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11 Healthy Alternatives to Rice

Health + Wellness
Lara Hata / iStock / Getty Images

By SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD

Rice is a staple in many people's diets. It's filling, inexpensive, and a great mild-tasting addition to flavorful dishes.


However, rice — white rice in particular — may not be appropriate for everyone's dietary needs. For instance, people who are trying to eat fewer carbs or calories may want a lighter alternative like riced cauliflower.

In addition, swapping out rice for alternative healthy choices, such as other whole grains, can add variety to your diet.

Here are 11 healthy alternatives to rice.

1. Quinoa


While it assumes a grain-like taste and texture after cooking, quinoa is a seed. This popular rice substitute is gluten-free and much higher in protein than rice.

In fact, a 1/2-cup (92-gram) serving of cooked quinoa provides 4 grams of protein — double the amount found in the same serving of white rice (1, 2).

Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body needs. This makes it a great protein source for vegetarians (3Trusted Source).

It's also a good source of the vital minerals magnesium and copper, which play important roles in energy metabolism and bone health (4Trusted Source).

To cook it, combine one part dried quinoa with two parts water and bring it to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat, allowing it to simmer until all the water is absorbed. Remove the cooked quinoa from the heat and let it rest for 5 minutes, then fluff it with a fork.

If you're gluten-sensitive, only purchase quinoa that is certified gluten-free due to the risk of cross-contamination.

2. Riced Cauliflower

Riced cauliflower is an excellent low-carb and low-calorie alternative to rice. It has a mild flavor, as well as a texture and appearance similar to that of cooked rice, with only a fraction of the calories and carbs.

This makes it a popular rice alternative for people on low-carb diets like keto.

A 1/2-cup (57-gram) serving of riced cauliflower has only 13 calories, compared with 100 calories for the same serving of white rice (2, 5).

To make riced cauliflower, chop a head of cauliflower into several pieces and grate them using a box grater, or finely chop them using a food processor. The riced cauliflower can be cooked over medium heat with a small amount of oil until tender and slightly browned.

You can also purchase premade riced cauliflower in the freezer section of most grocery stores.

3. Riced Broccoli


Like riced cauliflower, riced broccoli is a smart rice alternative for people on low-carb or low-calorie diets.

It's similar in nutrient content to riced cauliflower, with 1/2 cup (57 grams) packing about 15 calories and 2 grams of fiber (6).

Riced broccoli is also an excellent source of vitamin C, with 1/2 cup (57 grams) providing over 25% of your Daily Value (DV). Vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant that can help prevent cellular damage and boost immune health (6, 7Trusted Source).

Like riced cauliflower, riced broccoli can be prepared by grating broccoli with a box grater or chopping it in a food processor, then cooking it over medium heat with a bit of oil. Some grocery stores also sell riced broccoli in the freezer section.

4. Shirataki Rice


Shirataki rice is another popular rice alternative for low-carb and low-calorie dieters.

It's made from konjac root, which is native to Asia and rich in a unique fiber called glucomannan.

According to the product packaging, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of shirataki rice does not contain any calories (8).

However, when a food provides fewer than 5 calories per serving, the manufacturer can legally state that it has zero calories, which explains why a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of shirataki rice appears to be calorie-free (9).

Glucomannan, the primary fiber in konjac root, is being studied for many potential health benefits, including its ability to form a protective barrier along the lining of your intestines (10Trusted Source).

Still, you would need to eat a large amount of shirataki rice to consume a significant amount of glucomannan.

To prepare shirataki rice, rinse it well in water, boil it for 1 minute, and then heat the rice in a pan over medium heat until dry. Rinsing shirataki rice before cooking helps reduce its unique odor.

If you can't find shirataki rice locally, shop for it online.

5. Barley


Barley
is a grain that's closely related to wheat and rye. It looks similar to oats and has a chewy texture and earthy taste.

With about 100 calories, a 1/2-cup (81-gram) serving of cooked barley provides about the same number of calories as an equal serving of white rice. Yet, it contains a bit more protein and fiber (2, 11).

In addition, barley packs a variety of nutrients. A 1/2 cup (81 grams) provides over 10% of the DV for niacin, zinc, and selenium (11).

To cook barley, bring one part hulled barley and four parts water to a boil, then reduce it to medium heat and cook it until the barley is soft, or about 25–30 minutes. Drain the excess water prior to serving.

