Is Shou-Ching to blame for our rice habit?

I thought I’d interrupt the lipid series to talk about the place of rice in our diet. This is also an opportunity to explain to those who haven’t read the book the logic underlying our diet.

The occasion: Cliff at PaleoHacks questioned our endorsement of white rice:

White rice is touted to be basically pure starch by Paul Jaminet on the basis that Asian people eat it so it must be healthy right?

Not exactly. Cliff goes on to express concern about phytate toxicity and low nutrient density. Rose (in the comments) was concerned about beriberi (thiamin deficiency disease).

There were a lot of great replies, especially Melissa McEwen’s. (Melissa found some statistics on the fraction of phytate destroyed by cooking, and improved Wikipedia’s data on phytic acid content of foods.) I got a laugh out of John Naruwan’s answer (which he intended to be humorous):

My theory on Jaminet’s apparent love of white rice is his Chinese wife. My own wife is Chinese (well, Taiwanese). When I explain that maybe white rice is not so good for optimal health, I get the speech about Chinese people eating rice for thousands of years, blah blah blah. Bottom line: you try telling a Chinese person that rice is anything less than good for you and you happen to be that person’s husband, well, basically you’ll be sleeping on the sofa for a week.

In fact Shou-Ching is as interested in good health as I am. She often makes the point that in traditional Chinese cooking rice was eaten more as a palate cleanser than as a staple calorie source. We like white rice, but if evidence showed it to be unhealthy we’d be equally quick to stop eating it.

And, John – Shou-Ching is so nice, when she gets mad at me she goes out and sleeps on the sofa!

The Logic Behind Our Diet

Although we consider our diet to be a “Paleo” and “Pacific Islander” diet (by the way – read Jamie Scott’s report from Vanuatu if you haven’t already!), we did not construct the diet according to the syllogism, “People (from the Paleolithic, or East Asia, or any other place or time) ate this way, and were healthy, so we should eat that way too.”

Rather, our approach is more reductionist and centered around nutrients and toxins. Our diet aims to simultaneously achieve two ends:

  • Obtain enough of every nutrient to be fully nourished. It shouldn’t be possible to improve health by adding further nutrients.
  • Eat so as to minimize the diet’s toxicity, by eating very little of any one toxin. Since “the dose makes the poison,” tiny quantities of diverse food toxins can be tolerated, but no one toxin should be abundant in the diet.

A third principle is that meals should be tasty and delicious. We believe our innate taste preferences evolved to help us be healthy, and therefore pleasurable meals are healthful meals. (This was our sticking point with Stephan Guyenet’s interpretation of food reward: see Thoughts on Obesity Inspired by Stephan, June 2, 2011.) Apart from healthfulness, however, we consider tastiness of food to be a positive value in its own right. Luckily we believe the most healthful diet is also the tastiest!

The Place of Rice in Our Diet

Any food which is low in toxins can be included in our diet. Low toxicity is the key, because a missing nutrient can be obtained from other foods – or from a multivitamin or supplement. But there are usually no antidotes to a toxic food.

Rice is very low in toxicity. Most rice toxins reside in the bran, so milled white rice is already low in toxins. The great majority of white rice toxins are destroyed in cooking.

As a result, cooked white rice is almost toxin free. Cliff worried about phytic acid, but the amounts in cooked white rice are small – lower than almost all other seeds, nuts, grains, and legumes, and about one-twentieth the level found in such foods as sesame seeds, Brazilnuts, and pinto beans, as Wikipedia (and Melissa) have pointed out.

Phytic acid is also not all that dangerous. It is a mineral chelator, which leads to minerals being excreted rather than absorbed. The primary risk is that it will induce a mineral deficiency. Because phytic acid preferentially binds iron, which can be dangerous, some advocate its supplementation.

We don’t agree with that, but we don’t consider the small amount of phytic acid in rice to be dangerous, especially given that we recommend a mineral-rich diet and supplementation with both a multivitamin and specific key minerals.

Optimize Diet, Not Foods

Nutrient density of an individual food is not an overriding concern. Only the diet needs to be optimized – not individual foods. It’s OK to eat a food that is low in nutrient density if other nutrient-rich foods make up for it.

Our diet derives only about 20% of calories from carbs. Even for rice lovers, rice is unlikely to provide more than half that, or 10% of energy. If rice is half as nutrient dense as alternative “Paleo” starches, it diminishes nutrient intake by only 5%. That’s easy enough to make up by eating more vegetables, liver, and eggs – or by taking a multivitamin.

Many Paleo dieters speak of “cheat” foods, as if it was somehow immoral, or a violation of the diet, to eat them. There are no “cheat foods” on our diet.

For instance, we’ll often eat strawberries with whipped cream sweetened with rice syrup. This is low in nutrients, but also low in toxins. It would not do as the primary food of the day, but as a dessert or snack it is quite healthy.

