Whether to Eat Rice or Avoid it

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For a long time, I was a supporter of eating whole grains like brown rice.  It seems like the first most obvious go-to health food that people diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity run toward.  It’s non-offensive, easy to find in the grocery store, and pretty widely liked as far as grains go.

But what if I told you that it might not be the best thing to eat?

What if I told you that it might be really difficult for your body to break down?

Would you panic?

I suppose not if you don’t currently eat brown rice and have stuck with the white variety, however most of us gluten-free folks looking to keep a healthier diet and ‘eat whole grains’ might find the idea rather hard to swallow.

The reason I’m sharing this idea is because it’s something that has taken me months to come to terms with. Why?  Because I found out the hard way earlier this year after experiencing a lot of digestive discomfort for months that brown rice wasn’t really the friend I thought it to be.

The Rice Revelation

At the time I was seeing both an Acupuncturist as well as an Ayurvedic practitioner and both agreed that the brown rice just had to go.  My acupuncturist Damini Celebre, M.Ac. kept the reasoning simple, “Any whole grain is harder to digest in the bowels, and thus the browner the food, the harder to digest.”

It turns out that in Eastern traditions of medicine, those prone to digestive issues will probably have greater difficulty digesting brown rice because of the fiber.  And that’s when it was suggested that I (**dramatic pause**) switch to white basmati or jasmine rice.

Gasp!

Double gasp!!

It felt like a real blow to everything that I believed in as far as whole grains go.  Every time I’d tell someone that I wanted white basmati or jasmine rice, I literally felt a simultaneous physical and emotional reaction of embarrassment, guilt and sadness.  It was the ‘white’ part of things that really got to me and at moments I felt like a fraud having spent years talking up brown rice only to realize that it wasn’t helping me.  And this was all before the arsenic issue came to light a couple of months ago.

After giving up gluten (and quite a few other foods because of personal sensitivities), it was a sad thing because I genuinely enjoyed brown rice as well as the lovely smell of it cooking.  It’s also something that my husband loved and I think helped him voluntarily make the gluten-free transition with me.  And though he is always willing to do what’s best for me, he does periodically comment that he misses the brown stuff.

Not all white rice is created equal…

Contrary to my own beliefs and thoughts about white rice, it’s all not created equal.  There are different varieties like basmati and jasmine which are considered by both Chinese and Ayurvedic practitioners to be ‘better’ on an energetic level than your plain ol’ Uncle Ben’s white rice.

Even on the more ‘paleo’ side of things, folks like Mark Sisson, when faced with a choice between brown and white rice, would probably choose white.  They avoid certain things within grains that they call ‘anti-nutrients’ and irritants present in the hulls of the brown rice.  When the rice is milled, most of the problematic ‘anti-nutrients are removed in the process of making it white.  And you can’t ignore that Asian cultures consume pretty large amounts of white rice and tend to be more healthy (so long as they don’t incorporate in a more Western diet).

As an aside — Damini does caution that if you’re on a ‘no white food’ or ‘low carb’ diet, then obviously eating white rice will be on your ‘avoid’ list.

Eat the Rice ‘Rainbow’

White rice wasn’t the end of my journey, but actually the beginning of scoping out some different types of rice.  If you haven’t heard of Forbidden Rice (also known as black rice), then you should definitely give it a try.  Once cooked, it turns a beautiful shade of deep purple and has a slightly sweeter taste than that of brown rice.  I love it for the color because it just looks so darn appetizing and dramatic in dishes.

And I can’t forget about Wild Rice which isn’t actually a member of the rice family to begin with.  It has more protein than brown rice and a lower glycemic load.  I’ve often used it to thicken soups by letting it cook down completely, thus not needing to add any additional starch or thickener.

How much is too much?

There is this unfortunate tendency for most Americans (even the GF bunch) to overeat certain foods.  Sadly, refined carbs tend to be at the top of the list.  They’re cheap, relatively non-offensive, can take on whatever flavors surround them and, as many will attest, taste darn good (when you’re used to eating them often).

