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Healthy Living
August 7, 2023

Is Rice Inflammatory? Two Little Known (but Major!) Benefits of Grains

Unravel the science behind rice’s impact on inflammation and delve into the significant, yet often overlooked benefits of grains on our health.
Medically Reviewed
Written by
Lindsey Gainer
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Danielle Desroche

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Contents

Because many autoimmune diseases are inflammatory in nature, eating an anti-inflammatory diet is incredibly important for symptom management. Overhauling your plate to include nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods and eliminating inflammatory culprits — like seed oils, processed and fast food, excessive sugar, and refined carbs — can go a long way toward improving health.

If you’re just starting out on your anti-inflammatory diet journey, you may be wondering what you should and shouldn’t eat, and you’ve likely landed here after wondering, “Is rice inflammatory?” We’ve got the answer — and it may surprise you!

Read on to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about rice, including its health benefits, inflammatory status, and fun facts you never knew you were missing out on (it’s interesting stuff, we promise!). 

white container filled with brown rice

A Quick Lesson on Rice

Before we can answer the question of whether rice is inflammatory, let’s first take a quick detour to learn more about this often misunderstood grain and its composition.

Every kernel of rice has four parts: the hull (the inedible outer shell of the rice kernel that’s always removed before it’s sold) and the edible bran, germ, and endosperm. All whole grains share these three edible components. In its natural, whole grain form, rice is always a color — usually shades of brown, black, purple, or red. White rice is the result of refining and polishing the whole grain rice kernel to remove the bran and germ components, leaving only the white endosperm behind. People often talk about “brown” and “white” rice as if they’re different varieties of rice, but really they’re just different forms of the same thing! White rice has simply gone through the milling process to become a refined grain.

There are thousands of different types of rice in the Oryza sativa species (that’s rice’s scientific name). Different varieties have different flavor profiles, textures, sizes, and aromas. Basmati, jasmine, and arborio (used for risotto) are just a few examples of varieties popular in the United States. (Source)

Fun fact: “Wild rice” isn’t technically rice, scientifically speaking — it’s a nutrient-dense grass that grows in marshes and around streams and lakes! More on that below. (Source)

Nutrients Found in Rice

Whole grain, unrefined rice is rich in protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, selenium, fiber, magnesium, and phosphorus, to name just a few. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s also packed full of phytochemicals — or phytonutrients — which are biologically active compounds found in plants that have antioxidant effects on the body. Researchers believe this could be an important reason why people in countries that eat diets rich in rice (like Asia, for example) tend to have lower rates of chronic diseases that are so common in the West. (Source, Source)

Unfortunately for white rice lovers, however, these nutrients are mainly found in the bran and germ segments of a rice kernel — which means refined white rice doesn’t offer the same health benefits as its whole grain counterparts. If you’ve heard that brown rice is better for you than white rice, now you know why!

Side note: Even though wild rice isn’t technically in the rice family, we’d be remiss not to give it a shout-out for its nutritional benefits. Unlike Oryza sativa, wild rice is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. It’s also loaded with those beneficial phytonutrients we were just talking about, which, as you’ll learn in the next section, helps ward off chronic disease and inflammation. (Source)

is rice inflammatory?

So, Is Rice Inflammatory?

Thanks to the nutrients and phytochemicals they contain, whole grains — including whole grain rice, like brown rice — are anti-inflammatory, unless you have a sensitivity to them. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease (AD), it’s important to work with a care team who specializes in nutrition for AD, to help you identify individual food triggers and sensitivities that could be fueling your disease.

Assuming that you test them through an elimination diet and find they don’t trigger symptoms for you, here are two excellent reasons to add whole grains to your diet.

Two Little-Known Health Benefits of Whole Grains 

1. They Protect the Body From Oxidative Stress

As we mentioned above, whole grains — like brown, red, purple, or black rice — contain phytonutrients with protective antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals are considered “unstable” molecular byproducts of biological processes or external exposure to things like toxic chemicals, ionizing radiation, and cigarette smoke.