Glucose is a Nutrient

This is a point many low-carb dieters seem to forget. Macronutrients are nutrients too.

The body needs glucose. Glycoproteins and polysaccharide molecules like glycosaminoglycans are important structural components of the body; certain cell types rely on glucose for energy; and the immune system relies on glucose for generation of reactive oxygen species to kill pathogens.

If no carbs are eaten, the body has to generate glucose from protein. Glucose production may be insufficient or suboptimal. That was the point of our Zero-Carb Dangers series.

Of course, in excess glucose could become a toxin. But the same can be said for protein and polyunsaturated fats. We don’t exclude meat or salmon from the diet because they can be over-eaten. One shouldn’t exclude rice either.


A healthy diet should contain a diversity of foods. This will reduce the diet’s toxicity, improve micronutrient ratios, and increase meal pleasurability.

Rice should not provide a large share of dietary calories – probably not more than 10% – but there is no reason to reject it merely because it is a grain. True, it comes from a bad family. But it’s the good child. Don’t hold its relatives against it.

Leave a comment ?



    Christina Warinner makes some valid points in her Ted-X talk on Paleo diet debunking. Especially interesting is the fact that most of the vegetables we now eat did not even exist in paleo times…they are all the result of thousands of years of agricultural refinements. She doesn’t really address the cereal grains issue or legumes however. And she pokes some holes in the “bone science” that alleges to be able to show what people ate in paleo times. Finally, she notes that humans do not show special adaptations to a carnivorous diet, while they do show adaptations to a plant-based diet. I am trying the Paleo Diet to see what happens, so I have an open mind. Other open-minded types might find this video worth watching.
    DC in Taipei

  2. Paul,
    I am new to your blog and I have been trying to look for the answer of this question but I cannot find it. Why white rice and not brown? Thanks

  3. Paul Jaminet,

    What is your stance on the difference between white basmati and say white Jasmine or (Japanese)short grain rice. Often in these discussions white basmati is never mentioned is there any reason for this, is it somehow inferior to the other 2 if one wants to minimize anti-nutrients?

    Best regards and keep up the good work!

  4. Is White Rice Healthy or Not? - Wellness Mama - pingback on July 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm
  5. WHITE RICE SYRUP – Have searched and searched online for white rice syrup with no luck. Can you tell us if you use white or brown rice syrup? I’m afraid of brown rice because of the arsenic. I would love to have some safe syrup, as I make a lot of Japanese foods that require a tiny bit of sweetener (sunomono, tare, sukiyaki, sushi rice). Thank you. LOVE YOUR BOOK SO MUCH. Have recommended to dozens already even though I’ve only discovered it myself 10 days ago.

    • Hi Ann,

      We no longer use rice syrup, in part because it is hard to find white rice syrup. Tapioca syrup is a possible alternative, but we now use honey and dextrose powder almost exclusively. We don’t use so much syrup that the fructose in honey is a concern, and it has other beneficial compounds.

  6. I know this is an old post, but I had to throw in my perspective. Being raised with a Japanese mother, white rice was something we had on the table every day. We ate a lot of Japanese food growing up, but when I started being concerned about diet, health and weight, I gave up rice entirely. Many years later, still tinkering with low carb Paleo, low-fat Paleo, dairy free, nightshade free, etc., I realize that the harder I try to micro-manage my diet, the less satisfied I am with my eating experience, the more I obsess about food, and honestly the more unhealthy I feel. Traditional diets have evolved organically over a long period of time. Ingredient combinations in traditional meals have evolved to satisfy our physiological, psychological and sociological needs. Throwing together ingredients based on what I think I should eat will never give me the same experience as eating a traditional meal. Recently (largely due to the Jaminets), I’ve started eating some white rice again. First of all, I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to eat rice again! But the most important thing is that I can now eat a lot of Asian food that is designed to go with rice and would be too rich or salty without it. (I make sure to cook with traditional ingredients, of course. More like the Asian cooking of a hundred years ago.) Suddenly I am enjoying my food immensely, thinking about it much less, and feeling like a human being again. I resisted eating rice for a long time, figuring that even if it’s not toxic, it’s low in nutrients. Yet if you were to actually look at what I eat every day now, it would probably be much more healthy than what I ate a year ago, because when you’re satisfied and happy with your eating experience, you don’t feel compelled to overeat (cashews anyone?) or cheat on unhealthy foods. So basically my point is that sure if you look at white rice in isolation, surely there might be a better, more nutrient dense starch. But all things exist within systems rather than in isolation. If you look at the healthful context of white rice, you may just decide overlook its shortcomings.

    • Great comment Robin, thanks for sharing!

    • I love your description, Robin, of why traditional foods taste so good and usually rest easy with our digestion and enjoyment of meals. I tried to ‘go paleo’ but found it very, very difficult since I have problems digesting large amounts of animal fats (especially fatty meats) and protein, but once I added even small amounts of safe starches, everything seemed to calm down and I felt better almost immediately.

