Before I get into why I include some white rice in my diet and whether you should or shouldn’t, let’s recap why rice, and grains in general, are not part of the paleo diet.
There are three main reasons why grains are typically excluded from the paleo diet:
- Grains, especially refined grains, are high in carbohydrates. Over-consumption of carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance, various metabolic dysfunctions, and weight gain. I must point out, again, that the paleo diet is not about cutting out carbohydrates completely, but instead it focuses on moderate-to-lower consumption and on getting them from more nutrient dense sources like veggies and fruit.
- Grains, and legumes, contain a variety of toxins and gut irritants (also referred to as anti-nutrients) that can compromise the integrity of our gut lining and gut health in general (aka lectins), prevent certain nutrients from being absorbed by the body (aka phytates or phytic acid), and inhibit the production of certain enzymes that we need to digest the protein in the food we eat (aka trypsin inhibitors).
- On top of that, grains contain little nutrition when compared to meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, and fruit.
So why do we see white rice appearing on the dinner plates of many paleo advocates, like myself?
Unlike brown rice, and I will explain this in more detail in just a second, white rice is actually the most benign grain of all. And although it lacks nutrients and is high in carbohydrates, it is a very accessible, affordable and convenient food. It can be safely eaten in small amounts in the context of other nutrient dense foods such as healthy fats, protein and vegetables, and when eaten by lean and active individuals.
What about those carbs?
Yes, we still have to deal with the high glycemic index of the rice but that also varies between different types. Therefore it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons of including the rice in your diet. Yes, it’s easy to digest, it doesn’t contain any fructose so it’s good for those with fructose malabsorption issues, and it’s cheap and easy to prepare. This doesn’t give everyone the green light to eat it.
If you’re overweight, suffer from elevated blood sugar levels, have diabetes or trying to restore your metabolism, you should probably avoid white rice. But if you’re pretty active with healthy metabolism and stable blood sugar levels, and you’re looking for a safe starch or an extra source of simple carbohydrates to restore glycogen levels post workout, then white rice is definitely something you can tinker with.
Here are my tips for including white rice in a paleo plan:
- Consider your goals and current health when deciding to include white rice in your diet. Ask yourself these questions. Do I have a healthy metabolism? Am I trying to lose weight? Am I lean and active? Then work out if you should eat rice AND how much.
- Pre-soak the rice in some salted water for at least 2 hours before cooking (4-6 is ideal), rinse well under cold water and then cook as usual. This will help to remove any remaining toxins.
- Use rice as a carrier for nutrient dense foods rather than the main portion of your meal. For example, it can be a vehicle for healthy oily fish in sushi, you can serve rice noodles cooked in nutritious bone broth with beef and vegetables like in a Vietnamese Pho, or it can be stir-fried with prawns and lots of crunchy veggies or served as a little side with turmeric and coconut oil.
- Consider what oil the rice is cooked in when eating out and maybe avoid fried rice and opt for steamed instead.
- Add protein, vegetables and fat to rice to reduce the glycemic index of the overall meal.
- Some people can be allergic to rice so obviously it should be avoided.
- Wild rice, although more nutritious then white rice, is more similar to brown rice and would need to be soaked, sprouted or fermented, and cooked to partially break down some of the present anti-nutrients.
- Different varieties of rice have varying glycemic index. Basmati rice is considered to have the lower GI (43-65), compared to other types.
- My favourite ways to enjoy rice – with oily fish (sushi, kedgeree, fish rice cakes), broth soups with rice noodles, rice paper rolls.