If you're working toward a weight loss goal, is white rice something you should INCLUDE or REMOVE? Does it even matter if you eat white rice?
Today, I'm breaking down the details on what happens when we eat white rice, how it affects the hormones related to weight loss and what research is telling us on the subject so that you can achieve your wellness dreams!
But First, What Happens When You Eat White Rice?
White rice is a very high glycemic food item. This means that the blood glucose will rapidly rise (and subsequently fall) after eating a meal containing white rice. Considering white rice is a refined grain product that is stripped of fiber and many of the original nutrients, this makes sense. But when we have this rapid spike of blood glucose levels, this causes the body to secrete the hormone insulin. One of insulin's main jobs is to shift the body into storing mode and shut off the process called lipolysis, aka fat burning.
Considering with weight loss we want to turn ON fat burning, eating meals that contain high glycemic foods, such as white rice, may actively be working against your goals by quickly elevating the storing hormone insulin.
Anecdotally, I have seen with AENpeeps and clients of mine that by replacing white rice with a lower glycemic food option, weight loss tends to occur at an easier/faster pace. This is likely due to the triggering of lipolysis (fat burning) because of the lower insulin response.
So what does the research have to say?
The Research Is... Conflicting
A recent 2019 observational study found that high white rice consumption (when compared to brown rice consumption) was significantly associated with increased body weight of around 3kg after 1 year.(1) This study compared white rice vs. brown/multi-grain rice and was an observational study, not an experimental study. However, the results are as expected when we look at the physiological response to white rice, as described above.
It's important to note that there is a HUGE difference between observational studies and experimental studies. Observational studies can NOT determine a cause and effect relationship. It can only guide us to future research. Observational studies follow populations and try and find associations between multiple variables (in this case, white rice consumption and weight gain/loss). But it doesn't actually test a variable and therefore can't tell us if there is a cause and effect relationship.
This is why it's easy to find a variety of different end results, "proving" conflicting ideas, with observational studies. For example, one observational study found NO difference in weight for those who had more white rice vs. less.(2)
Experimental studies, on the other hand, implement a variable/"treatment", typically in a controlled setting. This means that we can associate more of a cause and effect relationship with these types of studies. For example, one small experimental study of high glycemic vs. low and medium glycemic foods found that those who ate a high glycemic meal ended up consuming around 83% more at their next meal vs. those who ate a low glycemic meal.(3) As white rice (and brown rice, for that matter) is a very high glycemic food item, experimental studies, such as these, are important to take note of.
With this in mind, whether you're looking to lose 10 pounds or more, taking a look at your white rice consumption and swapping it for a lower glycemic alternative may be a good idea to trigger lipolysis (fat burning).
Some Of My Favorite Rice Alternatives
Consuming a diet that contains lower glycemic foods can be helpful for achieving a weight loss goal through a variety of mechanisms: improved satiety and reduced insulin response, to name a few. This is also one of the cornerstones to the AEN Nutrient Timing in the Complete Intermittent Fasting Bundle protocols and recipes. Non-starchy and high fiber veggies (and fruits, for that matter!) are great resources to help stabilize blood glucose levels and replace the refined/starchy vegetables/grains (like white rice!) that spike insulin. This doesn't mean that you can never have white rice again. But depending on where you're at with your goals, you may want to incorporate it as a "treat meal" item.
Here are some of my favorites as well as ideas for how you can use them:
One of my personal favorites! Cauliflower is incredibly low on both the glycemic index and glycemic load scales. It's also extremely versatile in recipes and can take on essentially any flavor! I love using fresh or frozen cauliflower "rice" (riced cauliflower) as the base to my burrito bowls or in my Asparagus Cauliflower Risotto recipe from my ANK cookbook.
Aka Zoodles! One medium sized zucchini is very low on the glycemic index and glycemic load scale, making it a great option to use as the base to meals while working toward a weight loss goal. I like to make zucchini "noodles" using a "spiralizer" like THIS one.
I recently used kelp noodles in the Big Green Wok recipe in the ANK Cookbook. This was a great add-on to lightly sauté into the recipe. Kelp noodles won't provide much in terms of nutrition, but it does provide a small amount of fiber and calcium without the insulin producing starches or sugars.
This is a fantastic, low starch option that can replace white rice as the "base" to many meals. The obvious first choice is using it to make "spaghetti" and meatballs.
Although sweet potato contains starches at a higher level than the previously listed foods, it's still significantly lower than white rice. Sweet potato contains 1/3 less net carbohydrates when compared to an equivalent amount of cooked white rice. White rice also contains 3x the number of starches as sweet potato. Sweet potato also ranks lower than white rice on the glycemic index. As mentioned, it still contains starches that can raise insulin levels, however it's a much better option when compared to white rice. I love baking sweet potatoes into "fries" to pair with burgers (sans bun, of course!)
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Autumn Elle Nutrition