Kidney Diet Tips

Yes! Brown Rice Can Be a Healthy Option For You!

“Limit or avoid brown rice. White rice is a healthier option for you as a dialysis patient.”

I have to be honest, I started working as a renal dietitian about 3 years ago and it has pained me every time I have had to tell a patient that white rice is the better option. Because you and I both know that overall, brown rice is the healthier option for most people. But for dialysis patients, this has not been the case until recently.  Scientific studies have determined that brown rice is not as “unhealthy” for you as once thought.

Why can’t I have brown rice anyway? Well, the phosphorus and potassium content is higher per serving than white rice. Therefore, renal dietitians have been promoting white rice as the healthier option to control phosphorus and potassium levels.  White rice contains 41 mg phosphorus and 31 mg potassium per ½ cup serving. Brown rice (long grain) contains approximately 81 mg phosphorus and 42 mg potassium per ½ cup serving. Looking strictly at these values alone, can you guess which one is the “healthier” option for the dialysis patient? You’re right. White rice is the better option because it is lower in both potassium and phosphorus and can help control the levels of both nutrients in the body.

It’s not like the nutritional content of brown rice has changed in the past few years, or ever. The truth is science has changed.  What we know about how the body absorbs nutrients has changed. It turns out recent studies have shown that phosphorus that naturally occurs in plant foods such as brown rice is being absorbed from the GI tract into the blood at a much lower rate than we thought. Less than 50% of the phosphorus in plant based foods is absorbed by the body.

So there you have it, brown rice can be a healthy option for the dialysis patient, just like the rest of the world’s population (for the most part)! Whole grains can improve digestion, blood sugar levels and cholesterol, among many other health benefits. I feel better talking to my dialysis patients about healthier whole grain options. A “whole” lot better.

Before you run into the kitchen and start preparing your favorite brown rice dish, discuss it with your renal dietitian. They will help you figure out how much brown rice (and whole grains in general) you can add into your diet based on your individual lab values.  And while you’re waiting to hear from your dietitian, check out DaVita’s pasta, rice & grains recipes or DaVita Diet Helper online meal planner and tracker for tons of kidney-friendly rice dishes.

Abby Tibodeau, RD, LD

Abby Tibodeau, RD, LD

Abby has been a renal dietitian for over four years and continues to learn new things every day! She enjoys writing and spending time at her family's cabin in northern Minnesota. Abby is currently working on her master's degree in dietetics.