      I think you’re right in that the more we try to tinker with our foods, the more we tend to obsess about it and the less we enjoy what we are eating. I am trying to come back from unhealthy eating habits (not paleo, but mostly too many carbs) and hoping PHD will put me on the right path.

    • I love this comment. I love white rice. I’ve rediscovered it and am happy. ‘Nuf said! 😛 I will say, I’ve read one or two Web authors who are very worried about arsenic in white rice (Lawrence Wilson MD for instance). Thoughts, Paul?

      • thoughts please, i am eating white rice in my breakfast, lunch and dinner

        • Charles – Paul has one or two comments elsewhere on this site, from some months ago, indicating that he’s monitoring the literature on arsenic and rice. I do believe that those comments are a bit dated now (Feb. 2014).

        • Re arsenic – I read a shocking thing today at Joe Mercola’s Website (Feb. 24, 2015): “(The Environmental Protection Agency) began assessing arsenic around 2003. Then, in 2011, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson inserted language into a committee report attached to a spending bill that delayed the release of that assessment. And even though the language is not legally binding, the EPA is strongly advised to follow it, and it does. (The Center for Public Integrity) reports that the EPA had determined arsenic is 17 times more potent a carcinogen than previously thought, yet these findings never made it to publication. ‘What that meant was that even people drinking the legal limit of arsenic6 in drinking water were likely to get cancer from it. In fact they came up with a calculation that was 730 out of 100,000 people would get cancer from it,’ (said the CPI). ‘[A]ll chemical assessments right now have been delayed. Congressman Simpson acted on behalf of two pesticide companies who make a weed killer containing arsenic. Those companies hired a lobbyist named Charlie Grizzle, who had been a former EPA official and knew the ropes. At the same time he was also working as a lobbyist for the formaldehyde industry. And at the same time he was lobbying against the arsenic assessment, he was lobbying to delay all chemical assessments, about 50 in all.'”

    • I know this is an old comment, but I must chime in here.

      Some of us are required to micromanage our diet unfortunately. I am severely salicylate intolerant and am on the autism spectrum so I have trouble with oxalates as well.

      The only fruit I can tolerate is bananas because they have no salicylates, so the suggestion to eat a pound of sweet plants every day is something I can’t follow. Believe it or not, it is actually healthier for me to consume sweetened junk food with high-fructose corn syrup than it is to eat most fruits because I have severe mental disturbances and pseudo-anaphylactic reactions when I consume salicylates. Even eating white bread causes fewer problems for me.

      If I eat food with many oxalates I end up with blood in the urine and severe kidney pain because my body can’t process the oxalates like most people.

      Many “traditional foods” that taste great to me are actually quite dangerous for me to eat.

      Not everyone can throw caution to the wind and just eat like a “normal” person.

  7. Thank You
    It has taken me a little while to discover your site.
    I have to agree with you that white rice-mine and my dogs of choice is Jasmine.

    I had been confused and struggling with eating Paleo and no rice for me while it was part of BART and it did help my gut since being diagnosed with Celiac.

    Again thanks

  8. Episode 12: Circadian Rhythms with Paul Jaminet | Phoenix Helix - pingback on February 14, 2015 at 11:00 pm
  9. Can’t wait for your next post!

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  12. Could you please be specific about how much (either by volume or weight) cooked white rice one should eat on a daily basis? Thank you!

    • yea, I got you on this because I had to crunch all the numbers today.
      So 1/4 cup of uncooked rice weighs 50 grams. It also equals about 170 calories. So cook 1/4 of a cup of rice and no matter how much water you add, the calories are 170.

      Therefore 3/4 of a cup uncooked rice is around 510 calories. Which is around the amount of starch recommended daily. Counting the calories is much harder once it is cooked because the rice becomes heavy and much larger.

      So on an all rice day, 3/4 of a cup uncooked or less is a great place to start.

      • Thank you so much, Kalo! Have been living grain-free for a long time, hard to instinctively know how much is appropriate and healthy. Looking forward to enjoying rice again!

  13. Is White Rice a Better Choice than Brown? | - pingback on March 4, 2016 at 7:59 am
    • The arsenic concentrates in the bran, so white rice is safer. So if you eat white rice, as suggested by PHD — preferably that was not grown in the southeastern united states (which has very high soil arsenic levels) — you should be fine.

  14. Love white rice, add some keen wah or Quinoa , and you have a healthy dish. Its cooked the same way . Steam cook in water for 15 minutes. Poor Philippine people who lack peso , are very unhealthy from diet of 80% rice for cals less nutrients. Add some mushrooms and garlic. Ralph Holt be healthy

  15. How can I get acces to the book ‘the logic underlying our diet’?

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