Many people want to eat healthier while still enjoying their favorite foods. When it comes down to which is healthier, rice vs. pizza is a complicated debate. The difference between rice vs. pizza lies in differences in carbohydrates, saturated fats, sodium, and calories. Rice vs. pizza can vary depending on if you’re choosing brown rice over white, or a deep-dish Chicago-style pizza over a thin-crust pizza topped with veggies.
A lot of factors come into play in rice vs. pizza. These include whether you’re choosing whole grain rice with veggies or fried rice topped with General Tso’s chicken which weighs in at a whopping 1,577 calories. While rice and pizza aren’t the healthiest food choices, we’ll compare calories, saturated fats, sodium, and nutrients to help you decide which dish is best for you.
Discover 10 ways that nutrition experts use to compare rice vs. pizza.
1. Accept the Differences
First off, rice and pizza are hard to compare because they are so different. Rice is a whole or processed grain that’s typically cooked in water. In Chinese and other Asian cuisines, you will also encounter fried rice, sticky rice (cooked with oil and water), or other variations.
Brown rice is high in fiber which may help with inflammation. It also ranks in the medium range at 50 on the glycemic index (GI), which can make it a better option for people who have diabetes.
In contrast, white rice is a high-glycemic food and a refined carbohydrate that can cause inflammation in your body and exacerbate flare-ups if you have an autoimmune disease. Although it’s digested slower, rice can still have an impact on your blood sugar.
Pizza crust, meanwhile, has both high-glycemic and low-glycemic elements. By itself, pizza crust is a high-glycemic carb that would process quickly through your bloodstream and create insulin spikes. When the pizza dough is combined with fat and protein, this can slow down the digestive process.
Some people claim that pizza is considered low GI, but the fact remains that a plain cheese pizza slice with a basic, all-purpose flour crust made from low fiber, processed grain, has a glycemic index rating of 80. A whole grain pizza crust is a better option than one made from white flour, since it won’t spike insulin levels, and will lower its glycemic index rating.
While pizza and rice are inexpensive food choices, their starchy and high carbohydrate content mean that they’re often off-limits to people who are on a low-carb diet or in a paleo or keto lifestyle.
2. Pizza and Rice Have Simple Carbs
Processed or starchy foods are made from simple carbohydrates. Simple carbs are made from only one or two sugars such as glucose and fructose. They also have a basic chemical structure that gives your body energy fast.
That’s good news if you’re looking to satisfy your cravings, but the quick energy doesn’t last. The bad news is that simple carbs digest fast, spike your blood sugar, and leave you feeling hungry again.
Simple carbs don’t just pile on belly fat. The short-term satisfaction and spike and drop in blood sugar lead to long-term health issues such as high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
When you enjoy a slice of pizza or a fried rice dish, the simple carbs cause an insulin spike that sends signals to the neurotransmitters in your brain. This boosts serotonin which makes us feel happier and promotes feelings of well-being.
Pizza dough and white carbs fall into the simple carb category. When you add extras to either food such as toppings, protein, or vegetables, then pizza or rice can have more complex carbohydrates. Keep in mind that this doesn’t automatically mean that they’re more nutritious options.
When it comes to pizza and rice, the level of simple or complex carbs all depends on what each food contains. White rice, for example, is considered an empty carb since it’s processed to remove natural fiber. Most white rice is then enriched with B vitamins like niacin, folic acid, thiamine, and with iron.
On the other hand, whole grain brown rice is a healthier choice since it contains essential vitamins and minerals that include iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, manganese, phosphorus, Vitamin 6 1, or thiamine, and Vitamin B6.
Both pizza and rice are starchy foods. Pizza can have some more complex carbohydrates when the pizza crust is covered with meat, cheese, sauce, and vegetable toppings.
3. Saturated Fats Add Up
Going low fat when it comes to adding extras to your rice or pizza might seem tempting, but the truth is that calories are composed of protein, sugar, and fat. The less protein and fat a food contains, the more sugar it has.
When you choose low-fat cheese for your pizza or lots of carbs with rice but skip the fat, you’re increasing the number of carbohydrates in the food.
Rice is low in fat but high in carbohydrates. Our bodies need carbohydrates to survive, so it’s best to pick a complex carbohydrate like brown rice over white rice since it’s more nutrient-dense. Rice by itself doesn’t have saturated fat.
When fried rice or other high-fat rice dishes are prepared or deep-fried in restaurants, this raises the risk of lots of added saturated fats.
Pizza is high in saturated fat due to the cheese or fatty red meats that it contains. A single 5-ounce serving of plain cheese pizza has 18.5 grams of fat. That’s 18% of how much fat is recommended per day in just one slice.
A diet that’s high in saturated fat can raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol and increase your risk for stroke, heart attack, or other cardiovascular health issues.
4. Watch the Salt
A lot of sodium risk with these foods comes down to how rice or pizza is prepared.
For example, a cup of Chinese fried rice contains 460mg of sodium. That’s a ¼ of your daily intake of salt. A slice of pizza, in comparison, can range anywhere from 600mg to 1,500mg of sodium. According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should intake less than 2,300mg or 1 teaspoon of table salt per day.
If you make a whole grain veggie pizza at home, you’ll escape the processed carbs and high sodium levels that lurk in takeout pizzas.
If you eat a cup of plain brown or white rice with lean protein and vegetables, you can skip the high sodium present in fast-food or restaurant-style rice dishes.
5. Toppings Matter
When it comes down to it, the experts believe that fried rice can be healthier than pizza due to differences in fat and sodium levels.
If you’re looking for nutritious ways to eat your favorite inexpensive foods, skip the fried rice or orange chicken dishes and opt for Thai-style vegetables over a bed of rice. You can also make a healthier pizza at home with whole ingredients that aren’t saturated in processed sodium and fat. It’s also healthier to skip deep-dish pizzas and
The good news is that it’s entirely possible to enjoy your favorite foods by tweaking them here and there to optimize their nutrition and minimize refined carbs and sugars. Instead of a spike and plunge in blood sugar, you will feel fuller longer. Your body will thank you.