Myth: Rice Will Make Me Fat

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Rice: Should I avoid it?

White Rice

White Rice

Rice is a grain and is one of the most consumed foods in the world.  It is cheap and very dense in both calories and carbohydrates.  Since as long as I can remember, it is has been tied to obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes.  The question is whether this link is warranted and is rice overly vilified?     

The calories from rice are primarily from simple carbohydrates that are readily absorbed.  There is no doubt that rice lacks diversity of macronutrients since it obviously is not a major source of fat or protein.  In fact, white rice lacks fiber and is not a demonstrated source of vitamins nor minerals.  

Does rice cause obesity?  Facts being facts, the countries with highest rice intake per capita and percentage of their average diet, tend to have the lowest obesity rates.  The problem is that it is not that simple since there is a genetic difference in metabolism that is more common in certain regions and ethnicities.  

What is rice?  Rice is a grain.  Whole grains are what you want to have in your diet so how does white rice compare to a whole grain and what is the equivalent of whole grain in rice?  Whole grains have three components which are bran, germ, and endosperm.  Whole grain rice is brown rice.  White rice is just the endosperm.  Removing the bran and germ reduces the nutritional value of rice by removing fat, protein, and fiber.  The removal makes the grain faster cooking and have a softer texture.  

Whole Grain versus Non-Whole Grain

Whole Grain versus Non-Whole Grain.  This image is from Harvard University[1].

Does rice cause weight loss or gain?  Brown rice has been well studied, and its effects on weight are well established, but white rice’s research creates a picture that is a lot fuzzier.  

Comparison of White Vs. Brown Rice Nutrition.

Comparison of White Vs. Brown Rice Nutrition.

White rice has research that points to both weight loss and weight gain in those that consume it, so the results are, to say the least, inconsistent.  Some studies point to refined grains such as rice as a cause of obesity and weight gain [2],[3],[4].  Some studies also have not found a link between white rice consumption central obesity [5],[6].  Lastly, white rice consumption has even been linked to a reduced risk of weight gain and may even protect against obesity[7],[8],[9]. These studies clearly conflict with one another. 

The problem with most of the studies is that the diets are different from country to country.  In the United States, meat is plentiful and cheap.  We tend to not only eat more rice but also more meat.  In other countries, meat is more expensive and less abundant. Therefore, the public in those countries is less likely to over consume both meat and rice.  

Brown Rice is higher in fiber and is absorbed slowly from our digestive tracts.  There are plenty of studies that show this that eat diets that are higher whole grains like brown rice has been shown to be associated with a lower weight that those that eat diets lower in whole grain less who don’t [10],[11],[12],[13].  The fiber content causes less of an insulin spike and keeps you full longer.  This feeling of fullness results in a  reduced number of calories consumed[14].  Many of the research articles I found by searching PubMed and in reading an article on Authority Nutrition[15].   

The Bottom Line:  Rice causing obesity is a myth.  Almost every food will induce weight gain if consumed in excessive amounts.  As with all foods, portion control is vital to avoid weight gain.  There is nothing especially fattening about rice, but of the two types of rice, white rice is higher in calories and lower in nutrients.  I would recommend that you stick to higher nutrient forms of rice such as brown rice.  You will get more nutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals from the whole grain. 

