April 2011 Issue

Rice’s Grainy Goodness — Gluten Free and Nutrient Dense, It’s Part of Any Healthful Diet
By Densie Webb, PhD, RD
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 13 No. 4 P. 16

Good diet and good health go together like, well, white on rice—or black, red, or brown, for that matter. Gluten free, full of high-quality protein, and considered one of the least allergenic foods you can serve, rice is an integral part of any healthful diet.

U.S. Production and Consumption Statistics
Rice was first cultivated thousands of years ago in the area between India and China, arriving in North America in the late 1600s and becoming a major crop for the colonists.1 Today, more than 20 billion pounds of rice are produced each year in six states (Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas), and 85% of the rice consumed in the United States is also grown here.

While rice consumption has doubled in the United States over the last 20 years, it currently stands at about 26 to 27 lbs per person per year, still far below some Asian and Latin American countries, where consumption can range from 80 to 180 lbs per capita.2 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from 2001-2002 showed that 18.2% of adults consumed rice (white or brown); however, the data also revealed that only 1.3% consumed brown rice.3 The overwhelming majority of the rice consumed in the United States is still enriched long-grain white rice, but the growing emphasis on the importance of whole grains in the diet has resulted in a 22% increase in sales of brown rice since 2006.

Nutrition Behind the Grain
“All forms of rice—particularly brown and wild—are nutrient dense, so they fit into a healthful diet,” says Hope Barkoukis, PhD, RD, LD, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. (See notes on wild rice in “The Many Faces of Rice” sidebar below.)

Enriched long-grain white rice is low in calories, providing approximately 90 to 108 kcal per 1/2-cup cooked serving, and contains 13 essential vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, niacin, and folic acid. Brown rice, which is 100% whole grain, is also a source of selenium and fiber.

Both white and brown rice are rich in complex carbohydrates and offer a source of high-quality protein, providing 2% to 5% of the Daily Value per 1/2-cup serving. (Wild rice contains slightly more protein.) How does rice protein stack up against other proteins? The protein quality of foods is measured by a ranking referred to as the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS). Egg whites, soy protein isolate, and milk casein, all very–high-quality proteins, yield scores of 1. Enriched white rice has a PDCAAS of 0.55, which is comparable with that of lentils and peanuts.2

Rice is also a source of antioxidant flavonoids; the darker the color, the more it contains. Generally, black rice contains more flavonoids than red rice, which contains more than white rice, but some varieties of white rice actually contain more than red rice.4 Anthocyanin flavonoids, a group of potent antioxidant compounds found in plants, are most abundant in black and wild rices.5

When rice is cooked and cooled, as in rice salad, it forms resistant starch, a type of dietary fiber that may offer various health benefits, ranging from helping control blood sugar and improving satiety to reducing the risk of some types of cancer.

Research on Rice’s Role in Health
Dietary surveys suggest that rice eaters may be healthier. Compared with non-rice eaters, rice eaters are less likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.3 Specifically, rice eaters have a 34% reduced risk of having high blood pressure and a 21% reduced risk of metabolic syndrome compared with people who don’t eat rice.3

Rice consumption has also been associated with better nutrient intake. Evidence from NHANES (1999-2004) revealed a positive association between rice consumption and the intake of several nutrients among both children and adults.1 Overall, those who consumed at least one daily serving of rice (white or brown) were more likely to eat a diet consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; consume significantly less solid fat and added sugar; and consume significantly more folic acid, potassium, and iron. When compared with nonconsumers, rice consumers in general include more grains (but not whole grains), fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and fish and fewer potatoes in their diets.3

However, the NHANES data also revealed that rice consumers aged 19 and older consume significantly more sodium than non-rice eaters. “While rice is essentially sodium free, many of the packaged rice products contain seasoning blends that may be sodium rich, so consumers may want to use less of those seasoning packets. Also, stir-fries are often eaten with soy sauce, which is high in sodium. Low-sodium soy sauce is the better choice,” says Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, cofounder of AppforHealth.com.

Since 1998, virtually all white rice (not brown) has been fortified with the B vitamin folic acid to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in newborns. One cup of enriched white rice provides approximately 23% of the Daily Value of folate. According to Keith Ayoob, PhD, RD, an associate professor in the pediatrics department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, “Since the folic acid fortification began, there has been a 31% drop in the incidence of spina bifida.”

