Rice vs Wheat - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison
Rice and wheat are two of the most commonly used cereal grains in the world. These grains have served as main ingredients for staple dishes for numerous civilizations since ancient times. In this article, we will be looking in two how these two compare in nutrition and what effects they have on the human body.
Rice and wheat, as all cereal grains, grow on grass species. Rice is the seed of a plant belonging to the Oryza genus and the sativa (Asian rice) or glaberrima (African rice) species.
Wheat, as a grass, belongs to the Triticum genus. Like rice, wheat also includes various species as part of the genus. The most common species of wheat is the common wheat or Triticum aestivum.
The aspect of classification that rice and wheat share is the family. Both of these grains are part of the Poaceae family, sharing it with other invaluable crops, such as corn, barley and millet.
Wheat grains and brown rice are whole grains, while white rice is classified as a refined grain.
Rice and wheat grains can be easily distinguishable from each other by appearance. Both rice and wheat grains have narrow oblong shapes, however rice tends to be thinner. A wheat grain might also have an indentation along its length.
Wheat grains appear in light yellow or beige colours. Rice, depending on its variety, can be white, brown or red.
Taste and Use
The taste of rice can be different depending on several aspects, such as variety and cooking methods. Both have been described to have a mild to nutty taste. Wheat can, at times, have a bitter flavour.
The texture of wheat is more fibrous, while most rice has a finer consistency.
Rice is most often boiled and used as such in cooking.
Whilst wheat can also be cooked, it is more commonly used to produce flour. Wheat flour is in turn used in the making of numerous popular foods, such as bread, spaghetti and pasta, pastries, pizza and much more.
Varieties and Types
Both rice and wheat are composed of thousands of different varieties that have been cultivated for hundreds of years.
Rice is commonly classified by its kernel size: long grain rice, medium grain rice and short grain rice.
Rice can also be classified by the degree of milling: rough rice, which is the whole grain rice, brown rice, which is the grain with the bran but the hull removed, and white rice, which is the rice grain with both the bran and the hull removed.
The Asian rice is often categorized into four major groups: indica, japonica, aromatic and glutinous.
Interestingly, the grain called wild rice does not actually belong to the rice species.
Wheat is frequently classified into six groups: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, soft white, hard white and durum.
Depending on genetic traits, wheat can be diploid (einkorn), tetraploid (durum, emmer, khorasan) and hexaploid (common wheat, spelt).
Depending on the variety of rice or wheat, the nutritional value of the grain can change. In this section, we are talking about the nutritional properties of cooked, enriched, long grained white rice and durum wheat.
Macronutrients and Calories
Wheat is significantly denser in nutrients compared to white rice. Wheat contains only 11% water, while rice consists of 68% water.
The average serving size of both of these foods is one cup. One cup of rice weighs 158g. A cup of wheat is a little heavier, weighing 192g.
Rice and wheat are both high calorie foods. However, wheat contains almost three times more calories. A hundred grams of rice contains 130 calories, whilst the same amount of wheat has 339 calories.
Protein and Fats
Wheat also contains notably higher amounts of both fats and proteins.
Wheat has over four times more protein when compared to white rice. Both wheat and rice contain some level of all essential amino acids. Wheat is particularly rich in tryptophan, histidine and phenylalanine.
Wheat and rice are low in fats. Rice contains almost equal levels of all three types of fats: polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and saturated fatty acids. Wheat, on the other hand, is richer in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Both of these grains naturally do not contain cholesterol.
Like most grains, wheat and rice are high in carbohydrates. This is mostly due to the large amounts of starch and dietary fiber.
Wheat grains are richer in dietary fiber, while rice is higher in starch.
Grains are a prominent source of most B group vitamins.
Wheat is significantly richer in most of these. Wheat grains contain higher levels of vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamins B5 and B6.
On the other hand, enriched white rice is richer in both folic and folate forms of vitamin B9. Rice also contains vitamin E, which is absent in wheat.
Wheat and rice are both completely absent in vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K, vitamin C and vitamin B12.
Wheat is the absolute clear winner in this section, being richer in all principal minerals: iron, calcium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc and selenium. Wheat also contains twice the amount of sodium rice does.
The glycemic index of grains differs depending on variety, content of dietary fiber and cooking method.
According to The International Tables of Glycemic Indices, boiled white, arborio risotto rice has a glycemic index of 69±7 (1). The mean of five different studies makes the glycemic index of boiled white rice 72±8. Boiled long grained rice has a lower glycemic index of 60±3. The glycemic index of white basmati rice is 57±4.
The glycemic index of whole kernels of wheat, based on the mean of three studies, has been calculated to be 45 (2). The glycemic index of precooked and cooked durum wheat falls in the range of 50±5.
