Brown rice is a whole grain, so it must be healthier than pasta, right? Not so fast. In this brown rice vs. pasta review, we compare the nutritional benefits, how our bodies react to these foods, and more.
So, which is healthier for you, brown rice or pasta? Like any food choice, it depends on your body’s needs and tolerances. If you’re gluten intolerant, brown rice is a better choice, but pasta reigns supreme if you’re an athlete looking to maximize your protein intake.
Brown Rice Vs. Pasta: An In-Depth Comparison
While pasta and brown rice are both starchy grains that can complement your diet, there are some key differences. Let’s break them down.
Brown rice is a whole grain that’s undergone minimal processing—the milling machines remove only the tough, inedible husks. It still has its germ and bran layers intact—where most of the vitamins and minerals live.
For more about brown rice’s germ and bran, check out how brown rice becomes white.
Regular pasta is made with durum wheat (semolina) which doesn’t have the bran and germ. Pasta may endure more processing than brown rice, but semolina is still less processed than the white flour used to make many bread products.
White flour is made by milling softened wheat grains with stones or steel wheels into a fine powder, while semolina flour is made with steel rollers by grinding coarse durum wheat kernels.
Pasta is significantly higher in protein and has slightly more carbs and sugar than brown rice. However, a 100-gram serving of cooked brown rice has fewer calories than an equal serving of cooked pasta.
Both foods have about the same amount of fiber and fat.
Here’s a little table with additional information I found on the USDA’s food database:
|Total fat (g)||0.9||1.0|
Fun fact—wheat is a lot richer in protein than any other grain out there. That’s why it’s often a favorite among athletes: protein can aid quicker recovery and improve muscle-building.
Vitamins & Minerals
Since brown rice is a whole grain, it’s richer in vitamins and minerals than regular pasta.
But it’s important to note that brown rice isn’t a complete source of these micronutrients. Leafy greens, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds are the real nutrient powerhouses.
Here are some micronutrients found in brown rice and their health benefits:
- Manganese: regulates blood sugar, maintains normal brain and nerve function, and helps absorb calcium (good for the bones).
- Niacin: improves skin health and blood fat levels, reduces blood pressure, and may help treat type 2 diabetes.
- Magnesium: promotes muscle and nerve function, helps metabolize proteins, and keeps blood sugar levels in check.
- Potassium: essential for the normal functioning of all cells in the body; plays a key role in metabolizing carbs and synthesizing protein.
- Choline: necessary for the brain and nervous system to regulate mood, memory, muscle control, and more.
- Thiamin: also known as vitamin B1, helps the body convert food into fuel.
- Phosphorus: essential for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all cells and tissues, as well as the production of DNA and RNA.
Pasta does outshine brown rice in one mineral department, though. One serving of cooked pasta (100 grams) covers almost half the recommended daily amount (RDA) of selenium.
Getting enough selenium in your diet can be challenging, but why should you care?
Okay, so in the pasta vs. brown rice comparison, it seems like brown rice wins in the nutrient department. But did you know brown rice is also higher in anti-nutrients?
Anti-nutrients are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the body’s absorption of nutrients. They’re like the plant’s defense mechanism trying to keep predators (like us humans) from eating them.
Brown rice contains phytic acid, or phytates, that make it harder for our bodies to process proteins and absorb specific vitamins and minerals like zinc, calcium, and iron.
But don’t be scared—there are ways you can reduce the amount of anti-nutrients present in brown rice. Some helpful cooking and preparation processes include soaking, sprouting, boiling, and fermenting.
So, don’t forget to soak your brown rice for at least 30 minutes before you cook it.
Glycemic Index & Satiety
Based on its glycemic index, eating white bread (made from white flour) is almost like feeding yourself pure sugar. So, pasta can’t be that good either, right? Wrong, durum wheat has a much lower glycemic index than white flour.
Pasta and brown rice have pretty much the same glycemic index. Pasta’s GI is 50, while brown rice has a GI of 50 to 55.
Here’s where things get interesting. Despite the glycemic index and nutritional value being pretty much the same, most people find brown rice more filling than pasta; people report feeling fuller after a serving of brown rice than they do after eating a comparable serving of pasta. It makes sense since brown rice is also chewier, which makes you eat more slowly.
But here’s a remarkable fact—cooking pasta al dente, which still has a nice chew, reduces the food’s glycemic response. I definitely feel less of a sugar crash after eating freshly cooked al dente pasta than when I’m eating leftover pasta. Just follow the package instructions to cook tasty (and healthier) al dente pasta.
Allergies & Intolerances
The high protein content in wheat comes from gluten. And we all know this guy can cause digestive issues for some people.
So, if you’re gluten-intolerant, brown rice wins hands down.
But brown rice also has a compound that can cause food intolerances: lectin. This compound is another type of protein that can be hard to digest for some people.
Luckily, white rice doesn’t contain lectins (or phytates), and it’s also gluten-free. If you need other lectin and gluten-free alternatives, three ancient grains will suit your needs: millet, teff, and sorghum.
Convenience & Versatility
When you’re on the run, which would you choose to cook up a quick meal, pasta or brown rice?
I’d go for pasta. It takes 8-12 minutes to cook and is super versatile. You can pair it with any pasta sauce, protein, and vegetables.
Plus, pasta has a neutral flavor that lets the other ingredients shine through. And it comes in so many shapes and sizes!
Conversely, brown rice takes about 40 minutes to cook (not speedy dinner material), and its nutty flavor and chewy texture can take over an entire dish.
Of course, brown rice has its time and purpose, but pasta wins here for the easier dinner dish.
Both brown rice and pasta have their pros and cons. Which is best for you depends on your dietary needs, preferences, cooking method, and schedule.
The best thing you can do for your diet is to eat a variety of grains: brown rice, white rice, pasta, buckwheat, rye, corn—you get the idea. The more varied your diet is, the better your chance of getting all the nutrients your body needs.