Quinoa vs Rice: Which is Better?

What are the differences between quinoa vs brown rice? Which is healthier? Here’s what you need to know about these powerhouse whole grains.

Quinoa vs rice

Quinoa vs rice: which is better? Let’s ponder for a moment. These powerhouse whole grains are both part of a healthy diet. But is there a clear winner between the two? What are some of the major differences? Here’s a breakdown.

Quinoa vs rice: overview

First up, let’s discuss the definition of each of these grains. In fact, one of them isn’t a grain at all.

  • What is quinoa? Quinoa is a seed, not a grain: it’s harvested from a plant that’s a relative of spinach, beets, and chard. It’s often referred to as a grain due to its similar properties. Quinoa is an Andean plant that originated in Peru and Bolivia.
  • What is rice? Rice is a seed of grass species. It’s the most widely consumed staple food in the world, a staple for more than 3.5 billion people worldwide. There are many varieties of rice: white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, basmati rice, and more.
Brown rice vs white rice

Quinoa vs rice: nutrition info

Next, let’s review the nutritional differences between quinoa and rice. Here’s the basic nutrition facts for 1 cup of cooked quinoa vs 1 cup cooked rice:

IngredientCaloriesProteinCarbsFiberFat
Quinoa2228 grams39 grams5 grams4 grams
Brown rice2165 grams44 grams3.5 grams1.8 grams
White rice2044 grams42 grams0.6 grams0.5 grams

Data sources: Quinoa Nutrition, Brown Rice Nutrition, White Rice Nutrition

Nutrient comparison

To understand the full picture of quinoa vs rice, you also have to look at nutrients! Here’s the breakdown on nutrients:

  • Quinoa is a good source of antioxidants and minerals. It provides more magnesium, iron, and zinc than many common grains.
  • Brown rice has lots of nutrients. It’s a good source of folate, riboflavin, potassium, calcium, and manganese.
  • White rice has none of the beneficial nutrients that are contained in brown rice.

Why does white rice have less nutrients? It’s more processed. White rice has its hull, bran and germ removed during processing. Brown rice keeps the nutrient-packed bran and germ and only has the hull removed. So brown rice retains the nutrients that white rice lacks such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Glycemic index

Another measure to look at is glycemic index. The glycemic index score (GI) shows how a food affects a person’s blood sugar levels. A low score indicates that the food has less impact on your blood sugar, so low levels are good here. This is specifically relevant for people with diabetes. Scores range from Low GI: 1 to 55, Medium GI: 56 to 69, and High GI: 70 and higher. (Read more at Mayo Clinic.)

  • Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, so it is a low glycemic index food. (source)
  • Brown rice has a glycemic index of 68, a medium level. (source)
  • White rice has a glycemic index of 73, a high level. (source)
Quinoa vs rice

So quinoa vs rice: which is healthier?

Reference the table above and you can see the following differences between quinoa vs brown rice:

  • Calories and carbs: Quinoa has similar calories and carbs to that of rice.
  • Protein: Quinoa has 1.6 times more protein than brown rice, and double that of white rice.
  • Fiber: Quinoa has 1.5 times more fiber than brown rice. White rice has virtually no fiber.
  • Fat: Quinoa and rice both are low fat foods: but quinoa has double the fat vs brown rice.
  • Nutrients: Both quinoa and rice are loaded with beneficial nutrients.
  • Glycemic index: Quinoa has a low GI score, brown rice is medium and white rice is high.

Bottom line: Quinoa and brown rice are both part of a healthy diet! There are several benefits to quinoa: it has more protein and fiber than brown rice. Quinoa is also considered a low glycemic index food, whereas brown rice has a medium-level GI score. Quinoa does have slightly more fat than rice, but they are both low fat foods.

Another takeaway: skip the white rice! White rice has much less nutrients than both quinoa and brown rice and virtually no fiber, making it a lesser option in terms of nutrition.

How to cook quinoa and rice

Quinoa and brown rice recipes

Here are a few of our favorite recipes for quinoa and brown rice!

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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