Overall, the glycemic index of white rice tends to fall in the medium to high category, while wheat has a low glycemic index.
Rice grains are slightly acidic. The pH values for rice can vary depending on variety, but it tends to stay within the range of 6 to 7. White rice has a pH value of 6 to 6.7, whilst the pH of brown rice falls between 6.2 to 6.7 (3).
Wheat is slightly more acidic. The pH of whole wheat is 5.8 (4).
An alternative method of measuring acidity is calculating the potential renal acid load or the PRAL, which demonstrates how much acid or base the given food produces inside the body.
The PRAL values for wheat and rice have been calculated to be 12.3 and 1.7, respectively. This means both foods are acidic, but wheat is higher in acidity.
Weight Loss & Diets
Rice and wheat are nutritious and high in calories. However, there is no need to completely remove these foods from weight loss diets, as they are rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals and low in fats.
When compared, rice is the better choice between the two for a low calorie, low carb and a low fats diet. Wheat is preferable on a low glycemic index diet.
One study has focused on rice intake and the development of obesity factors and found no association between the two (5).
However, a different study has concluded that high consumption of white rice, but not brown or multigrain rice, is correlated with body weight gain (6). On the other hand, brown rice consumption may help decrease body weight parameters (7).
In general, high whole grain rice consumption, such as whole grain wheat and brown rice, has been significantly inversely associated with body mass index and body weight in observational studies (8).
Based on available evidence, it has been concluded that whole wheat consumption is not linked to the increased prevalence of obesity in the general population (9).
We saw that whole wheat has an overall nutritive superiority over refined grains. In this section, we will discuss how these two grains negatively or positively affect human health.
One study has concluded that high consumption of white or brown rice has not been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease (10).
In contrast to the previous statement, one study has found significant association between white rice consumption and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. However, these results about the correlation between refined rice intake and cardiovascular mortality have not been consistent (11).
The inclusion of regular wheat or whole grain product consumption in a diet has been shown to have beneficial effects on reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality (12).
Whole grain consumption may also lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure (13).
Wheat grains have a low glycemic index. High intake of whole grains has also been correlated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes (12).
Substitution of wheat or brown rice for white rice can lower the risk of developing diabetes (14).
Regular whole grain consumption is recommended to lower diabetes risk, as it can improve plasma glucose regulation, postprandial hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance and have a beneficial effect on body weight (15).
Levels of arsenic content found in rice have been a concern for researchers. However, studies have found no correlation between rice intake and a risk of developing cancer (16).
Furthermore, multigrain rice diet has been associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer (17).
By-products of rice have also been researched to act as chemoprotective dietary agents (18).
Regular intake of whole grain products have been studied to decrease the risk of colorectal, gastric, endometrial and breast cancers (19, 20).
Scientists recommend daily intake of 90g of whole grain foods, less than the average serving size, for this chemoprotective effect (21).
Downsides and Risks
As mentioned previously, some researchers have found higher intake of refined grains, such as white rice, to be associated with higher mortality and major cardiovascular disease events (22).
Regular high consumption of white rice may lead to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This association was stronger in South Asian countries (23).
Reducing white rice intake and adding more whole grains, vegetables and fruits, legumes and nuts can be recommended to people trying to reduce the risk of diabetes (24).
The association between the increased risk of rice consumption and cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes may potentially be due to the higher than normal levels of inorganic arsenic found in rice.
This problem might affect children in particular, as arsenic has been associated with neurocognitive defects in children (25).
Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains, such as wheat and rye, and their products. A small part of the population might have adverse reactions to gluten consumption. In these individuals, gluten might trigger coeliac’s disease, noncoeliac gluten sensitivity, as well as more rare conditions, such as dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia.
However, for people who do not have gluten intolerance, these proteins are completely harmless.
Rice does not contain proteins from the gluten family.
In summary, wheat is richer in calories and all nutrients, including protein, fats, carbohydrates, most minerals and vitamins. However, rice is higher in saturated fats, starch, as well as vitamin B9 and vitamin E. Overall, wheat is nutritionally superior to rice.
Wheat or brown rice is the preferred choice for anyone concerned with the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores
Comparison summary table
|Lower in Sugar|
|Lower in glycemic index|
|Lower in price|
|Rich in minerals|
|Lower in Sodium|
|Lower in Saturated Fat|
|Lower in Cholesterol||Equal|
|Rich in vitamins||Equal|
Which food is preferable for your diet?
|Low Calories diet|
|Low Fats diet|
|Low Carbs diet|
|Low glycemic index diet|
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All nutrients comparison - raw data values