20453, Rice, White, Short-Grain, Cooked, Unenriched
- USDA: Basic Report: 20048, Rice, White, Long-Grain, Precooked or Instant, Enriched, Dry
- UMASS Med Now: Pilot Study Shows Simple Dietary Changes Can Lead to Modest Weight Loss
- National Academy of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Mayo Clinic: Glycemic Index Diet: What's Behind the Claims
- Health & Nutrition Letter: Which Type of Rice Has the Lowest Glycemic Index Score?
- Little Pine: Tabouleh
- USDA: Basic Report: 20037, Rice, Brown, Long-Grain, Cooked (Includes Foods for USDA's Food Distribution Program)
- USDA: Basic Report: 20137, Quinoa, Cooked
- USDA: Basic Report: 20013, Bulgur, Cooked