Quinoa vs. Rice: What's the Healthier Grain?

Quinoa in a measuring cup

 Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

In the nutrition world, one common debate—quinoa versus rice—has persisted for several years now ever since quinoa rose the ranks of the superfood ladder.

To help you determine which of these grains is the right choice for you, Verywell Fit lays out the nutrient profiles, health benefits, pros and cons, cooking methods, taste and texture, and the cost and accessibility of quinoa and rice. 

Quinoa Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (185g) of cooked quinoa with no added salt or fat.

Quinoa Nutrition Facts

  • Calories: 222
  • Fat: 4g
  • Sodium: 13mg
  • Carbohydrates: 39g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Sugars: 2g
  • Protein: 8g

Rice Nutrition Facts 

The following information is provided by the USDA for a 1 cup serving of cooked medium-grain brown rice.

Brown Rice Nutrition Facts

  • Calories: 218
  • Fat: 1.62g
  • Sodium: 1.95mg
  • Carbohydrates: 45.8g
  • Fiber: 3.51g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 4.52g

White Rice

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (186g) of cooked, enriched, short-grain white rice.

White Rice Nutrition Facts

  • Calories: 242
  • Fat: 0.4g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 53.4g
  • Fiber: 0.6g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 4.4g

Quinoa Health Benefits

Quinoa and rice both provide a range of health benefits, from improved digestion to decreased inflammation.

Quinoa is one of several ancient grains, a collection of whole grains with exceptional nutritional profiles. Because of its nutrient density, quinoa offers a number of health benefits. 

Helps Digestion

Chock-full of fiber, quinoa supports digestion and gut health. Notably, quinoa contains a large percentage of insoluble fiber which adds bulk to stool and helps move it through the digestive system. Quinoa does contain a small amount of soluble fiber, though, which can act as prebiotics for gut health.

Gluten-Free

People with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can enjoy quinoa, a delicious and filling gluten-free grain. If you’re buying easy-cook quinoa or pre-seasoned quinoa, carefully read the label to ensure the package doesn’t include any gluten-containing ingredients. 

Lowers Inflammation

Thanks to its high antioxidant content, quinoa helps battle inflammation in the body. Specifically, quercetin and kaempferol, two flavonoids in quinoa, have been associated with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer effects in animals and humans. 

High Protein Content

One notable thing about quinoa is its protein content. With 8g of protein per cup, quinoa contains more protein than most grains. For comparison, brown and white rice both contain about 4.5 grams of protein per cup. 

Improves Blood Sugar Control

Because of the high fiber content and low glycemic index, quinoa may help with blood sugar control. If you have prediabetes, type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, quinoa may make a healthy addition to your diet. 

Rice Health Benefits

It’s worth pointing out that the health benefits of rice vary depending on the type of rice you eat—brown or white rice.

Experts generally consider brown rice a better choice because it contains the whole grain, therefore it contains more fiber and micronutrients. However, white rice has its place. Here are some key benefits of both white and brown rice. 

Gluten-Free

Like quinoa, rice makes a fantastic gluten-free grain option for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Just make sure to check the label before buying a bag of rice, as some rice is processed in factories where equipment is shared between gluten-containing and gluten-free grains.

If you like easy-cook rice, read the ingredients list to check for any flavorings, seasonings or other ingredients that may contain gluten (example: sticky sushi rice often contains vinegar, which in some cases contains gluten).

White Rice Provides Quick Energy

White rice has earned its place as a staple in the pantries of athletes, fitness enthusiasts and people who enjoy active recreational hobbies, such as hiking or mountain biking.

White rice tends to digest quicker than brown rice, so it can provide much-needed energy in a pinch. Fast-digesting carbs like white rice also help replenish glycogen stores in depleted muscles after a long or intense workout.

Brown Rice Benefits

Helps Digestion

While white rice does contain some resistant starch, brown rice contains ample fiber to move things along the digestive tract. The fiber in brown rice may also benefit your gut by feeding helpful microbes.

Supports Heart Health

Brown rice is a rich source of dietary fiber, making it a heart-healthy food. It also contains plenty of micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids and antioxidants, that keep your body strong and healthy.

The American Heart Association endorses whole grains as heart-healthy foods, brown rice included.

Taste and Texture

Rice and quinoa have many similarities, but they differ in taste and texture—which could be the deciding factor for many people. 

Quinoa

Cooked quinoa should be light and fluffy. The texture is chewy and very distinct. In terms of taste, many people describe a nutty, earthy flavor. Quinoa may sometimes taste bitter or soapy when it isn’t rinsed or soaked before cooking. Quinoa should be rinsed to remove saponin, a naturally-occurring chemical that coats the grain to ward off insects. But saponin can give it a strong unpleasant taste if it is not rinsed.

