Quinoa vs. rice: which is healthier?

A tale of two healthy carbs. But which one is better for you? Our resident dietitian Melissa Meier explains.  

They’re two of the most popular grain choices, but is one better than the other when it comes to nutritional value? While many a health influencer might have you believe trendy quinoa wins over humble rice, that’s not always the case. Here’s why.


Here’s a fun fact for your next game of trivia: quinoa technically isn’t a grain, but a seed. Nonetheless, it’s classed as a grain as it offers many of the same culinary and nutritional qualities as true grains.

Along with low-GI carbs, quinoa is relatively high in protein. In fact, it’s a ‘complete’ protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids your body needs to function. That’s unlike many other plant foods which are often ‘incomplete’ and need to be paired with complementary plant proteins to get the full range of amino acids.

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What’s more, quinoa is classed as a wholegrain. It offers far more nutrition than it’s refined grain counterparts as well as a stack of health perks if consumed on the reg along with other wholegrains (think: protection from disease and weight management).

If you’re into numbers, here’s the breakdown per 100 grams of cooked quinoa: 414 kilojoules (99 calories), 3.9 grams of protein, 1.7 grams of fat, 0.2 grams of saturated fat, 15.9 grams of carbs, 1.4 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fibre.


Rice, on the other hand, is a true grain – but all rice is not the same. There’s a big difference between white and brown varieties, as well as short and long grain varieties.

You see, brown rice is a type of wholegrain, while white rice is not. Brown rice contains all three natural layers of the grain: the fibre-rich outer layer called the bran, the nutrient-rich core called the germ and the starchy component in the middle of the grain called the endosperm. To produce white rice, the bran and the germ are removed, taking with it a whole lot of wholegrain goodness.

In terms of grain length, short-grain rice (think: Arborio) has a higher-GI (hello blood sugar rollercoaster), while long-grain rice (like basmati) tends to be lower-GI, which helps to balance blood sugars.

And again, if numbers are your thing, here’s the nutritional content of 100 grams of cooked white rice: 671 kilojoules (161 calories), 2.7 grams of protein, 0.1 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 36 grams of carbs, 0.1 grams of sugar and 1 gram of fibre.

And for the sake of comparison, 100 grams of cooked brown rice: 639 kilojoules (153 calories), 2.9 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, 0.2 grams of saturated fat, 31.8 grams of carbs, 0.3 grams of sugar and 1.5 grams of fibre.

The verdict

Yes, quinoa is very good for you, but rice can be a great choice, too. I’d put quinoa and long grain brown rice on a level playing field and encourage you to include both in your diet regularly. White rice, on the other hand, isn’t completely off the menu, but doesn’t stack up next to its wholegrain counterparts, so should only be an every-now-and-then kinda food.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practicing dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.