Rice-Based Diets


Rice is the most important cereal crop for human consumption. It is the staple food for over 3 billion people, most of them economically challenged, constituting almost half of the world's population.


All of the world's great civilizations developed only after the domestication of various cereal grains, which provided an adequate food supply for large populations. These have included corn in the Americas, wheat in the Near East and southern Europe (Greece and Rome), and rice in China and India. The use of rice spread rapidly from China, India, and Africa, and in the 21st century, it is used as a principal food throughout the world. After the discovery of the Americas, the use of rice took hold in both continents. The national dish of Belize in Central America, for example, is composed of rice and beans. Hundreds of rice recipes have been created, with each ethnic cuisine having developed individual recipes. Almost all cookbooks have rice recipes, including recipes for risottos and pilafs. Vegetarians, in particular, cherish rice because it is such an excellent food and can be prepared in so many different and appetizing ways, both savory and sweet. Rice, delicious in itself, readily takes on any flavor that is added to it. Long-grain rice, when cooked, becomes separate and fluffy, whereas medium-grain rice is somewhat chewier. Short-grain rice tends to clump together and remains sticky with its starchy sauce. Arborio is an example of a short-grained rice. Wehani rice has a nutty flavor. Basmati rice (aromatic) is very popular, as is jasmine rice.


Rice is the only subsistence crop grown in soil that is poorly drained. It also requires no nitrogen fertilizer because soil microbes in the rice roots fix to nitrogen and promote rice growth. Rice adapts itself to both wetlands and dry soil conditions.

Nutritional properties

Rice (117 kcal/100g boiled) is a high-carbohydrate food with 85% of the energy it provides coming from carbohydrate, 7% from fat, and 8% from protein. Rice has a considerable amount of protein, with an excellent spectrum of amino acids. The protein quality of rice (66%) is higher than that of whole wheat (53%) or corn (49%). Of the small amount of fat in brown rice, much is polyunsaturated. White rice is extremely low in fat content.

A cup of cooked rice has approximately 5 grams of protein, which is sufficient for growth and maintenance, provided that a person receives adequate calories to maintain body weight or to increase it, if full growth has not yet occurred. Asiatic children for whom rice is the chief food source have not developed protein deficiency disorders such as kwashiorkor, as have infants that are fed corn or cassava as a chief staple after weaning. Growth and development are normal on a rice diet. Due to its easy digestibility, rice is a good transition food after the cessation of breast or formula feeding.

Nutritional composition of one cup of cooked rice

Brown rice

White rice




Protein (g)



Carbohydrate (g)






Fat (g)



Polyunsaturated fatty acids (g)



Cholesterol (mg)



Thiamin (mg)*



Niacin (mg)



Vitamin B6 (mg)



Folate (mcg)



Based on long-grain cooked rice

g = grams

mg = milligrams

mcg = micrograms

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. “National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.” http://ndb.nal.usda.gov (accessed April 2, 2018).

Colored scanning electron micrograph of five different types of rice grain. The types from left to right are: Italian risotto rice, natural rice, wild rice, partly boiled (parboiled) rice, and milk rice.

Colored scanning electron micrograph of five different types of rice grain. The types from left to right are: Italian risotto rice, natural rice, wild rice, partly boiled (parboiled) rice, and milk rice.
(Eye of Science/Science Source)
Rice and thiamin deficiency

In Asiatic populations, rice has been, and still is, a main source of nutrition. Thiamin, or vitamin B1, is contained in the outer husk and coating of the rice kernel. When the technology for polishing rice became available, people took to eating white rice in preference to brown rice, but that process removed thiamin, causing beriberi, or thiamin deficiency, in many people, as well as heart and nerve diseases.

Dutch physicians in Java and Japanese physicians particularly noted the occurrence of beriberi with edema, heart failure, neuropathy, and many deaths. Thiamin, of course, was an unknown substance at that time. The history of rice is of interest in illustrating how the technology to make a food more appetizing (e.g., white rice versus brown rice) led to an epidemic of a new disease for those populations whose food intake was largely based upon rice. Studies by physicians in Japan and in Indonesia led to a cure for beriberi that included a more varied diet, plus the use of rice husks and the outer coatings of rice, which contained thiamin.

In the twenty-first century, much of the rice consumed is either enriched with thiamin or parboiled, which leads to retention of thiamin in the matrix of the white rice kernel. Beriberi, a disease from the consumption of white rice, is now rare if the rice is parboiled or enriched, although some varieties of polished white rice may not be enriched with thiamin. Thus, when thiamin intake from other food sources is limited, thiamin deficiency could still occur. In the United States, thiamin deficiency typically occurs in chronic alcoholics.


Rice is a staple, carbohydrate-rich food that is acceptable across many populations and regions globally.