6. Whole-Wheat Couscous

Couscous is a type of pasta that's widely used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. It's made of very small pearls of flour.

Whole-wheat couscous is a healthier option than regular varieties, as it's richer in fiber and protein.

Couscous pearls are much smaller than grains of rice, so they add a unique texture to the foods they're served with.

To make couscous, combine one part couscous and one part water, and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove it from heat and allow the couscous to sit covered for 5 minutes. Fluff it with a fork before serving.

If your local supermarket doesn't offer whole-wheat varieties, you can find one online.

7. Chopped Cabbage


Chopped cabbage is another excellent alternative to rice. Cabbage is low in calories and carbs with a mild flavor that compliments many styles of cuisine.

It's an excellent source of vitamins C and K, with a 1/2-cup (75-gram) serving providing 31% and 68% of the DV, respectively (12).

Vitamin K helps regulate blood clotting and circulation. It also plays an important role in bone health (13Trusted Source).

To cook chopped cabbage, finely chop a cabbage by hand or using a food processor. Then cook it with a small amount of oil over medium heat until it's tender.

8. Whole-Wheat Orzo

Orzo is a type of pasta that's similar to rice in shape, size, and texture.

Whole-wheat orzo packs more fiber and protein than regular orzo, which makes it the healthier choice.

Still, it's fairly high in calories, providing about 50% more calories than an equal serving of white rice. Therefore, be sure to choose a portion size that is appropriate for your health goals (2, 14).

Whole-wheat orzo is a great source of fiber, which can help improve digestion by bulking up and softening your stool, as well as serving as a food source for your healthy gut bacteria (15Trusted Source, 16).

To prepare orzo, boil the pasta in water over medium heat until it reaches the tenderness you desire and drain it before serving.

You can shop for whole-wheat orzo locally, though it may be easier to find online.

9. Farro

Farro is a whole-grain wheat product that can be used similarly to rice, though it's much nuttier in flavor and has a chewy texture. It's similar to barley but has larger grains.

Farro contains a hefty dose of protein and — like quinoa — is another excellent plant-based source of this important nutrient (17).

To ensure you're getting all nine essential amino acids, pair farro with legumes, such as chickpeas or black beans.

To prepare it, bring one part dried farro and three parts water to a low boil and cook it until the farro is tender.

If your supermarket doesn't have farro in stock, try shopping for it online.

10. Freekeh

Freekeh — like barley and farro — is a whole grain. It comes from wheat grains that are harvested while they're still green.

It's rich in protein and fiber, with a 1/4-cup (40-gram) dried serving providing 8 and 4 grams of these important nutrients, respectively.

What's more, the same serving packs 8% of the DV for iron, which is needed to create healthy red blood cells (18, 19Trusted Source).

Freekeh is cooked by bringing it to a boil with two parts water, then reducing the heat to medium and allowing the grain to simmer until it's tender.

You can shop for freekeh locally or online.

11. Bulgur Wheat

Bulgur wheat is another whole-wheat substitute for rice.

It's similar in size and appearance to couscous, but whereas couscous is pasta made from wheat flour, bulgur wheat is small, cracked pieces of whole-wheat grains.

It's commonly used in tabbouleh, a Mediterranean salad dish that also features tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh herbs.

With the exception of the vegetable-based alternatives on this list, bulgur wheat is the lowest in calories. It contains 76 calories in 1/2 cup (91 grams), about 25% fewer calories than an equal serving of white rice (2, 20).

It's a great rice alternative for those who are trying to cut calories but still want the familiar texture and flavor of a grain.

Bulgur wheat is cooked by boiling one part bulgur wheat and two parts water, then reducing the heat to medium and allowing the bulgur to cook until tender. Before serving, drain the excess water and fluff the cooked bulgur with a fork.

If you can't find bulgur wheat at your local supermarket, shopping online may be a convenient option.

The Bottom Line

There are many alternatives to rice that can help you meet your personal health goals or simply add variety to your diet.

Quinoa is a great gluten-free, high-protein option.

Vegetables, such as riced cauliflower, riced broccoli, and chopped cabbage, are low-calorie and low-carb alternatives packed with nutrients.

Plus, many whole-grain options, including bulgur, freekeh, and barley, can add a nutty, earthy taste and chewy texture to your dishes.

Next time you want to put rice aside and swap in something different, try one of the nutritious and diverse alternatives above.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.