Rice vs Quinoa: (Nutrition + Health Comparison)


While rice and quinoa are both grains, quinoa is often framed as a “superfood”.

Let’s find out if it’s actually better or not.

I’ve put together a simple side-by-side comparison of quinoa, white rice, and brown rice, so that we can see which is healthiest overall.

Nutritional Value Comparison of Rice and Quinoa

Let’s start with the macronutrient profiles for all of these foods.

This data is per 100 grams of cooked food in all cases, including the data further down on this page.

  White Rice Brown Rice Quinoa
Energy (kcal) 130 123 120
Protein (g) 2.7 2.7 4.4
Total Lipid (g) 0.3 1.0 1.9
Carbohydrate (g) 28.2 25.6 21.3
Fiber (g) 0.4 1.6 2.8
Sugars (g) 0.1 0.2 0.9

Rice and quinoa have a similar amount of calories, but there are some significant differences:

  • Quinoa is significantly higher in protein (about 60% higher)
  • Brown rice has more fat than white rice, but quinoa is the highest in fat of all 3
  • White rice is the highest in carbohydrates and has the least fiber, while quinoa has the fewest carbohydrates and most fiber.

Most people desire more protein, fiber, and fewer carbohydrates, so I believe most people would say that quinoa has the best macro profile.

Vitamins and Minerals in Rice vs Quinoa

Moving on, let’s look at the other nutrients that you’ll find in these grains.

I’ve included a column (RDA) for the recommended amount that an adult should aim for. This is just a general value so we can sort and compare the data, but your specific RDA may vary based on gender and age.

  RDA White Rice Brown Rice Quinoa
Manganese (mg) 2.3 0.5 1.0 0.6
Phosphorus (mg) 700 43.0 103.0 152.0
Magnesium (mg) 400 12.0 39.0 64.0
Niacin (mg) 16 0.4 2.6 0.4
Thiamin (mg) 1.2 0.0 0.2 0.1
Selenium (µg) 55 7.5 5.8 2.8
Folate (µg) 400 3.0 9.0 42.0
Zinc (mg) 11 0.5 0.7 1.1
Riboflavin (mg) 1.3 0.1 0.1 0.1
Potassium (mg) 2000 35.0 86.0 172.0
Vitamin B-6 (mg) 1.3 0.1 0.1 0.1
Iron (mg) 18 0.2 0.6 1.5
Choline (mg) 550 2.1 9.2 23.0
Vitamin E (mg) 15 0.0 0.2 0.6
Calcium (mg) 1200 10.0 3.0 17.0
Sodium (mg) 1500 1.0 4.0 7.0
Copper (mg) 900 0.1 0.1 0.2
Vitamin C (mg) 90 0.0 0.0 0.0
Vitamin B-12 (µg) 2.4 0.0 0.0 0.0
Vitamin A (µg) 900 0.0 0.0 0.0
Vitamin D (µg) 15 0.0 0.0 0.0
Vitamin K (µg) 75 0.0 0.2 0.0

While brown rice is more nutritious than white rice as expected, and also has the most of a few nutrients like manganese and thiamin, quinoa has the strongest overall profile.

Quinoa has significantly more of several vitamins and minerals, including:

  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Folate
  • Zinc
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Choline
  • Calcium

With that being said, none of these grains are amazing sources for more than a few vitamins and minerals, meaning that it’s important to include other nutritious foods like leafy greens and legumes in your meals.

Rice vs Quinoa: Which is Healthier?

While I wasn’t sure what we were going to find initially, it’s clear that quinoa is healthier than either white or brown rice in most situations.

Quinoa has:

  • More protein
  • More fiber
  • More of several important minerals

In addition, there’s one thing we haven’t talked about that’s important: rice often contains relatively high amounts of arsenic.

It’s not going to be an issue if you eat rice occasionally, but if you ate a lot of it on a regular basis, it could cause health issues.

Is Arsenic in Rice Dangerous?

This is a complex topic by itself, but I’ll give you a quick summary here:

  • Arsenic is an element that naturally occurs in water and soil, and having some in your diet is normal.
  • Pollution, especially in certain areas where rice often comes from, elevates arsenic levels in soil and water.
  • Rice happens to soak up more arsenic than other grains as well.
  • Long-term ingestion of inorganic arsenic (the kind in rice) can cause health problems like cancer and other diseases.

There’s still ongoing research on this topic, as it’s not fully clear how big of a deal this is, but it’s reasonable to somewhat limit your rice intake if you’re worried.

In order to minimize your exposure to arsenic in rice:

  • Aromatic rices like basmati and jasmine that are typically lower in arsenic
  • White rice has less arsenic than brown rice
  • Washing rice before cooking can remove up to 28% of arsenic present
  • Rice from North India, North Pakistan, and Nepal typically have lower levels of arsenic.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.