A metal element naturally found in water, air, and soil, and absorbed by some growing crops. It is sometimes called a contaminant as it is not intentionally added to foods.
An orange-red plant pigment found in carrots and other plants that the body can convert to Vitamin A.
The complete set of genes or genetic material in a cell or organism.
Golden Rice—
A variety of rice produced through genetic engineering to contain beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor. Golden Rice could be used as a vehicle for delivering vitamin A in areas of the world where vitamin A deficiency is common.
Inorganic arsenic—
A form of arsenic believed to be detrimental to health, particularly a cancer risk.

The other therapeutic role of rice is in the treatment of allergies. Rice seems to be nonallergenic, and rice milk has been fed to infants allergic to cow's milk. Rice proteins have also been incorporated into standard infant formulas.


All types of rice can be consumed as part of healthy, balanced diet, with brown rice typically recommended over white due to its fiber content and slower release of glucose into the bloodstream. The traditional rice-based diet from the 1940s was a very low calorie diet of approximately 800–1200 kilocalories per day. As with any low calorie diet, supervision by a suitably qualified health professional is required to ensure adequacy of diet. Some evidence has shown that individuals who have high dietary intakes of white rice may have a higher risk of certain diseases such as metabolic syndrome; however, there is no global consensus on this. Most experts suggest opting for brown rice where possible, and that individuals with type 1 diabetes should monitor their blood glucose levels carefully after eating rice, as with any carbohydrate-containing food.


Along with water and other foods such as fruit and vegetables, rice can contain the heavy metal arsenic. Arsenic is present in an inorganic form which is deemed more deleterious to health. This arsenic can accumulate in higher levels in rice than other crops although the actual amounts present will depend on type of rice along with the growing, processing and cooking conditions. Assessments by U.S. government scientists have concluded that rice is safe for all population groups, including infants and young children, who have higher intakes of arsenic relative to their body size than older children and adults. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that infants and young children can continue to eat iron-fortified rice-based cereals, but other fortified infant grains should be included such as oats, barley, or multi-grains. On a practical level, cooking rice in excess water (6–10 parts water to 1 part rice) and draining excess water can reduce arsenic levels somewhat.

Research and general acceptance




Chang, Te-Tzu. “Rice.” In The Cambridge World History of Food, edited by Kenneth F. Kiple, 1: 132–49. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Committee on Amino Acids Food and Nutrition Board National Research Council. Improvement of Protein Nutriture. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1974.

Manickavasagan, Annamalai, Chandini Santhakumar, N. Venkatachalapathy, et al. Brown Rice. Springer International, 2017.


Beyer, Peter, Salim Al-Babili, Xudong Ye, et al. “Golden Rice: Introducing the B Carotene Biosynthesis Pathway into Rice Endosperm by Genetic Engineering to Defeat Vitamin A Deficiency.” Journal of Nutrition 132, no. 3 (March 2002): 506S–10S.

De-Regil, Luz Maria, Arnaud Laillou, Regina Moench-Pfanner, et al. “Considerations for Rice Fortification in Public Health: Conclusions of a Technical Consultation.” Annals of New York Academy of Science 1324 (2014): 1–6.

Dubock A. “An Overview of Agriculture, Nutrition And Fortification, Supplementation and Biofortification: Golden Rice as an Example for Enhancing Micronutrient Intake.” Agriculture and Food Security 6 (2017): 59.

Hu, E.A., et al. “White Rice Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Meta-Analysis and Systematic Review.” BMJ 344 (March 15, 2012): e1454.

Muraki I., H. Wu, F. Imamura, et al. “Rice Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Results from a Pooled Analysis of 3 U.S. Cohorts.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 101, 1 (2015): 162–67.


Golden Rice Project. “The Science of Golden Rice” Golden Rice Humanitarian Board. http://www.goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how1_sci.php (accessed May 24, 2018).

MedlinePlus. “Diets.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/diets.html (accessed May 24, 2018).

U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Food and Nutrition.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.usda.gov/topics/food-and-nutrition (accessed May 24, 2018).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. December 2015. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/ (accessed May 1, 2018).


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 S. Riverside Plaza, Ste. 2190, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600, amacmunn@eatright.org, http://www.eatright.org .

American Society for Nutrition, 9211 Corporate Blvd., Ste. 300, Rockville, MD, 20850, (240) 428-3650, Fax: (240) 404-6797, http://www.nutrition.org .

British Nutrition Foundation, New Derwent House, 69-73 Theobalds Rd., London, WC1X 8TA, +44 20 7557-7930, postbox@nutrition.org.uk, http://www.nutrition.org.uk .

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, 5001 Campus Dr., HFS-009, College Park, MD, 20740-3835, (888) 723-3366, https://www.fda.gov .

Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 3101 Park Center Dr., 10th Fl., Alexandria, VA 22302, (202) 720-2791, support@cnpp.usda.gov, http://www.cnpp.usda.gov .

William E. Connor
Revised by Sonja L. Connor
Revised by Anne P. Nugent, PhD RNutr

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.