Rice has been a staple carbohydrate in many cultures for ages. But does this ancient grain bring about weight gain or weight loss?
As someone who studied nutrition and eats rice on the regular, I reached into the research on how rice compares when it comes to weight loss.
In modern weight loss diets, simple carbohydrates have been shunned, but science says rice can be a part of a successful plan. In order for rice to be good for weight loss, it’s important to:
Practice portion control
Go whole grain: brown versus white
Bulk up with veggies
Be aware of additions
Use certain cooking methods
Let’s break down further what we know about rice and weight loss.
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Does The Type of Rice You Eat Impact Weight Loss?
Rice is a grain that comes in many forms. Unprocessed rice tends to have a beige, brown, or even black coloring. Processed rice will typically be white. Some ways that rice is prepared can make it deceiving to determine the type. Paella or Mexican rice for example may have added seasonings such as turmeric or saffron that make it appear to be whole grain.
The healthiest types are: varieties of brown rice, wild rice, black rice, and red rice. Rice also comes in different sizes such as short, medium, and long grain. Short and medium grain tend to be more starchy and sweet, therefore long grain is slightly better for weight loss.
The way rice is processed will have an impact on factors that affect weight loss. There are varying degrees that rice is processed. Brown rice is minimally processed, whereas instant rice is fully cooked then dehydrated.
RICE NUTRITION FACTS
Rice is low in fat and gluten-free diet appropriate. The calories, macronutrients, vitamins and minerals vary depending on the type of rice.
According to Precision Nutrition, one cup (200g) of cooked medium-grain brown rice has about 220 calories, 4.5 g protein, 1.5 g fat, 45 g carbohydrates, and 3.5 g of fiber. Brown rice is also rich in vitamins and minerals.
One cup of white rice (185 g) in comparison, contains about 240 calories, 4.5 g of protein, 1 g of fat, 55 g carbohydrate, and 1 g of fiber. Since white rice is processed, it only contains trace amounts of nutrients, unless they have been added back in via a process called enrichment.
Rice is made up of both digestible starch and resistant starch. Resistant starch is defined as the part that cannot be digested by human enzymes. This could promote weight loss by improving appetite, regulating hormones, and preserving lean body mass. Having more lean body mass has been linked to increased metabolism and therefore increased weight loss.
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Is Rice Good For Weight Loss: 5 Rules To Follow
Rice can be a good part of a balanced weight loss plan. The key is to use these grains of knowledge: focusing on portion control, brown rice, added vegetables, low calorie additions, and healthy cooking methods.
1. PRACTICE PORTION CONTROL
Whole grain rice is healthy but can pack in the calories. Although it has benefits, it can be easy to eat too much. It’s important to practice portion control so rice doesn’t rack up too many extra calories.
The standard portion size for rice is one cup. Rather than spooning heapfuls into a bowl or spreading rice across your plate, pre-measure it.
Cleveland Clinic came up with an easy method to determine the portion size for rice, comparing the ½ cup portion of cooked rice to a computer mouse. This is about 100 calories.
2. GO WHOLE GRAIN: BROWN VERSUS WHITE
All grains start as whole grains, then many of them get processed to the point of becoming refined. Whole grains are the entire seed of the plant. The seed, or kernel, is made up of three edible parts:
Bran: the outer layer which contains fiber and many minerals and antioxidants.
Endosperm: the inner layer which contains macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Germ: the core which contains healthy fats, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Whole grains contain the entire kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined grains have the bran and germ removed, such as with white rice. The reason for refining is to help improve the texture and extend the shelf life.
The downside of refining grains is that this process removes fiber, minerals such as iron, and many B vitamins. Sometimes food manufacturers will add back some of the nutrients but the fiber is not replaced.
Fiber is an important part of weight loss. An Annals of Internal Medicine study suggested that aiming for about 30 grams of fiber each day can help with weight loss and related medical complications. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that at least half of the grains consumed should be whole grains. Those who are very physically active may need more.
According to health authority, Precisionnutrition, not all calories are created equal. This holds true when comparing the amount of energy (calories) it takes to chew, swallow, and digest food.
In one study, walnuts were anticipated to be about 20% less calories than assumed. This is because standard food calorie testing methods are not accurate; they don’t take into account high fiber that doesn’t get absorbed by our bodies.
3. BULK UP WITH VEGGIES
Vegetables are high in fiber and nutrients while being low in calories. To help cut some calories, mix some vegetables into your rice. Try sauteeing spinach and adding it to the rice, or cook some chopped carrots, bell pepper, and/or onion and mix them in.
Many grocery stores also offer cauliflower or broccoli “rice” which is finely chopped vegetables that look like rice. These both can be very easily cooked by pan frying with a bit of water and seasonings for about five minutes.
Many rice friendly vegetables are also excellent immune boosters: 21 Superfoods For Boosting Your Immune System
4. BE AWARE OF ADDITIONS
When rice is prepared for different dishes, it most always has additions which increase the calorie count.
Sushi has sugar and vinegar added to it. The sugar adds extra calories and, especially with refined white rice, can contribute to cravings.
Fried rice uses oil which can pack on a lot of extra calories. One tablespoon of oil can add 120 calories. Most at home recipes ask for two to three tablespoons while restaurant style has more!