Rice is the least allergenic of all grains, so it works well for patients or clients with allergies or sensitivities to other grains. It is gluten free and can be an important staple in the diets of people with celiac disease, which affects an estimated 3 million Americans.6

Both white and brown rice fall into the moderate range of the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL). However, the glycemic rankings have not been consistent. A study from England found long-grain white rice to be a low-GI food, whereas several other varieties, including brown basmati rice, were found to be medium- to high-GI foods.7

Generally, rice has a reputation for being a high-GI food, but the effect that it has on blood sugar is complicated. In general, glutinous rice and sticky rice have the highest GI and brown rice the lowest, but the GI database contains more than 300 listings for the various types of rice.

“There are many factors influencing how fast the carbohydrate in rice is absorbed, and these factors collectively impact the GI of various types of rice,” says Barkoukis. Any meal factor that reduces the rate of absorption will lower the GI of a dish. Rice is often served as a mixed dish with beans, lentils, or vegetables, affecting the rate of absorption. But Barkoukis emphasizes that GI should only be one of several tools used when guiding patients and clients on planning healthful diets.

Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, downplays the role of GI and GL in planning a healthful diet even more. “The [2010] Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report found little support for the idea that GI is related to health outcomes,” she notes.

However, whole grain brown rice may benefit people with diabetes. One study found that compared with white rice, brown rice raised blood sugar 35% less in people with diabetes.8 The resistant starch that forms in cold, cooked rice may contribute to a blood-sugar-blunting effect as well. An animal study found that a diet with rice containing high resistant starch reduced glycosylated hemoglobin levels and serum cholesterol concentrations and raised the antioxidant status in the blood.9 While the resistant starch content of rice differs among rice varieties, it is not affected by cooking methods.10

Brown, black, red, and wild rices are whole grain foods. In 2008, the FDA approved the existing whole grain health claim to include brown rice. The health claim reads: “Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.” The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that Americans do not consume enough whole grains. A 1/2-cup serving of brown rice is equivalent to one whole grain serving; the guidelines recommend that one half of the grains consumed each day come from whole grains.

Final Thoughts From the Experts
Several dietitians interviewed for this article believe that rice is an integral part of a healthful diet.

“Rice is a great food that fits well in many eating patterns,” says Slavin. “Dietitians should support rice eating as part of a healthful eating plan.”

Barkoukis says, “Rice choices contain a plethora of vitamins and minerals, no trans fats, virtually no sodium, and we have recent data to support the fact that rice eaters have overall healthier diets.”

Ayoob says rice is a good vehicle for incorporating foods that patients and clients are not eating enough of, such as vegetables, fish, and fresh and dried fruit. “That’s especially helpful when feedings kids and fussy eaters,” he notes.

— Densie Webb, PhD, RD, is a freelance writer, editor, and industry consultant based in Austin, Tex.


The Many Faces of Rice
Long-grain rice features long, slender kernels with a high amylose starch content (19% to 23%). Because it is less likely to stick together, it is typically used in prepared and frozen entrées, side dishes, soups, and casseroles.

Medium-grain rice has shorter, wider kernels with less amylose than long-grain rice (12% to 19%). Cooked grains are moist, tender, and tend to cling together, so they work well in dishes calling for a creamy consistency, such as puddings and desserts.

Short-grain rice has short, plump, almost round kernels with 12% to 19% amylose. Cooked grains are moist, tender, and tend to cling together, making this type of rice ideal for puddings and desserts.

Glutinous rice kernels are chalky white and opaque before they are cooked and have a maximum of 1% amylose. When cooked, they lose their shape and become glutinous and sticky. Glutinous rice is used in Asian dishes.

Enriched white rice is milled rice with the bran, hull, and germ removed. It is enriched with the B vitamins thiamin, niacin, folic acid, and iron.

Brown rice is unmilled or partly milled rice, making it a whole grain. It is chewier than white rice, and while it retains the natural nutrients that are removed during the milling of white rice, enrichment actually makes white rice a better source of those added nutrients.

Aromatic rice has a natural aroma and flavor similar to popcorn or roasted nuts. Popular varieties include basmati and jasmine.

Arborio rice is a medium-grain rice that has large kernels with a large chalky center. It is used to make the traditional Italian rice dish risotto.

Black rice is a specialty rice that is usually a whole grain, like brown rice. Its color is a deep black that fades to purple when cooked. The color is due primarily to its high anthocyanin content. One study, presented during the 2010 American Chemical Society meeting, found that a spoonful of black rice bran contained the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of fresh blueberries.

Red rice is a specialty whole grain rice that varies from mahogany to burgundy in color with a nutty taste and chewy consistency.

Wild rice is not a rice but the seed of an aquatic grass native to North America. It is a whole grain and is higher in protein than white or brown rice.

Note: The higher the amylose starch content, the lower the glycemic index. Amylose percentages are based on information from the USA Rice Federation.