In normal quantities, free radicals are necessary and useful to our bodies. Too many, however, can lead to oxidative stress, which occurs when there is an excessive amount of free radicals in the body in relation to antioxidants. This imbalance damages healthy cells and can lead to chronic inflammation, dysfunction, and disease. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory conditions like autoimmune diseases have all been linked to oxidative stress.

Increasing dietary intake of phytonutrients by eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains can lower your risk for these life-limiting diseases by eliminating extra free radicals in the body. (Source, Source, Source, Source)

three spoonfuls of different gains on a wooden surface surrounded by a beige cloth

2. They Support a Healthy Gut Microbiome

Our gut microbiomes are composed of trillions — yes, trillions — of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and even viruses. These microorganisms do incredibly important work in our bodies — work that we are only just beginning to fully understand. Our tiny superheroes don’t just aid in digestion — they’re also responsible for nutrient utilization, encoding genes, and regulating our immune systems. It’s becoming increasingly clear that good health is dependent on a healthy microbiome. (Source)

Like any good action movie, there are the “good guys,” the microbes that are beneficial to our health, and the “bad guys” that do more harm than good. Maintaining a healthy balance between the two is essential — gut dysbiosis occurs when the scales shift in favor of the bad guys. Researchers now believe that many digestive issues, inflammatory problems, and chronic diseases are fueled by gut dysbiosis, including autoimmune disease. That’s why at WellTheory we concentrate so heavily on “healing the gut.” (Source)

But where do whole grains fit in? The helpful bacteria in our gut need nutrients to survive, and they obtain them from foods known as prebiotics. Whole grains — including whole grain rice — are resistant starches, an important type of prebiotic. Other resistant starches include potatoes, oats, beans, and green bananas. These foods all resist digestion until they reach the colon, where they feed, and are broken down by, colonic microbes. Lots of important things happen during this breakdown process, among them the creation of a byproduct called butyrate, which has important anti-inflammatory effects in the body. (Source, Source)

The dietary fiber in whole grains is also important for maintaining proper cholesterol levels, weight, bowel function, and blood sugar levels in the body. It can help lower blood pressure, too. All these health benefits combined reduce the lifetime risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. (Source, Source)

Pro tip: Cooking and then cooling whole grain rice (or potatoes) before you eat them is the way to go! This increases the amount of resistant starch they contain.

A Word of Caution About Arsenic

Because rice is cultivated from water-flooded fields — and much of our water and soil is contaminated with arsenic — it’s likely to contain arsenic, sometimes at unsafe levels. Unfortunately, brown rice has higher levels of the heavy metal than white rice, because arsenic builds up in the outer layers of the grain. This isn’t a reason to choose white rice over brown, though. Brown rice is still the better choice because of its health benefits, according to experts — just consider limiting your consumption to several servings a week and varying your whole grain intake with other grains lower in arsenic, such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, and buckwheat. You can also take these additional precautions:

  • When possible, purchase your rice from regions of the country that aren’t as arsenic-polluted as the southern United States, where arsenic levels in the soil and water are highest. California, for example, is a good choice.
  • You can reduce arsenic by as much as 50% if you boil your rice in more water than you would normally use, then drain it and rinse it again. Unfortunately, this may also wash away some of the rice’s water-soluble B vitamins. (Source)

The Bottom Line

Whole grain rice is a nutrient-dense food that is anti-inflammatory and packed full of phytochemicals that combat oxidative stress and help support a healthy gut microbiome. However, if you have an autoimmune disease, be careful to ensure whole grains aren’t dietary triggers for your symptoms before adding them into your diet.

Look for brown, black, purple, or red rice to ensure you’re getting a whole grain form — white rice has been stripped of its nutrients and anti-inflammatory benefits. Whole grain rice does contain arsenic, however, so be mindful of how much you consume and how you prepare it, and vary it with other whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and millet.

Contact us today if you’d like to explore nutritional guidance and support from our care team!

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Explore 130 gut healing foods. Get our free Phytonutrients Guide.

A list of nutrient dense foods
How to fight inflammation
How to prevent disease with food

Explore 130 gut healing foods.

Get our free Phytonutrients Guide.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.