Gluten is a type of protein that is present in some but not all grains. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten in their diet. Others may avoid it as a lifestyle choice.
Gluten is present in barley, wheat, rye, and triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye. Gluten helps foods, such as bread, pasta, and cereal, keep their shape by acting as a sort of “glue.”
Not all grains contain gluten, however, and people with celiac disease can eat these grains without adverse effects. Is rice one of them? We find out.
What is gluten? Learn about it here.
Rice is a grain, but, unlike many grains, it is gluten free.
All rice is naturally gluten free, whether it is white, brown, black, or so-called wild rice.
Even glutinous rice is gluten free, despite the name. The term “glutinous” describes the sticky nature of the rice. It does not refer to gluten.
In many gluten free products, manufacturers use rice instead of wheat. However, while all rice in its natural form is gluten free, that does not mean that all rice and rice based products are gluten free.
If in doubt, people should check the label on the packaging or contact the manufacturer for more information.
What happens when a person has celiac disease? Find out here.
Rice can sometimes come into contact with barley, wheat, or rye in the growing, harvesting, or manufacturing process. This is called cross contact. It is different from cross contamination, which is a common factor in foodborne illness.
Cross contact of rice and gluten can also occur at home. It can happen when people use the same utensils and cooking areas for preparing both gluten free foods and foods containing gluten.
People should be wary of items they find in a kitchen, including:
- shared containers
Wheat flour can also stay airborne for many hours and contaminate surfaces, utensils, and uncovered foods. Thorough cleaning usually prevents cross contact.
Cross contact can also happen when bakeries sell gluten free foods alongside other goods, and when people put gluten free goods in bulk bins at grocery stores.
If a person has celiac disease, and they cannot confirm the ingredients in a food item, it is best to avoid eating that food.
For people with gluten-related disorders, cutting out foods that contain gluten from their diet is the only known way to prevent damage to the lining of the intestines and other associated symptoms.
Rice based products
Just because manufacturers advertise a rice based product as “rice” does not mean that it is gluten free. Rice based products often contain spices, sauces, and other ingredients that may contain gluten.
Flavored rice often contains a wheat based thickener called hydrolyzed wheat protein. It may also contain flavor enhancers, such as soy sauce, that is not usually gluten free.
Sometimes a manufacturer will use tamari to enhance flavor instead. This does not usually contain gluten, but people would be wise to always read labels before they consume a food product.
People sometimes make rice pilaf with orzo, but this is not gluten free.
People with gluten-related disorders should only eat rice based products that carry the label “gluten free.” They should avoid products with the label “contains wheat” or a label that lists any ingredients that contain gluten.
People should also avoid grain based products and items that a manufacturer has made using the same equipment as products containing wheat or gluten. Just because a product is “wheat free” does not mean that it is gluten free.
Starchy foods are a significant source of carbohydrates for many people and play an important part in a healthful diet.
A person who follows a gluten free diet may bulk up with rice and rice based products. If too much of their diet focuses on white rice, however, they may miss out on important nutrients.
Cutting out wheat and other whole grains can lead to low levels of:
People who remove gluten from their diet should plan carefully to ensure they consume a range of nutrients. Healthful foods on a gluten free diet include legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Arsenic in rice
There are two types of arsenic. The first type, organic arsenic, is relatively nontoxic. However, the second type, called inorganic arsenic, is more toxic.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), rice tends to accumulate more arsenic than other food crops. In fact, it may be the largest food source of inorganic arsenic.
Many people consume very small amounts of arsenic in their diet, and arsenic does not often cause symptoms of poisoning. However, long term consumption of inorganic arsenic may increase the risk of various chronic diseases.
- blockage or narrowing of blood vessels
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- cancer in various forms
As arsenic is toxic to nerve cells, it may affect brain function. In children and teenagers, exposure to arsenic may affect concentration, learning, memory, and social skills.
Arsenic may cause health problems in anyone who eats significant amounts of rice and rice based products on a daily basis. However, going gluten free does not mean that a person has to eat mainly rice.
