Rice makes a cozy, fluffy bed for some of our favorite foods— sushi, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Teriyaki. And there’s a reason it’s a staple in so many cultures: Rice is easy to make, affordable, filling and versatile.
But white rice in particular can be a polarizing topic, according to The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos (RDN, CDN, CFT) and Tammy Lakatos Shames (RDN, CDN, CFT) authors of The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure. While it’s a quick, satisfying side dish, it lacks the nutrition of other whole grains. That's why there's an increasing number of rice alternatives from riced broccoli to cauliflower rice.
Whether you’re looking for a healthier alternative or are just bored of plain white rice, there are a bevy of white rice substitutes to add nutrition and flavor to your meals, while still getting the starchy, sticky feeling of a nice pillow full of rice on your tongue.
Is rice good for you?
White rice isn’t necessarily bad for you, but there are a lot of healthier options out there. Here’s why: “White rice is a refined grain, and it’s been processed and stripped of the nutrient-rich bran and germ,” Lakatos explains. “It doesn’t have fiber or the minerals that are found in brown rice.”
Even when white rice is fortified with nutrients, says Lakatos Shames, it still doesn’t contain the fiber, antioxidants, most of the phytonutrients or protein found in brown rice. And without fiber, white rice spikes blood sugar like other refined grains, she explains. And yes, your blood sugar can spike to concerning levels even if you consider yourself “healthy”.
On the contrary, brown rice is a more nutrient-dense whole grain. Brown rice contains the bran and the germ of the wheat—which means it has fiber, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and even protein, according to The Nutrition Twins.
Why Rice Alternatives Are More Nutritious
Rice can seem almost addictive in its satisfying fluffiness and always has us going in for another scoop to soak up the sauce of a stir-fry or curry even when we’re already full. The trouble is, especially with white rice, that can add a lot of bulk without nutrients. Instead, try filling half your plate with a rice alternative that’s got more fiber, vitamins and minerals like vegetables or a whole grain.
The key is finding a side dish that still keeps you satisfied. If it’s the texture of the rice that’s got you piling it onto your plate like fluffy clouds, try a riced vegetable like cauliflower or broccoli, then your rice alternative can also help up your plant and vegetable intake. If you love the flavor, a whole grain alternative may satisfy your rice craving. Or, try mixing in half cauliflower rice, half traditional white rice to start.
Cheap(ish) Rice Alternatives
A great low-calorie alternative to rice, this cruciferous vegetable is packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients and extra fiber. It also saves a significant amount of calories (25 calories per cup vs. 204 per cup of rice) and carbohydrates (5 grams vs. 45 grams in rice) so choosing riced cauliflower instead of rice on a regular basis can help with weight loss. For those with diabetes who need to watch their carbohydrate intake, cauliflower is a particularly good alternative.
Quinoa is a higher-protein alternative to rice and it’s always whole grain. So if you’re choosing quinoa over white rice you’ll be getting a lot more phytonutrients, protein, fiber and antioxidants, according to Lakatos. It’s also a good source of iron, folate and magnesium. For those who need to avoid gluten, like rice, quinoa is a great choice.
Similar to riced cauliflower in nutrients—½ cup only has 15 calories—riced broccoli packs in 2 grams of fiber. And like cauliflower, broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, which means it’s a superstar when it comes to its antioxidant power and it may even help fight cancer. Cauliflower is easier to find pre-riced but don’t like that deter you. Use the food processor or a box grater to get your broccoli the right size and shape.
Chopped cabbage is another low-calorie alternative to rice and it compliments many different cuisines. It’s a great source of vitamin C to help boost immunity and vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting and circulation. Chop it finely or put it in a food processor and then use a little bit of oil over medium heat to cook until tender.
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