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 ?


  1. Paul, I hope everybody realizes that much of this post is tongue-in-cheek.

    That being said, I’d like to add an unscientific comment about white rice. It not only tastes good as a stand alone, but lends itself as a base for far more yummy toppings than than pasta or bread.

  2. i’ve just started a candida/yeast/fungus protocol (rotating herbal anti-fungals) that lasts from 4 months to 2 years depending on how bad it is. (mine’s pretty bad, +4 on metametrix full g.i. stool test)

    one of my confusions is that i am not supposed to eat any starches except 1/2 a cup of brown rice, quinoa, millet, or buckwheat each day. no fruit, no sugars, etc. because everyone out there believe it will feed the yeast. here is a link to the diet that accompanies the formulas:

    considering the lack of calories in non-starchy veggies, i am essentially eating a VLC diet. i also have to increase my fiber via ground up flax or chia seeds in order to have more frequent bowel functions.

    some of this seems like hooey, but i’m desperate at this stage and willing to try it for 4 months.

    i know you have a different theory about starch and glucose in regards to yeast/fungus and i look forward to hearing more about it.

  3. >It shouldn’t be possible to improve health by adding further nutrients.

    Put a big asterisk next to that one. Vitamin C being the major exception.

  4. Darius,

    Just wanted to throw it out there that I beat my candida overgrowth while eating the PHD (consuming plenty of rice and sweet potatoes) and taking Kolorex horopito (“Advanced Candida Care”) at Paul’s suggestion. I never had a stool test, so I don’t know how bad it was. But I was tortured for four years of painful and embarrassing skin issues caused by my gut dysbiosis. I’d previously tried the Body Ecology Diet but that did nothing for me. After three days on the horopito, my issues began to clear up and were completely resolved in two weeks. The problem has not returned, though I’m now very mindful of my gut health, consuming bone broth and fermented foods daily.

    Best of luck with your treatment!

  5. What would I do without risotto???
    Everybody pokes already fun on me for beeing “the italian who doesn’t eat pasta”. 🙂
    Potatoes are good but are really less versatile.
    I still find sweet potatoes too sweet (albeit I had success with half and half mixed sweet/white potato mash).
    Another thing: As longer as I’m into eating along the PHD as less carbs I seem to crave. My rice/potato portions are getting smaller and 1 to 2 times per week my main meal is really low carb, just meat and veggies. Just less hungry for starches. I still eat one banana per day though. If I think about, fruit seems to become more appealing to me. Summertime maybe?

  6. Brown rice is definitely toxic for me and my dad. We both suffered skin problems eating it. Didn’t realize it had been causing my skin problems until I stopped eating all rice and just so happened to eat a little bit of it. Eczema the next day. I’m almost certain it was also causing my gums to recede as well.

  7. Although I have never personally cared much for rice (well if it does not contain opioid peptides, no wonder :)). However, I like the fact that the Jaminets have articulated a rationale for including it in the PHD, because that clears up a nagging bit of cognitive dissonance for me. Back when I was buying into all the whole grain hoopla, in the back of my mind was this nagging thought–If whole grains are so critical, how come many healthy Asian populations rely on WHITE rice? Later, when I read Protein Power and Life With Out Bread, I liked the evolutionary argument that Eades and Lutz made, but again I wondered about those white rice eating Asian populations. Ditto when I moved on to all the Paleo plans out there. Now, with the PHD, in my mind the Asian paradox is explained.
    Similarly, the PHD recommendations for calcium just make sense to me. I could never square in my mind that we need calcium horse pills. Asian populations eat very limited dairy, yet do not seem to be beset with epidemic osteoporosis.

  8. I always cook our white rice in homemade bone broth rather than water and douse it in grass fed butter…this not only makes it more nutrient dense, but much more delicious as well.

  9. Hi erp,

    Rice is very versatile indeed, wheat is tough and cardboard-like in comparison. Glad you’ve adapted! How is the husband doing?

    Hi darius,

    The extreme low-carb advice goes overboard. First, the big danger to health is systemic infection more than gut infection, and to protect against systemic infection you need some carbs. Zero-carb won’t cure a gut infection, as it strikes bacteria more than Candida, so overall this strategy is a loser all around.

    I think 400-600 carb calories a day is probably the optimum.

    I’m also in the midst of an anti-Candida protocol which is working great. It does take a long time but I think should work for everyone. I’ll blog about it later this summer.

    One thing I found I needed was a bile sequestrant to help excrete fat soluble toxins. I use cholestyramine, but bentonite clay, activated charcoal, and chlorella should also work. It really removes die-off effects.

    Hi dr everything,

    Can you explain? Do you think we’re still deficient in some nutrients?

    Hi Jess,

    That’s great! Two weeks only – you’re lucky!