People can include many different foods in their diet to ensure they take in a variety of nutrients. By doing so, they can also avoid the risk of consuming too much of any hazardous substance, such as arsenic.
Rice mostly consists of carbohydrate with a small amount of protein and almost no fat.
Brown or whole grain rice is a good source of fiber and contains many vitamins and minerals in the bran and germ. It may also be a good source of the antioxidants phytic acid, ferulic acid, and lignans.
A quarter-cup of uncooked, whole grain, brown rice, weighing 42 grams (g) can provide approximately:
- 150 calories (kcal)
- 32 g of carbohydrate
- 3 g of protein
- 1 g of fiber
- 1.5 milligrams (mg) of iron
- 100 mg of potassium
- 2 mg of niacin (vitamin B-3)
Eating brown rice and other whole grains may have a beneficial effect on heart health. People consider brown rice a low glycemic food, and when eaten in moderation may help control blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes.
Brown rice may also help regulate bowel function and may help prevent various types of cancer.
Manufacturers mill brown rice to make white rice. This processing removes the bran and the germ of the brown rice, which they do to increase its shelf life.
Some people prefer the texture and taste of white rice. However, milling removes valuable nutrients, such as dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, iron, and other nutrients.
A quarter-cup of uncooked, white rice weighing 45 g will provide approximately:
- 155 kcal
- 35 g of carbohydrate
- 0.4 mg of iron
It does not provide any fiber or B vitamins.
White rice, similarly to other processed foods, may cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This can make it hard for people with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels.
Apart from providing basic nutrients and energy, white rice has no real benefit to health.
Enriched white rice, on the other hand, has a variety of nutrients that the processing adds. It can be a healthful option for a person who only likes white rice, although it will contain less fiber than brown rice.
Find out more about how brown rice compares with white rice.
Despite being called rice, wild rice comes from four species of grass. It contains more protein, minerals, and dietary fiber than white rice.
A quarter-cup of wild rice weighing 45 g can provide:
- 160 kcal
- 34 g of carbohydrate
- 7 g of protein
- 0 g of fat
- 3 g of dietary fiber
- 0.7 mg of iron
Wild rice may have health benefits that include:
- helping to protect heart health
- aiding digestive processes
- boosting the immune system with vitamin C
- lowering the chances of certain conditions, such as cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and some cancers
Black or purple rice may also offer health benefits and can make a change from brown or white rice. Find out about purple rice here.
Rice is not the only gluten free source of grain.
There are many gluten free grains, starches, and other foods that people can eat as part of a healthful and balanced diet.
- buckwheat groats
- nut flours
- gluten free oats
Some of these are on sale at grocery stores, but some are only available at health food stores.
Gluten containing grains to avoid
The following grains and their derivatives contain gluten. People with gluten-related disorders should avoid these particular grains.
- brewer’s yeast
- einkorn wheat
- KAMUT khorasan wheat
Wheat starch contains gluten, but some manufacturers remove gluten when they process wheat starch.
According to the FDA, manufacturers may only use the label “gluten free” on a food containing wheat starch if it has below 20 parts per million of gluten.
All forms of natural rice are gluten free, and some rice based products are also gluten free.
The nutritional value of all types of rice will depend to some extent on the processing. People should check the label to find out what nutrients their rice contains and choose a suitable option that provides a range of vitamins and minerals, as well as carbohydrates.
They should also check the label to ensure the food is gluten free and has not come into contact with foods that contain gluten.
Rice can be a healthful option, but anyone on a gluten free diet should eat a variety of grains and high fiber carbohydrates, rather than just rice. This will help ensure that their diet provides a balance of nutrients.
If I buy rice off the grocery store shelf, is it likely to really be gluten free? Or do I need to go to a specialist shop to be sure?
Since rice is naturally gluten free, you should not have to go to a specialist store to find it, especially if the rice is unprocessed.
Read labels and contact the manufacturer for additional information if you are concerned.
Also, it is best to buy rice products labeled “gluten free” when possible, and do not purchase rice from bulk bins in the grocery store, as this is a risk for cross contact.
Katherine Marengo LDN, RD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.