— DW


Grainy Ideas
Keith Ayoob, PhD, RD, an associate professor in the pediatrics department at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, offers the following suggestions for helping clients and patients think outside the traditional rice bowl:

• Cook it once, serve it twice—that’s a rule of thumb for brown rice. It takes longer to cook, so prepare a lot of it and refrigerate it for the following nights’ meals.

• Add cooked rice to all kinds of fresh salads.

• Take rice from the dining room to the breakfast room. Beat eggs and add rice and vegetables leftover from the previous night’s meal.

• Make cold rice salads by adding fresh and dried fruit and nuts—from mangoes, apples, and dried cranberries to chopped almonds.

— DW


Vegetable Fried Rice
Recipe courtesy of USA Rice Federation

Makes 6 servings

2 T vegetable oil, divided
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery or bok choy
1 cup chopped broccoli
1 cup sliced green onions
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (optional)
3 cups chilled, cooked brown rice
2 large eggs, beaten
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp dark sesame oil (optional)

Heat 1 T oil in large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Cook carrots, celery, broccoli, green onions, and ginger, stirring frequently for 3 to 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp. Add 1 T oil and the rice; cook, stirring frequently, until rice is heated through.

Push rice mixture toward edge of skillet, pour eggs in center, and stir gently to cook; gradually stir in rice. Drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil, if desired. Toss well.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 200
Protein: 6 g
Fat: 7 g
Carbohydrate: 28 g
Dietary fiber: 4 g
Cholesterol: 70 mg
Sodium: 510 mg


Garden Fresh Brown Rice Salad
Recipe courtesy of USA Rice Federation

Makes 6 servings

3 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup chopped cucumber
1 cup chopped seeded tomato
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Combine rice, cucumber, tomato, green onions, parsley, and mint in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, mix olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Pour over rice mixture and toss well; chill.

Serve on a bed of lettuce or use as a filling for pita bread or tortillas.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 210
Protein: 3 g
Fat: 10 g
Carbohydrate: 26 g
Dietary fiber: 3 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 210 mg


Springtime Rice
Recipe courtesy of USA Rice Federation

Makes 6 servings

1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces (3 cups)
2 portobello mushrooms, cut into strips
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add garlic, asparagus, mushrooms, and pepper; cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, or until vegetables are tender. Add rice, cheese, and salt. Stir until well blended; heat thoroughly.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 250
Protein: 7 g
Fat: 13 g
Carbohydrate: 28 g
Dietary fiber: 3 g
Cholesterol: 10 mg
Sodium: 290 mg


1. Fulgoni V, Fulgoni S, Upton J, Moon M. Diet quality and markers for human health in rice eaters versus non-rice eaters. Nutrition Today. 2010;45(6):262-272.

2. Moon M. USA Rice: An update on commodities and staple foods. Nutrition Today. 2010;45(6):273-277.

3. Batres-Marquez S, Jensen H, Upton J. Rice consumption in the United States: Recent evidence from food consumption surveys. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(10):1719-1727.

4. Shen Y, Jin L, Xiao P, Lu Y, Bao J. Total phenolics, flavonoids, antioxidant capacity in rice grain and their relations to grain color, size and weight. J Cereal Sci. 2009;49(1):106-111.

5. Kim M, Kim H, Koh K, Kim H, Lee Y, Kim Y. Identification and quantification of anthocyanin pigments in colored rice. Nutr Res Pract. 2008;2(1):46-49.

6. NIH Consensus Development Conference on Celiac Disease. NIH Consensus State Sci Statements. 2004;21(1):1-23.

7. Ranawana D, Henry C, Lightowler H, Wang D. Glycaemic index of some commercially available rice and rice products in Great Britain. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2009;60 Suppl 4:99-110.

8. Panlasigui L, Thompson L. Blood glucose lowering effects of brown rice in normal and diabetic subjects. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2006;57(3-4):151-158.

9. Shih C, Chen S, Hou W, Cheng H. A high-resistance-starch rice diet reduces glycosylated hemoglobin levels and improves the antioxidant status in diabetic rats. Food Res Int. 2007;40(7):842-847.

10. Stewart M, Manglicmot L. Resistant starch content of rice varies with rice variety but not cooking method. FASEB J. 2010;24:922.9.


Key Nutrients in 1/2-Cup Serving of Cooked Rice


Brown (Long Grain)

Enriched White (Long Grain)

Glutinous White 

Instant White








Protein (g)






Carbohydrate (g)






Fat (g)






Fiber (g)






Sodium (mg)






Iron (mg)






Folate (mcg)






Thiamin (mg)






Niacin (mg)






— Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 23. 2010. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/SR23/nutrlist/sr23w269.pdf