    Hi Franco,

    That’s interesting. In general, I think having less cravings is a sign of improved nutritional status. If you’re body is fully nourished, it shouldn’t crave anything.

    Hi js,

    Is white rice OK?

    Hi Kate,

    Yes, everything makes sense now, doesn’t it? The medical literature used to be full of confusing paradoxes for me but now I’m rarely surprised by any new findings.

    Hi Lauren,

    You are a nutritional genius … Wonderful!

  10. Paul,

    I would like to hear/read your thoughts on “your” diet for bodybuilding and fat loss? do you subscribe to the calorie in/calorie out theory for losing fat?

    It seems to me,but I may be wrong, that I have a hard time losing abdominal fat on such a high fat diet, even with minimal carb intake.


  11. Hubby keeps getting fungal skin condition (candida?) on back and chest. Lookmforward to hearing about your protocol.

  12. Excellent response. The title alone had be laughing this morning.

    Tossing out rice in favor of potatoes leads to the rediculous Paleo 1.0 arguements. Grassfed vs Grainfed, pork vs beef, shellfish vs rudiments, dairy vs dairy free, vlc vs lc vs hc, etc.

    I think your advice, like Dr. Kurt Harris, Stephan, Chris, and so many others, is the more sustainable / rational WOE.

  13. My oldest is in pre-school, and I believe it is a legal requirement that they brainwash the parents into serving “healthy” meals and give us a USDA sheet with recommended foods for the kiddos to bring for lunch and snacks – I do wonder if I will get negative feedback for the full fat yogurt I send with her… however, rice is a great way to get the kids to eat more fat and offal – they will eat almost anything mixed with a bit of rice (chili, fish, stew – which I always make with a bit of liver included) all these foods they will sometimes complain about if served alone or even with potatoes. Rice is sweeter than potatoes and I think that’s why the kids like it better.

    (ketchup is another way to make kids eat anything – though that involves more sugar, obviously!)

    I make my rice with stock and sometimes marrow and load it up with grass fed butter, or I cook it with coconut milk and a cinnamon stick.

    Part of the fallout of the food reward posts thereabouts is this question of “did we ever have lots of starch and fat at the same time? Is it the combination that makes us fat?” I’ve pursued that reasoning and I can’t make it work (unless we are talking the usual toxin-rich western diet sugars and vegetable oil). Absent insulin resistance, I can’t make sense of a barometer of macronutrients causing obesity, particularly as excess carbs and fat are stored as fat… Well. Those are my thoughts anyway.

  14. Paul, thanks for asking about hubby. Apparently, he’s thriving on his diet per his quacks medical team and who are we to say different. Actually he has cut down drastically on pasta, beans and bread which for him is heroic. Of course, he is half Sicilian and that gives him an edge over us mortals who don’t have that magic mantle.

    We also cook rice with broth and lots of butter, also I like to add very thinly sliced scallions for an extra subtle flavor.

  15. Hi Mark,

    That’s an ongoing topic here, I will post more about fitness and body composition over the next year.

    For weight loss you may wish to read our weight loss category ( starting with this post: Basically, we recommend lower fat for weight loss. In general, higher carb and protein intake is better for athletes and bodybuilders too – maybe 30% carb 20% protein 50% fat.

    Not sure what to say about “calories in/calories out” since that phrase conjures so many different ideas. Eating less and exercising more is not a helpful prescription for most people; the key to weight loss is eating healthier and curing chronic infections. On the other hand, an energy deficit is a prerequisite for weight loss. It is usually easier to eat in energy deficit when healthy and well nourished, difficult when unhealthy.

    In your specific case, you should not be minimizing carbs – low is good but lower isn’t better – and with calorie restriction the diet isn’t that high-fat. On a calorie restricted diet you can eat an even macronutrient mix, 40% carb 30% protein 30% fat, and still be within our recommended ranges in terms of calories per day.

    Best, Paul

  16. Hi Sue,

    A lot of people waiting for that series, planning it for July-August.

    Hi Doug,

    I think a lot of people give themselves unnecessarily restrictive diets, and deny themselves too much pleasure. It does make the diet hard to sustain. If every food has to be the ultimate in nutrient density so only potatoes will do, then diet variety goes down and you can get high doses of potato toxins. You have less fun and your health is worse at the same time.

  17. Hi Emily,

    Kids need more carbs than adults, as a fraction of the diet, so it’s good to let them eat rice. I think their taste preferences are reliable, it’s good to be an accommodating parent (within reason).

    Rice with marrow! You’re another nutritional genius. I haven’t considered the cinnamon stick in coconut milk idea. Sounds like dessert.

    I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t eat starch and meat at the same time, and I can’t imagine the body is incapable of handling this combination. We evolved in bands and shared foods, so it’s not like the same person had to hunt meat and gather starches. Probably both were available at most Paleolithic meals.

