Are Rice Cakes Healthy?

In general, rice cakes are a healthy snack, especially when paired with avocado, fruit, or peanut butter.

Rice cakes are a popular snack—especially for those looking to maintain a healthy weight—because they can be low in calories and carbohydrates. Why? Because a rice cake is composed of puffed rice pressed together to form a patty. 

But are those crunchy snacks good for your health? Here's a primer on the nutritional content, benefits, and drawbacks of rice cakes and how to eat them healthfully.

Nutrients in Rice Cakes

The nutrient content will vary depending on the type of rice cake you buy. For example, you can find rice cakes in various flavors like chocolate, white cheddar, apple cinnamon, and caramel corn. Those flavors contain additional ingredients that bump up their sugar or sodium content.

Still, in many grocery stores, you can find brown rice cakes made with whole grains and without added ingredients.

The Department of Agriculture lists the nutrients in one small, plain brown rice cake (which is about nine grams):

  • Calories: 34.8
  • Sodium: 2.3 mg
  • Fat: 0.3 grams (g)
  • Protein: 0.7 g
  • Carbohydrates: 7.3 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0.4 g
  • Manganese: 17% daily value (DV)
  • Niacin: 4% DV
  • Magnesium: 3% DV
  • Zinc: 2% DV

One of the standout nutrients in rice cakes is manganese. Manganese is a mineral that supports immune function, collagen production, and strong bones. 

Rice cakes also provide small amounts of niacin, a B vitamin. Niacin helps convert food into fuel for the body to use, per the Office of Dietary Supplements. Rice cakes also have trace amounts of other minerals, including magnesium and zinc.

Because portion sizes vary, it's essential to check the nutrition facts label for the specific brand of rice cakes you purchase. For instance, one lightly salted brown rice cake may be about 18.5 grams. And its nutrient content is similar to that of a standard slice of bread.

Potential Health Benefits of Rice Cakes

Because there's so much variation in the composition and size of rice cakes, the best answer to whether they're healthy is: It depends.

Generally, it's best to avoid flavored rice cakes containing high amounts of sugar, sodium, and other artificial ingredients. 

It would be best if you also skipped those made from white rice. White rice is a refined grain stripped of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. 

On the other hand, plain rice cakes, made simply from puffed brown rice, offer some health perks.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds in foods that protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are harmful substances that promote premature aging and may increase the risk of chronic diseases, per the National Library of Medicine.

A 2018 review published in the journal Antioxidants found that brown rice contains various phenolic compounds, a group of antioxidants also found in tea and citrus fruits. Phenolic compounds protect cells from damage linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease.

Blood Sugar Regulation

A study published in 2020 in the journal Diabetes Care suggests that whole grains like brown rice may control post-meal blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Those whole grains may even help prevent type 2 diabetes.

The reason? Whole grains contain high amounts of fiber. The body cannot break down and absorb fiber for energy, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Therefore, fiber doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar like its refined counterparts.

Plus, fiber from whole grains feeds the good bacteria in our gut, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Some good bacteria have been linked to diabetes and obesity prevention.

Weight Management

Rice cakes can help you maintain a healthy weight if you use them to replace high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods in your diet. 

For example, swapping one plain bagel with two organic brown rice cakes can cut out 130 calories and 21 grams of carbohydrates. Making that switch three times per week could result in nearly six pounds of weight loss over a year.

Easy To Digest

Rice, including plain brown rice cakes, is easy to digest as it's a low-FODMAP food. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols—all of which are sugars. 

The body absorbs FODMAPs poorly during digestion. And for some people, FODMAPS can result in bloating, pain, cramps, and gas, per one study published in 2017 in the journal Nutrients

Additionally, since brown rice is naturally gluten-free, plain brown rice cakes are an excellent option for people who cannot eat gluten.

Rice Cake Snack Ideas

A plain brown rice cake, such as one by the brand Lundberg, is available at major grocery stores. Plain brown rice cakes are typically healthier than flavored high-calorie rice cakes. 

Plain brown rice cakes don't have a strong flavor. But you may find a slightly nutty taste that lends itself to both savory and sweet accompaniments like:

  • Mashed avocado sprinkled with sprouted pumpkin seeds
  • Hummus topped with veggies, like baby spinach, sliced tomato, and cucumber
  • Olive tapenade
  • Vegan pesto
  • Nut-based cheese, like vegan ricotta, garnished with pepper, sliced tomatoes, and basil
  • Chocolate hummus topped with sliced berries
  • Almond or cashew butter topped with banana slices and dusted with cinnamon
  • Melted dark chocolate topped with pomegranate arils, or sliced figs
  • Peanut butter or sunflower seed butter dotted with raspberry preserves
  • Coconut butter topped with chopped walnuts and dark chocolate shavings

A Quick Review

So, are rice cakes healthy? Well, it depends. There are wide varieties of rice cakes available at your local grocery store. And a lot of them contain added sugars and high amounts of carbohydrates. 

But if you opt for a plain brown rice cake, you may find several health benefits. Those rice cakes pack antioxidants that protect against free radical damage, regulate blood sugar, and are easy to digest. Plain brown rice cakes can also help manage weight and are great gluten-free options for delicious snacks. 

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