Rice is a satisfying addition to many meals, but not all rice is created equal. Refined white rice is lower in nutrients and fiber than brown or wild rice, but most types of rice are high in carbohydrates. Luckily, there are plenty of low-carb rice alternatives available.
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If you're following a low-carb diet, swap out rice for substitutes like cauliflower rice, broccoli rice or shirataki rice.
Carbs in Rice
One half-cup serving of cooked, unenriched, long-grain white rice provides 97 calories. It also contains 2 grams of protein and 21 grams of carbs, of which less than 1 gram is fiber. Nutrients include 15 milligrams calcium, 7 milligrams magnesium, 43 milligrams phosphorus and 44 milligrams potassium.
In comparison, a half-cup serving of cooked long-grain brown rice provides 124 calories, almost 3 grams of protein and about 36 grams of carbs. Of those carbs, almost 2 grams are fiber. Nutrients include 3 milligrams calcium, 39 milligrams magnesium, 104 milligrams phosphorus and 87 milligrams potassium.
White and brown rice have similar calorie counts and protein content, but brown rice is actually a better nutritional option. That's because white rice is a refined carbohydrate, like white bread or white pasta, which means the nutrients and fiber have been removed.
The glucose from refined carbs enters your bloodstream much more quickly than the glucose from whole grains like brown rice or whole-grain pasta. Refined carbohydrates have been linked to increased rates of Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
A 2014 study in Mediators of Inflammation linked high refined carbohydrate intake to a higher risk of insulin resistance in children. According to the study, refined carbs contribute to low-grade inflammation, which plays a role in both insulin resistance and obesity.
Read more: How To Lose Weight By Eating Rice
Other Types of Rice
There are over 40,000 different types of cultivated rice available, in a variety of colors and lengths. Some popular varieties include:
- Wild rice (cooked) — provides 83 calories per half cup, over 3 grams of protein and 18 grams of carbs, of which almost 2 grams are fiber and less than one gram sugars.
- Glutinous white rice (cooked) — provides 84 calories per half cup, 2 grams of protein and over 18 grams of carbs, of which 1 gram is fiber and less than one gram sugars.
- Red rice (cooked) — provides 320 calories per half cup, 8 grams of protein and 74 grams carbohydrates, including 4 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar.
- Black rice (cooked) — provides 320 calories per half cup, 10 grams of protein and 68 grams carbohydrates, including 4 grams of fiber and 2 grams of sugar.
- Arborio rice (cooked) — provides 360 calories per half cup, 6 grams of protein and 82 grams of carbs.
Benefits and Downsides of Rice
Rice is affordable and easy to digest. Rice also doesn't contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Because rice is naturally gluten-free, it's an easy, widely available grain option for people who are gluten-intolerant or suffering from celiac disease.
Rice can be eaten within your daily recommended calorie intake as part of a balanced diet. However, white rice may be linked to an increased risk of weight gain. A May 2019 study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism looked at the effects of eating different types of rice in 437 adults.
Researchers found a significant positive association between eating white rice and the possibility of weight gain, but no such association with brown rice or multigrain rice. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, eating white rice has also been linked to developing Type 2 diabetes. So if you're trying to lose weight or are prediabetic, you may want to limit your intake of rice and seek low-carb rice substitutes.
Low-Carb Rice Alternatives
Using "riced" veggies as an alternative to rice has become increasingly popular, especially cauliflower rice and broccoli rice. Both cauliflower and broccoli are part of the cruciferous or brassica vegetable family, which also includes Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, bok choy, arugula, collard greens, turnips and radishes. Cruciferous vegetables are packed with nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin K, and they are linked with decreased inflammation in the body.
You can purchase ready-made vegetable rice either fresh or frozen in many grocery stores, or create your own at home using a food processor or a blender with a "low" setting. To make your own cauliflower rice, separate a head of cauliflower into small florets.
Add the florets to your food processor and slowly pulse until they have a "riced" consistency. If you accidentally overblend, you'll end up with a mushy consistency more like a mashed potato, but this can also be a nice addition to a meal.
Other low-carb rice alternatives include rutabaga rice, red cabbage rice and shirataki rice. Shirataki rice is a store-bought product made from a dietary fiber called glucomannan, using flour derived from konjac root. One serving of shirataki rice — also called miracle rice — contains no calories.
Riced Cauliflower and Broccoli Carbs
A half-cup serving of riced cauliflower provides 19 calories and 1 gram of protein. It contains just 3 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of sugar. It also contains 68 milligrams potassium, 19 milligrams sodium and 12 milligrams vitamin C.
A half-cup serving of broccoli rice provides 20 calories and 1 gram of protein. It contains 4 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of sugar. It also contains 27 milligrams calcium, 140 milligrams potassium, 23 milligrams sodium, 36 milligrams vitamin C and 834 IU of vitamin A.
Low-Carb Rice Recipes
Looking for some ideas to get you started? Check out a few low-carb recipes, mostly featuring cauliflower rice, for easy and nutritious rice swaps:
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Carbohydrates — Good or Bad for You?"
- Mediators of Inflammation: "Excessive Refined Carbohydrates and Scarce Micronutrients Intakes Increase Inflammatory Mediators and Insulin Resistance in Prepubertal and Pubertal Obese Children Independently of Obesity"
- USDA: "Rice, White, Long-Grain, Parboiled, Unenriched, Cooked"
- USDA: "Wild Rice, Cooked"
- USDA: "Rice, Brown, Long-Grain, Cooked"
- Missouri Medicine: "Death by Carbs: Added Sugars and Refined Carbohydrates Cause Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease in Asian Indians"
- Rice Association: "Types of Rice"
- USDA: "Rice, White, Glutinous, Unenriched, Cooked"
- USDA: "Steamable Riced Cauliflower"
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: "Cruciferous Vegetables"
- Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences: "Chow Line: Cruciferous Vegetables Packed With Nutrients"
- USDA: "Miracle Rice, Shirataki Rice"
- USDA: "Red Rice"
- USDA: "Black Rice"
- USDA: "Broccoli Rice"
- Michigan State University: "Using and Storing Rice"
- USDA: "Arborio Rice"
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism: "Relationship Between Rice Consumption and Body Weight Gain in Japanese Workers: White Versus Brown Rice/Multigrain Rice"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Rice"