11 Healthy Rice Alternatives + How To Enjoy Them, From Nutritionists
Not only is rice a versatile grain, but it's also a healthy, inexpensive, and accessible source of carbohydrates. Because of its versatility, it can be easy to eat rice with nearly every meal and eventually get sick of it. If that's the case for you, or you're simply trying to limit your carbs, consider one of these 11 rice substitutes:
1. Cauliflower rice
Is there anything cauliflower can't be these days? This cruciferous veggie transforms into mashed potatoes, gnocchi, and, of course, rice. Cauliflower rice is a good alternative for people following the keto diet or trying to keep their blood sugar in balance by limiting their carbohydrate intake. Cauliflower also tends to have higher fiber content than regular rice—particularly white rice.
Quinoa, though it may seem like a grain, is actually a seed. The nutritious rice alternative is gluten-free, high in protein, and contains nutrients like vitamin B, fiber, and various minerals, such as iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium, says registered dietitian Isabel Smith, R.D., CDN.
How to use it: Smith recommends adding quinoa to soups to make them more hearty or to replace rice in stuffed peppers.
3. Kelp noodles
Kelp noodles are, just as they sound, noodles made from kelp—a nutrient-dense, low-calorie sea vegetable, according to registered dietitian nutritionist Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN. These noodles are a gluten-free, low-carb substitute for pasta, rice, or other grains. Kelp also contains healthy amounts of iodine, which functional family medicine doctor Robert Rountree, M.D., says most people are not getting enough of in their daily diets.
4. Shirataki rice
"Shirataki [rice] is made from a low-carb, gluten-free vegetable called konjac (common in Asia)," Davis says. And when she says low-carb, she means it. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 122-gram serving contains only 3 grams of carbs and 10 calories, making shirataki rice a great option for anyone following the keto diet. "Some research indicates that shirataki may help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol," Davis adds.
Amaranth is a gluten-free whole grain, which studies say may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. "It has three times more fiber than wheat and is a good source of plant-based iron, phosphorus, and calcium," registered dietitian Nour Zibdeh, M.S., RDN, once told mbg.
"Couscous is actually a type of pasta that's made from semolina flour that is formed into small balls," says Ginger Hultin, RDN, Seattle-based nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "It's often served in similar ways as rice dishes." While their fiber contents are comparable, couscous contains double the amount of protein as a cup of brown rice.
Teff is an ancient grain native to Ethiopia. According to Davis, it's rich in protein, calcium, and fiber. A study conducted by scientists at Cornell University says teff may also benefit the gut microbiome and serve as a good source of both iron and zinc.
How to use it: Teff can replace rice in rice pilafs, stews, or on its own as a side. It can also be used as a gluten-free flour when making injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread. Executive chef and author Abra Berens likes to eat her homemade injera with curried lentils, red cabbage slaw, and coconut braised carrots.
If you eat rice because it's a gluten-free grain, then farro won't be right for you. Because it's a type of wheat, farro isn't naturally gluten-free, and it's slightly higher in calories than brown rice, Hultin says. "However, it's got much more protein and fiber at 8 grams per cup each, compared to 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber in brown rice," she adds.
Similar to couscous, orzo is a type of pasta. Orzo easily swaps for rice because of their similar shapes and textures—that said, rice is generally the more nutritious option. Orzo is higher in carbohydrates (42 vs, 32 grams per cup), Hultin says. "Brown rice contains more nutrients than orzo, such as potassium and iron, but it's still a fun, versatile product to mix into your routine."
Freekeh is an ancient grain with a nutty taste. "It is rich in fiber, protein, and minerals," functional medicine doctor and registered dietitian Elizabeth Boham, M.D., M.S., R.D., previously told mbg. "This fiber helps us feel full and satiated."
How to use it: Add it to a grain bowl, salad, or soup to make a more substantial, filling meal.
Though a cup of millet contains more carbohydrates and calories than brown rice, Hultin says it's richer and slightly higher in healthy fats and protein. "Bonus: It contains a little calcium, as well, and is quite versatile in cooking if you get creative," she adds.
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