Rice

Rice comes in many varieties, and not all rice varieties taste and feel the same. Plain white rice and brown rice generally taste rather mild. The texture can be soft and fluffy or chewy, depending on how long you cook rice.

Other types of rice, such as wild rice, arborio rice, jasmine rice, black rice and glutinous rice taste and feel different.

Varieties

Both quinoa and rice come in many varieties, so you have plenty of options to meet your nutritional needs, as well as your desired flavor profiles and textures. 

Popular Quinoa Varieties

Quinoa is generally categorized by color. In your local supermarket, you’ll likely find: 

  • White quinoa 
  • Red quinoa 
  • Black quinoa
  • Tricolor quinoa

You may also see quinoa flakes, which make a great instant breakfast alternative to quick oats and quinoa flour. 

Popular Rice Varieties

There are literally thousands of varieties of rice. Your local supermarket alone probably stocks dozens of different rice products. In addition to white and brown rice, here are some common types of rice you can find at the grocery store: 

  • Basmati rice
  • Glutinous (sweet or sticky) rice
  • Yellow rice
  • Black rice
  • Jasmine rice
  • Arborio rice 
  • Parboiled rice

You’ll see rice packages specify whether the rice is short-, medium- or long-grain rice, which, as implied, refers to the length of the grain.

If you’re going for easy-cook rice products, you’ll see even more varieties. The names on boxed rice typically refer to a region, culture, flavor or specific dish.

For example, you may see Spanish rice, paella, chicken rice, broccoli and cheese rice, rice pilaf, garlic rice and others. 

Cooking Methods

Neither quinoa nor rice take much effort to cook. They have similar cooking methods and both generally finish cooking in under a half-hour. Brown rice can take about 45 minutes to cook.

How to Cook Rice

You’ll love how easy it is to cook rice. In fact, rice is a go-to for many people and families because it’s so simple to prepare. When you purchase a bag or box of rice, the packaging will typically include cooking directions.

Make sure to follow the directions on the package. Because rice comes in so many varieties, one method of preparation may not work for all types of rice.

However, if you buy rice in bulk or from a farmer’s market, you may not have directions at-the-ready. In this case, follow the standard ratio for rice preparation: two parts liquid and one part rice. For example, measure out one cup of rice (dry) and cook it in two cups of liquid.

Bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Then, reduce the heat and let the rice and liquid simmer until the rice soaks up all of the liquid. This typically takes 20 to 30 minutes. Remove any remaining liquid by straining the rice. 

How to Cook Quinoa 

The cooking method for quinoa is similar to that for rice. You can cook quinoa in any liquid, including water, bone broth or vegetable broth. Quinoa purchased at supermarkets should have specific instructions on the package label, but you can always follow the standard ratio of two parts liquid, one part quinoa. 

In a pot, bring the quinoa and liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cover the pot and allow the quinoa to simmer for about 20 minutes or until all of the liquid is soaked up. If you accidentally use too much liquid, strain the quinoa in a fine colander. 

Many brands recommend soaking or rinsing quinoa prior to cooking it. This may help remove saponins, a compound in quinoa that can contribute to a soapy taste.

Where to Buy

At Verywell Fit, we love quinoa and rice largely because they’re both easily accessible, healthy, and filling. 

Quinoa

Though quinoa retains its superfood status, it’s not hard to find like many other superfoods. Most supermarkets, grocery stores and even convenience stores stock many varieties of quinoa, including easy-cook quinoa.

You may also find quinoa from local farmers at markets in your area. 

The exact cost of quinoa varies depending on your region, where you shop, what varieties you buy and whether you buy in bulk. Quinoa does tend to be quite pricey compared to rice. At Walmart, generic brand white quinoa costs about $3 per pound (at the time of writing). The average price hovers between $2 to $4 per pound. 

Rice

Rice is highly accessible. Grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores and even drugstores keep many varieties of rice on the shelves. Even some gas stations sell microwavable or easy-cook rice. You can also find rice at local farmer’s markets. 

Like quinoa, the exact cost of rice depends on a number of factors, but you can generally expect rice to be a low-cost food item, especially if you buy in bulk. At Walmart, generic brand white rice costs about 45 cents per pound. The same brand of brown rice costs about 66 cents per pound (at the time of writing).

This is much less expensive than quinoa, making it a great choice for shoppers on a budget. Keep in mind that easy-cook and pre-flavored varieties tend to cost more due to the convenience factor. 

A Word From Verywell

While some people will continue to debate whether quinoa is better than rice, the truth is, there’s really no debate at all, because a healthy diet can include both.

Quinoa and rice offer similar nutritional profiles, and both can serve as a great source of grains in your diet. Even white rice has its place. This source of fast-digesting carbs is a staple in the diet of athletes and avid exercisers, because it provides quick energy and replenishment.

All that to say, don’t cut rice from your diet just because you’ve seen or heard that quinoa is a healthier replacement. You can enjoy both!

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Article Sources
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