    I agree, macronutrients can’t cause obesity by themselves, it has to be some combination of toxins, missing micronutrients, and infections.

    Hi erp,

    Glad to hear his heroism is pleasing his doctors! My best to him.

  18. What about puffed corn and puffed whole rice?

  19. Hi Herb,

    Puffed rice is acceptable, but we like white rice better. Popcorn I would not recommend, but I won’t report you to the police for it.

  20. paul – how would you recommend taking the chlorella?

  21. Hi Darius,

    Take it between meals.

    Chlorella didn’t work as well for me as cholestyramine, maybe because I didn’t take enough, but if you take a lot then it’s much more expensive than cholestyramine. But some people report good results with it.

    Hi Jane,

    Well, fiber digests to short-chain fats like butyrate which have proven health benefits; and fiber rich foods like tubers, roots, and vegetables are healthier than the common alternatives (wheat, sugar, and vegetable oil). So it’s not surprising that at least moderate fiber intake is associated with better health.

    However, fiber from whole grains is a bad source, rich in toxins, and supplemental wheat bran has impaired health in clinical trials and in lab animals. But everyone is told that whole grains are healthy, so health-conscious people eat them, and as these people are healthier an association is created even though the grain fiber isn’t causing it.

    I don’t see why Tanya Zuckerbrot thinks high fiber is incompatible with low carb, since low carb refers to glucose-fructose intake and fiber-rich foods tend to be low in calories. But perhaps our understanding of “low-carb” is rather broader than hers.

  22. Paul,

    On white rice vs. brown rice … what do you think of Stephan Guyenet’s brown rice soak/fermentation method? Stephan says that this increases the mineral availability in brown rice.

    I find that I prefer the taste of brown rice (to white rice) and wondered if this soaking method might reduce the toxins as well as increase mineral availability. Then I could include it as part of my regular PHD.

  23. I’m like Gary, I much prefer the taste of brown rice to white rice. In fact I adore brown rice, but I’d just as soon eat chopped up styrofoam as white rice. So I also wish I knew of a good way to reduce toxins. I don’t like potatoes much either, so trying to figure out the best way to add some starches.

  24. Hi Gary and Debbie,

    Yes, I think soaking and fermenting makes brown rice an excellent food. We prefer not to take the time, but we fully endorse it as a healthy food.

  25. I am interested in the Kolorex that Jess mentioned above. Do you recommend just one pill a day as per the label? How long should I expect to take this? Based on symptoms alone or a specified amount of time?

    Thanks, and I am looking forward to your Candida/fungus series!

  26. Hi Rodney,

    I have no knowledge of what dose might become unsafe, so I wouldn’t go too much higher than the label dose. I never viewed this as a monotherapy solution, only as one more tool among many that contributes a bit to a solution. It didn’t work as well for me as for Jess, and I stopped taking it after a while when I tried other herbal therapies from Chinese medicine.

    I think you should do antifungal therapies until the infection seems eradicated, or at least until all symptoms disappear. You can rotate therapies however.

  27. for anyone interested, i just started taking a 14 week rotated yeast/fungus protocol from this LAc in sausalito:
    he gives free phone consults tuesday and thursday mornings as well.

    i was also considering doing for candida, but instead just took the recommendation of daily saunas for detox.

    i was taking 1 herbal formula in tincture form for the last 3 months and seemed to plateau, but i also was drinking vodka or tequila on the weekends, and made the mistake of eating cheese and sauerkraut in may, which horribly debilitated me. after that i learned that TCM dietary therapy warns to stay away from all fermented foods, alcohol, vinegar and aged cheeses among other things. (keywords: damp heat, yin fire, bob flaws)

    now i am doing this rotational protocol without alcohol to see how it goes. it may take longer than 4 months though, depending on individual severity.

    also greatly looking forward to your upcoming series on this topic!

  28. Paul, if you’re giving dispensations for yucky popcorn, how about black bean soup???

  29. re fibre etc ,i can reccomend the book.”Fibre Menace” by Konstantin

    he also loves white rice by the way:)

  30. erp, I won’t report you to the police either. But best to cook it thoroughly, and not tell me!

  31. Sheep Counteress

    Hi Paul,

    Like darius, I’d be interested in the PHD take on traditional Chinese medicine. I try to eat close to the PHD, but I’m from Taiwan, and we were brought up with more rice and less fat – fat being thought to contribute to “damp heat”. It’s just a bit hard for us to imagine trimming the rice and replacing it with a generous amount of fats. I think the post-WWII American dietary influence plays a part, too, as the rest of my family insists on cooking with “liquid” (read: industrial seed) oils. I’d be most gratified to see you guys discuss TCM dietary concepts and individual “constitutions”, perhaps after – or as a part of? – the eagerly-awaited Candida series….