Risotto is made from butter and cheese. Some commercially-prepared brands of risotto include up to 400 calories per serving.
Paella uses oil to coat the rice and has ingredients such as sausage or meat. Like risotto, it typically contains about 400 calories per serving.
Homemade rice is a better option, depending on what’s added to it. Be wary of oils and fats such as added cream, butter, or oil. One tablespoon of butter contains 100 calories for example. To make rice a bit more low calorie friendly, try adding some broth for some extra flavor with minimal calories. Season with lemon or lime juice and mix in fresh or dry herbs.
5. COOKING METHOD MATTERS
Steaming or boiling your rice with water or broth is the best way to cook it since this doesn’t have the extras of oil or butter used in the pan.
The cooking and cooling method can also increase the amount of resistant starch that’s in the rice. This is the starch that resists digestion in the small intestine. Resistant starch also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut. Probiotics which can contribute to healthy gut bacteria have been linked to reductions in body weight.
Cooked rice that has been cooled is higher in resistant starch than rice that was cooked and not cooled.
Rice Related Research Is Conflicting
In general, studies that explore the effects of whole grain versions of rice show that it has a beneficial effect on weight loss. In comparison, white rice tends to have inconsistent results.
In a study where a brown rice diet was compared with a white rice diet, the brown rice diet group had reduced weight, waist to hip circumference, BMI, and blood pressure. Brown rice was also helpful for decreasing inflammation and cardiovascular disease risk.
In another study, women were put on low-calorie meal replacements which either contained white rice or a mixture of brown and black rice. Both groups lost weight since they were restricting calories, but the group who were on the whole grain mixed rice diet lost more weight and also had improvements in antioxidant levels.
A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey showed that both adults and children who consumed whole grains had significantly better intakes of nutrients and fiber. There was a relationship between lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference with higher intakes of whole grains.
Takeaway: The key here is to focus on the whole grain, brown rice versions.
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Benefit Of Rice For Fitness
If you’re trying to build or maintain muscle mass as you lose weight, it’s important to properly fuel your killer workouts.
Rice can be a good pre-workout option since it’s low in fat and high in easily digestible carbohydrates. It also contains a lot of B vitamins which are essential for cell function and energy metabolism. B vitamins help convert energy from food into fuel and also help transport oxygen to the cells that need it most. Carbohydrates will help improve recovery time and boost strength.
When it comes to eating before a workout, if you have less than an hour before you get moving, aim to have a simple carb such as white rice or corn, or a banana. This can be helpful for quick fuel before trying to build muscle or go for intense cardio such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
If you have more than two to three hours before a workout, you can have a more complex carb such as brown rice. Pair this with a protein and it can help give nutrition for sustained energy, boosted performance, and preserved muscle mass. For instance, brown rice with a scrambled egg.
Learn more about exercises that can help you scorch through some serious calories: How to Workout Twice a Day For Weight Loss (Ultimate Guide)
Frequently Asked Questions
HOW MUCH RICE SHOULD YOU EAT A DAY TO LOSE WEIGHT?
The amount of calories needed to lose weight can vary from person to person, depending on many factors such as gender, build, height, and activity level. The key is to determine the total amount of calories to take in per day in order to lose weight, then have the rice factor in as part of that.
As a general guideline, Mayoclinic explains that since 3,500 excess calories equals about one pound (0.45 kg) of body weight, you need to create a deficit of about 3,500 calories in order to lose one pound.
Women wanting to lose weight should eat about 37 g of rice per portion.
Men trying to lose weight should eat about 50 g of rice per portion.
IS WHITE RICE BEST FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
White rice is not the best choice when you’re trying to lose weight. Since white rice is a refined grain, it is easily digested and absorbed, leading to blood sugar peaks and valleys. Elevated blood sugar can cause increased insulin levels, a hormone that increases fat storage. When blood sugar dips, it causes low energy and more simple carb cravings, making it difficult to control calorie intake.
When the fiber is removed from whole grain rice, it also makes it less satisfying. Studies have shown that fiber intake is associated with lower body weight. This is partially because fiber can make us feel more full and increase the amount of time we chew, therefore signalling to our brains when we’ve had enough.
HOW DO YOU COOK RICE?
Before cooking rice, make sure to rinse it by placing it in a colander or strainer, which won’t let the kernels slip through. Rinse under cool water for about a minute, while moving the rice around. Check for any stones or anything that may have been mixed into the rice.
Place water or broth into a pot and bring to a boil. For brown rice, use one part water to two parts liquid. Once liquid has boiled, add rice, stir and wait for it to return to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat, cover with a lid, and simmer for about 45 minutes. Stir a couple times in between to make sure the rice isn’t sticking.
If the liquid gets too low, add a bit more. If there is too much liquid, keep the lid off so it can evaporate. The rice should have a chewy texture and most of the liquid will be gone when it’s done.
Bottom Line: Total Calories And Macros
Rice can be an excellent component of an overall healthy diet. Just make sure to focus on the whole grain source, practice portion control, emphasize added vegetables, cook and cool to increase resistant starch, and focus on low calorie additions.
Dropping excess weight comes down to burning more calories than we consume by upping activity and decreasing calories. Boost your calorie burn and up your activity game by downloading Fitbod today.
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About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.