Though this conversation about starchy carbs deserves an entire article dedicated to it and it’s various nuances, I’d like to touch on this briefly because you could potentially leave this article thinking that somewhere I said it was okay to eat white rice… and a lot of it.  That not what I said.

To be clear, starchy grains like rice, corn and potatoes should be consumed in small quantities mixed with a good selection of protein and fats.  If you look at your dinner plate, the main section of the plate should be filled with vegetables (which does not include rice, potatoes or corn).  I personally like to keep eating these starchy carbs down to a 1/2 cup at most.  The exception would be if you’ve done an incredible workout and need more carbs to replenish your body, however most of us are not working out hard enough to warrant this.

And this 1/2 cup isn’t some sort of prescription… it’s just what I do.  It’s a small compliment of my meal, not the main attraction.

I also don’t eat them at every meal either.  If you feel a sense of panic arise at the thought of not eating rice or some other starchy carb at every single meal, then chances are you’re probably eating them too often and in too big of quantities.

And if you’re diabetic or even pre-diabetic, then I’d suggest forgetting the idea of even having white rice.  Any starchy carbs like white rice, corn or white potatoes are better off on your ‘avoid list’ for the sake of controlling blood sugar.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below…

What’s your feelings on rice?

Have you turned your back on the brown stuff?

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Comments

  1. says

    Hi!
    I am gluten free oil free some nuts and some grains free
    Even before reading your article I just know from my personal experience that I cannot eat rice because it makes me so bloated nd so full.very hard time to digest it.as you have mentioned I sometimes have to eat bite rice while travelling and I feel not so bad for eating it.Now I feel so relieved that I am not alone nor wrong l
    What about eating rice syrup or starch not directly but they are mostly in GF ORGANIC ice cream yogurt soup etc? I do not eat anything when I see rice ?.rice flavour starch or syrup is it any different?
    Thank you

    • says

      I’m not the biggest fan of rice syrup or the starch. Too much sugar and processed STARCH which is what’s not helpful to people’s health, generally speaking because it’s missing a lot of nutrients.

  2. Nancy Keay says

    ‘Black” rice is delicious! I like to make occasional pilafs with brown, black, and white jasmine rice…add in a bit of sautéed mushrooms, and maybe cashews…yum!

  3. Victoria Ladd says

    Hey Jen! This is really interesting! Curious to know what you think about the preparation method we use here in our house- we cook organic short grain brown rice with some kind of bean (we have around 6 on rotation) after its been rinsed and soaked in water and a splash of rice vinegar for 6-12 hours. We cook it in a pressure cooker. This is how my dad, who is sensitive to gluten, was taught to make it when he was learning about the macrobiotic diet. Do you think that it would be easier to digest?

    • says

      Soaked and sprouted grains are easier to digest, however it’s a fiber issue. Everyone is different so it’s really up to you individually to decide if you can break it down. Remember that grains digestion begins with chewing in the mouth, so make sure to chew your grains well. :)

  4. Amanda says

    We are a family of seven and I have been an advocate of brown rice even before going gluten free. However, my husband and middle daughter do not tolerate brown rice. Hubby is good with white rice and daughter is better with a mixed blend of sprouted quinoa, rice, brown rice, and black rice we get from Costco. It doesn’t hurt her tummy although rice does much of the time and quinoa does periodically. She does have some minor blood sugar issues, but seems to be pretty in tune with her body for a six year old!