Footnotes
[1]“The Whole (Grain) Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts.”
[2]Liu et al., “Relation between Changes in Intakes of Dietary Fiber and Grain Products and Changes in Weight and Development of Obesity among Middle-Aged Women.”
[3]Kim, Jo, and Joung, “A Rice-Based Traditional Dietary Pattern Is Associated with Obesity in Korean Adults.”
[4]McKeown et al., “Whole- and Refined-Grain Intakes Are Differentially Associated with Abdominal Visceral and Subcutaneous Adiposity in Healthy Adults: The Framingham Heart Study.”
[5]Kolahdouzan et al., “The Association between Dietary Intake of White Rice and Central Obesity  in Obese Adults.”
[6]Bazzano et al., “Dietary Intake of Whole and Refined Grain Breakfast Cereals and Weight Gain in Men.”
[7]Shi et al., “Rice Intake, Weight Change and Risk of the Metabolic Syndrome Development among Chinese Adults: The Jiangsu Nutrition Study (JIN).”
[8]Xu et al., “Dietary Pattern Transitions, and the Associations with BMI, Waist Circumference, Weight and Hypertension in a 7-Year Follow-up among the Older Chinese Population: A Longitudinal Study.”
[9]Cunha et al., “Association of Dietary Patterns with BMI and Waist Circumference in a Low-Income Neighbourhood in Brazil.”
[10]Kim et al., “Meal Replacement with Mixed Rice Is More Effective than White Rice in Weight Control, While Improving Antioxidant Enzyme Activity in Obese Women.”
[11]Koh-Banerjee et al., “Changes in Whole-Grain, Bran, and Cereal Fiber Consumption in Relation to 8-Y Weight Gain among Men.”
[12]Liu et al., “Relation between Changes in Intakes of Dietary Fiber and Grain Products and Changes in Weight and Development of Obesity among Middle-Aged Women.”
[13]Albertson et al., “Whole Grain Consumption Trends and Associations with Body Weight Measures in the United States: Results from the Cross Sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2012.”
[14]Pedersen, Knudsen, and Eggum, “Nutritive Value of Cereal Products with Emphasis on the Effect of Milling.”
[15]Adda , “Is Rice Fattening or Weight Loss Friendly?”
Adda , Bjarnadottir. “Is Rice Fattening or Weight Loss Friendly?” Authority Nutrition. Accessed March 5, 2017. https://authoritynutrition.com/rice-and-weight/.
Albertson, Ann M., Marla Reicks, Nandan Joshi, and Carolyn K. Gugger. “Whole Grain Consumption Trends and Associations with Body Weight Measures in the United States: Results from the Cross Sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2012.” Nutrition Journal. Springer Nature, December 2015. doi: 10.1186/s12937-016-0126-4
Bazzano, Lydia A., Yiqing Song, Vadim Bubes, Carolyn K. Good, JoAnn E. Manson, and Simin Liu. “Dietary Intake of Whole and Refined Grain Breakfast Cereals and Weight Gain in Men.” Obesity Research. Wiley-Blackwell, November 2005. doi: 10.1038/oby.2005.240
Cunha, Diana Barbosa, Renan Moritz Varnier Rodrigues de Almeida, Rosely Sichieri, and Rosangela Alves Pereira. “Association of Dietary Patterns with BMI and Waist Circumference in a Low-Income Neighbourhood in Brazil.” British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge University Press (CUP), April 27, 2010. doi: 10.1017/s0007114510001479
Kim, Jihye, Inho Jo, and Hyojee Joung. “A Rice-Based Traditional Dietary Pattern Is Associated with Obesity in Korean Adults.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Elsevier BV, February 2012. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2011.10.005
Kim, Jung Yun, Ju Hyeon Kim, Da Hee Lee, Sook He Kim, and Sang Sun Lee. “Meal Replacement with Mixed Rice Is More Effective than White Rice in Weight Control, While Improving Antioxidant Enzyme Activity in Obese Women.” Nutrition Research. Elsevier BV, February 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2007.12.006
Koh-Banerjee, P, M Franz, L Sampson, S Liu, DR Jacobs, D Spiegelman, W Willett, and E Rimm. “Changes in Whole-Grain, Bran, and Cereal Fiber Consumption in Relation to 8-Y Weight Gain among Men.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, no. 5 (November 1, 2004): 1237–45. [PubMed]
Kolahdouzan, M, H Khosravi-Boroujeni, B Nikkar, E Zakizadeh, B Abedi, N Ghazavi, N Ayoobi, and M Vatankhah. “The Association between Dietary Intake of White Rice and Central Obesity  in Obese Adults.” ARYA Atherosclerosis 9, no. 2 (March 1, 2013): 140–44. [PMC]
Liu, S, WC Willett, JE Manson, FB Hu, B Rosner, and G Colditz. “Relation between Changes in Intakes of Dietary Fiber and Grain Products and Changes in Weight and Development of Obesity among Middle-Aged Women.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78, no. 5 (November 1, 2003): 920–27. [PubMed]
McKeown, N. M., L. M. Troy, P. F. Jacques, U. Hoffmann, C. J. O’Donnell, and C. S. Fox. “Whole- and Refined-Grain Intakes Are Differentially Associated with Abdominal Visceral and Subcutaneous Adiposity in Healthy Adults: The Framingham Heart Study.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, September 29, 2010. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.29106
Pedersen, B, KE Knudsen, and BO Eggum. “Nutritive Value of Cereal Products with Emphasis on the Effect of Milling.” World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics 60 (January 1, 1989): 1–91. [PubMed]
Shi, Z, AW Taylor, G Hu, T Gill, and GA Wittert. “Rice Intake, Weight Change and Risk of the Metabolic Syndrome Development among Chinese Adults: The Jiangsu Nutrition Study (JIN).” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 21, no. 1 (January 1, 2012): 35–43. [PubMed]
Xu, Xiaoyue, Julie Byles, Zumin Shi, Patrick McElduff, and John Hall. “Dietary Pattern Transitions, and the Associations with BMI, Waist Circumference, Weight and Hypertension in a 7-Year Follow-up among the Older Chinese Population: A Longitudinal Study.” BMC Public Health. Springer Nature, August 8, 2016. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3425-y
“The Whole (Grain) Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts.” Harvard , March 31, 2016. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2016/03/31/the-whole-grain-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/.
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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