Rice isn't really one of those foods that we naturally associate with protein. Many vegan-friendly protein powders list brown rice as their main ingredient.
This may come as a surprise, as rice isn’t really one of those foods that we naturally associate with protein! Rice is a carbohydrate – right?
Is there really protein in brown rice, and – more importantly – what is the quality of the protein in brown rice?
Does brown rice have protein?
In short, yes! Brown rice does contain protein. In fact, all grains contain protein, and most plant-based foods also contain a small amount. One cup of brown rice provides about 5 grams of protein, which is about 10 percent of the daily recommended value for a healthy adult.
For the purpose of discussion, consider the fact that the protein content of brown rice is about 1 gram higher than the same amount of white rice. White rice is also significantly lower in dietary fiber than brown. Although brown and white rice are derived from the same plant, they represent the same grain at different stages of processing.
Brown rice is essentially the whole grain – including the hull, bran, and germ. White rice, however, contains only the carbohydrate-rich endosperm. Brown rice is also a good source of a variety of vitamins and minerals compared to white rice, including B vitamins, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and manganese.
Although you can certainly gain these nutrients from other parts of your diet (hello, fruits and vegetables!) – when it comes to choosing the color of your rice, why not get all the nutritional bang for your buck that you can?
In general, brown rice is a more well-rounded food than white, and protein powder made from brown rice follows suit.
What about brown rice protein powder?
Of course, up to this point we’ve only discussed the actual grain. What about the powder derived from it?
While all products differ slightly, our rice protein powder - Naked Rice, is produced using a clean, hexane-free process in order to extract the protein in high concentrations from the grain.
The final result is a high-quality protein powder that contains 25 grams protein per serving with only 4 grams of carbohydrates and 0.5 grams fat. As far as protein powders go, these numbers are pretty ideal.
Amino acids and protein quality
You may have heard about the idea of protein quality before – but do you know what it refers to? When people talk about proteins, they often use buzzwords such as “complete” versus “incomplete”. What does that mean?
Proteins are made of amino acids – smaller substances that can be found in varying degrees in our diet. Some amino acids can even be made in the body from raw materials gathered from other foods – these are known as nonessential amino acids.
Nine amino acids are classified as essential amino acids, meaning that our body cannot produce them on its own, and they must be obtained from the diet.
Proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids are considered “complete”.
How to complete an incomplete protein
Technically speaking, the protein in brown rice is incomplete. Brown rice does not contain the essential amino acid threonine, and it contains relatively low levels of lysine. Typically, plant foods are incomplete proteins, while those from animal sources are complete.
Does this mean that brown rice protein is inferior to other types of protein powder, or any less useful? Of course not. The concentration of some amino acids (such as arginine and valine) is higher in brown rice protein is higher than those found in whey.
Brown rice protein is also rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), a unique group of amino acids that have been shown to exhibit special benefits when it comes to building and repairing muscle fibers. It should also be noted that the essential amino acids do not have to be consumed all at once to be beneficial.
In order to provide you with extra threonine, you can eat foods like spinach, kale, and other leafy greens. These don’t need to be eaten in the same meal as brown rice protein – you can eat them at any point throughout your day to reap the benefits.
Is there enough protein in brown rice for my diet?
The average healthy person needs about 0.8 to 1 gram protein per kilogram body weight per day – equivalent to 1.76 to 2.2 grams per pound. This means that a 150-pound person needs about 55 to 68 grams per day.
In order to consume that much strictly via brown rice protein, you’d need to take a little over 2 servings each day. So, in theory – yes! If you’re a vegetarian or vegan and enjoy protein shakes, it is indeed possible to get enough protein from brown rice protein for your daily needs.
Brown rice is also gluten-free, which is good news if your diet requires gluten restriction or avoidance. However, most Americans consume more than this amount of protein – especially those of us who enjoy meat and people trying to put on muscle, lose weight, or achieve some type of health or fitness goal.
In this case, you’d likely have to consume more protein powder than you’d like. Of course, there is certainly room for brown rice protein in this type of diet, as well as a good balance of other types of protein.