  5. says

    Like you, I was a ‘brown Rice Gal’ for YEARs, both before & after going off Gluten (4 years now) …. & do love quinoa, (which I would usually mix with amaranth & add a Tbsp of Teff for more nutrition) … and the rice rainbow … now have been mostly off grains since Feb (suggestion from Gluten Free RN, who suggests ‘Paleo’ for best healing …)
    My son-in likes white rice better, my 8 year old granddaughter reacts to white rice like she does gluten, but is OK with brown …
    Also like you, I begin filling my plate with veggies, add some wild fish, pastured (or wild) meat, and OCCASIONALLY a scoop of quinoa or rice. I’ve also gotten the sprouted rice blend from Costco, & that seems good. I get OG veggies from a CSA share, Farmers Mkt & my garden, & have been having a big ‘mess of greens’ simmered in Bone Broth all 3 meals, add in a big green (& rainbow) salad for lunch & dinner.
    Simple, but as one of our Market farmers, who eats about the same says, it’s BEAUTIFUL to see that plate filled with colour! & tastes good, too

  6. Beth says

    Do you eat your forbidden rice by itself as a grain? or do you combine it with a white rice in order to remove some bran quantity and have it easier to digest, like the white rice?
    thanks. .

    • says

      When I eat forbidden rice, I eat it as is. It doesn’t bother me. If it bothers you, try mixing it as you have asked. We all are different and our systems can tolerate different things.

  7. Lucille says

    yes i would love to see a sensible reading on alot of the products. Most of them say modified food starch which sometimes i have to watch cause it hurts my stomach, also they need to do there labeling better.

  8. Kim says

    Hello Jennifer,
    A friend of mine sent me this link because I was sharing with her how after doing a detox and returning brown rice, quinoa back in to my diet, I had horrific digestive distress. Even soaking them still gives me problems…so I’m nervous to even have brown rice flour etc…thinking of it I also noticed when I ate wild rice my intestines felt like glass was running through it!
    What’s your thoughts on the flours to use?
    Thank you for this insight…its not all in my head :)
    Kim

    • says

      Hi Kim, You’ve got a good friend to have sent you this post! Definitely thank her :)

      If you’re finding grains to bother you (you may just have more awareness of it now), I’d suggest sticking with coconut or other nut based flours. Have you tried eating legumes? Did you have the same reaction to them too?

      We’d all love to think that we should be able to eat anything we want, but as you probably already know, that’s not reality for many of us. Not everyone can tolerate grains.

  9. Bethzaida Vazquez says

    I do eat white jasmine and brown rice in each meal, the reason if I don’t have any carb I get hungry easily, I have a fast metabolism I have to eat every three hours, what is your suggestion what other carb can I use so I could have a variety. I would like to eat rice only once a day.

    • says

      Beth, I’m curious… how much fat do you eat in your diet? I’m also confused because aside from meat, there are carbs in most things. Do you eat a lot of vegetables? It kind of sounds from your brief description that you might not be eating enough of the right foods, but obviously I’m only saying this based off 2 sentences.

      • Nan says

        My understanding of the forbidden rice/black rice from Costco is that it is grown in China. I read in the newspaper that they are poisoning their people with pollution. So the package waits until I resolve this issue.

        • says

          Nan, I totally share your concern. However there are rice companies that grow forbidden rice in other countries. I would NOT eat rice or anything for that matter from China considering how toxic their environment is. Thanks for sharing this thought… you are not alone in thinking it.

  10. Shiraz says

    My family has always eaten white Basmati rice. Last year, I started mixing it up with little brown Basmati, which was okay. About 12 days back, we switched to the regular brown rice we get in most US grocery stores. My stomach has been upset since, bloating, etc. Since I intentionally avoided any type of beans during this period….I finally realized that the culprit here is the brown rice. That is when I started doing research on the subject and found your blog.Thank you.

  11. Bryce Webster says

    Have you ever tried soaking rice for 8 hours then strain and rince, to remove anti-vitamins, and also optional add some acid (like lemon juice) while its soaking to help start breaking it down.

    • says

      Hi Bryce,
      This isn’t an issue of anti-nutrients… it’s about the fiber. After too much digestive distress, I’m ok not eating brown rice. Perhaps someone else can try this if they want. Is there any data or reference you can point us to about lemon juice breaking down the fiber?

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