As a Dominican American, white rice has always been a staple in my home. White rice was eaten weekly, especially on Sundays. When I would spend my summers in the Dominican Republic, lunch would consist of white rice and meat (chicken was the go-to protein). It’s an important grain not just for Dominican cultures, but for many cultures.

Over the past several decades, however, white rice has been called the unhealthy sibling to brown rice, and those with health in mind often choose brown over white thinking that white rice isn’t good for you.

Recently, these conversations have shifted. On TikTok, Wholesome Chick Nutrition posted a video on realistic nutrition information — one of the many being “white rice is not all that different from brown rice.” The now-viral video has thousands of comments praising the registered dietician for her candidness. It’s a very wholesome comment section. Dalina Soto, who refers to herself as Your Latina Dietician, stitched the video to highlight several different rice varieties.

“When I tell you I get flamed on these apps when I say that white rice is better than brown rice because it tastes better because culturally, every culture in the world eats white rice,” Soto said in her stitch. “Nobody really eats brown rice. That’s an American thing.”

It really begs the question, is brown rice better than white rice? 

What is brown rice?

Here’s a quick history lesson: brown rice originates from Africa and was cultivated with wild grass approximately 3,500 years ago. It became popular in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the whole and organic foods movement. Then, in 2010, Harvard conducted a study outlining the grain’s pros to lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. In 2017, Dr. Oz said to “cut out white foods,” including rice, to lose weight in an interview with USA TODAY.

But what is the difference between white and brown rice? You can think of white rice as naked brown rice. Essentially, brown rice is a whole grain, so the bran, the germ, and the endosperm are intact. Because of this, the grain has fiber and other nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium, and calcium. White rice starts as brown rice, but the bran and germ are removed in processing.

Is brown rice actually better than white rice?

This is where we get a bit of mixed reviews. Soto admits brown rice is better because it contains the bran, which has more vitamins and minerals.

A cup of brown rice has 248 calories, six grams of protein, and three grams of fiber. In comparison, a cup of white rice has 205 calories, four grams of protein, and one gram of fiber.

The extra fiber and protein that brown rice contains can certainly help those who want that extra dose, which can also make you feel slightly fuller. Plus it’s high in magnesium, which can help control blood sugar levels.

Does this make brown rice superior? Nutritionally, yes. But the numbers are not drastically different. The true distinction is the glycemic index (GI), which is a system that ranks foods on a 1 to 100 scale based on their effect on blood sugar levels. White rice has a GI of 79.6, higher than brown rice’s GI of 57.6.  

As a simple carbohydrate, the sugar in white rice will be processed quickly once it hits your bloodstream, and that’s important to be aware of if you have diabetes or are at risk. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t eat white rice or even that white rice is unhealthy. Just ask dietitians.

“Many people think [brown rice is] better because white rice is often painted as being ‘the same as white table sugar,’ but that is a narrow-minded view,” Shyla Cadogan, a registered dietitian, told Spoon. “White rice is easy for the body to break down and use as a quick source of energy. This can be especially beneficial for athletes or those that exercise often for long hours.”

The consensus: your tastebuds and how you pair rice with proteins matter. Pairing with nutritious foods like chicken, shrimp, fish, and non-starchy veggies can help with fullness and blood sugar levels.

“It’s important not to get too caught up in the small differences between the two rice varieties,” registered dietitian Hannah Magee said, who also shares food tips and tricks across multiple platforms.

Why does white rice have such a bad reputation? 

Even though Soto said that brown rice is slightly better, she notes that diet and wellness culture pushes for whole grains.

“The recommendation is half your grains need to be whole,” she said. “There are over 50 whole grains we can eat. Brown rice doesn't have to be it if we do not like it.”

There is also a dismissive culture surrounding BIPOC dietitians and nutritionists. As an Afro-Panamanian, Cadogan expressed that when she first spoke about white rice on her platform, she faced backlash.

“I was immediately viewed as ignorant, uneducated, and even had my credentials called into question anonymously by other registered dietitians online,” she said.

On Cadogan’s TikTok comparing the two kinds of rice, her comment section was filled with many praising brown rice. One person wrote, “This is such bs.”

Soto feels similarly. “When white dietitians speak, they are usually viewed as more knowledgeable,” Soto said, who is Dominican American. “So when a white RD says this, there is seldom backlash but when I do — my comments section speaks for itself.”

Comments across multiple videos on Soto’s page range from restating the “negative” nutritional value of white rice to being called a terrible nutritionist to questioning her credentials — all for being a white rice stan.

“I grew up exclusively eating white rice. I still do and so do my kids,” Soto said. “White rice is an integral part of my identity as a Dominican American.”

Many beliefs surrounding health and nutrition are very white-washed. Throughout Soto’s many videos on white rice, the comment section is filled with many recounting how professionals have said to stray away from rice. One person wrote, “The way my doctors tell me to stop eating white rice constantly. Like do they not understand my genetics and soul require it?”

These types of beliefs are often dismissive of the “practices of other racial backgrounds and cultures,” Magee said. “This likely plays into the dismissive discourse around white rice and the idea that it can actually be a beneficial part of one's diet.”

As of 2021, there are over 100,000 dietitians and nutritionists in the United States, with about 75% being white.

“Most people who struggle with chronic illnesses that can be managed by dietary changes do not fit that [white] mold, and the care that they receive from dietitians often lacks the inclusion of their cultural foods because they are viewed as less than,” Cadogan said in reference to the white majority in her field.

However, this negative outlook is slowly shifting. According to Cadogan, many white dietitians who create educational social media videos have changed their messaging to be more inclusive in how they approach food and diet. She’s noticed many point out that white rice and brown rice aren't that different. The only problem is, “they are immediately believed, and even praised, for ‘breaking down diet culture.’”

But for now, let’s settle the rice debate. There are pros and cons for both grains. From both standpoints there doesn’t seem to be a significant difference, therefore, go for what’s best for your body.

“Lack of education breeds blanket generalizations like the ones we see around white rice,” Cadogan said “And part of my job is to show how to include this food in a more health-promoting way.”