    On another note, I’ve never dated a paleo non-Asian (or paleo Asian, for that matter), but I think I would in fact flip out at being offered a platter of paleo “cauliflower rice”…and then having a slice of paleo pie pushed upon me, made with just a “drizzle” of honey that amounts to 1/2 cup per serving, and enough dried fruit to send a mastodon into diabetic shock. I’ll stick to my real rice and a small mochi for dessert, thankee very much!

  32. Hi SC,

    My wife was also brought up with those ideas, but she thinks they are recent imports, influenced by the West.

    I think the traditional Chinese view is for more of a balance between fat and carbs. So traditional dishes have a considerable amount of fat, e.g. Lurou fan (minced fatty pork served on rice):

    Real rice with meat and vegetables and mochi ice cream for dessert is a hard meal to beat, indeed!

    Best, Paul

  33. I don’t know if I am the only screwed up one but I have a hard time digesting any grain,including rice. I thrive on fat. I look great onfat.when I start eating carbs,I LOSE muscle and look worse. I think I could easily survive on meat,eggs,cheese. I feel better on 2-3 meals a day, no snacks,than 4-6 meals a day. However, I do eat a carb-based meal every 4-6 days being a natural “bodybuilder”. When I tell people my diet they are shocked. but yet at 43, I have incredible skin, never sick and the sex drive of a 25 year old. :))

  34. Hi Mark,

    Good for you! Let’s hope you never get any of the infections that thrive on ketogenic diets … or that if you do, you develop an ability to digest carbs. I think if you solved the digestive tract issues you’d probably look great with some carbs too. But congratulations and God bless you for your good health.

  35. Paul, thanks, but I wouldn’t undermine the delicate balance that is my new and improved digestive system for the transitory delights of a bowl of black bean soup. I’ll have to be satisfied with my memories.

  36. Hi Paul,

    I sometimes read cold rice is a resistant starch, which has some benefits you touched on a bit in the Melanesian diet:

    Is this considered a significant benefit of eating rice?


  37. Hi Mark,

    I’m not sure I’d call it significant but it is a benefit of eating starches generally.

  38. Paul, no autoimmune problems with white rice. Though, I’ve stopped eating it. Easter 2010, I went three weeks without any rice and inadvertently lost body fat.

  39. your approach is moderate & level-headed & not dogmatic.

    i like rice better than potato as a carrier.
    brown rice (properly soaked fermented) still disagrees with my digestion.


  40. FYI: i’m from Taiwan. my grandma was from China.
    (she cooked with lard.)


  41. i would say this: eating rice will not necessarily make you fat, in fact – one can become and remain pretty lean while doing so, but this ‘leanness’ is only until the person removes his/her clothes – rice (though healthy or beneficial it may be) and visible abs / really lean waist cannot coexist together – look at Shaoling monks – they are lean and strong, but where’s the ‘beef’?

  42. Not true absjunkie! Have you seen Anthony Colpo’s abs? I eat rice as well (but am “dieting”), and my abs are peeking through.

  43. Paul and anyone interested in candida,

    What about iodine for candida?

  44. absjunkie – Not true. And, though Shaolin may be more a tourist attraction today than in the past, I don’t think you can say that Shaolin monks don’t have visible abs. Eg

    Hi Mario,

    I think it’s helpful, and I do it, but it’s not a cure-all. Taking 12.5 mg/day iodine did not prevent a Candida flare from occurring over the winter, when I may have let vitamin D get low.

  45. Paul,

    And what about olive leaf extract? My wife had chronic sinusitis, that improved significantly on paleo/PHD diet. But, sometimes over the winter she has some ocasional mild sinus infections (she is currently taking 12.5 mg/day of Lugol’s). I don’t know if it is from candida or not, but olive leaf extract has helped a lot and quickly.

  46. Hi Mario,

    Interesting. I haven’t tried olive leaf extract. Will have to do so.

    Best, Paul

  47. Mario, what dosage does your wife take and does she take capsules or liquid?

  48. olive leaf extract is a part of one of the formulas i’m rotating. anyone who browses through that mccombs plan website into his youtube videos will hear about how yeast/candida is pleomorphic. basically, to survive yeast becomes fungus and back again, with a transitional form in between that is neither yeast nor fungus. (at least thats my understanding of it.)

    it really seems we have to bombard and confuse the system with many different compunds to return to health. like paul said, iodine is just one tool, D, C and everything else also has to be present. wily candida!

  49. Thanks Paul for this post. And though we might disagree on a few items here or there, those are great dietary principles you have laid out.

    For those wanting the nutrition/taste of brown rice without the problematic bran, you can consume Haiga rice, which has the bran removed but keeps the germ intact. It is the middle road between brown rice and white rice. More nutritious than white rice but still the same low toxicity.

    And I will second the rice cooked in coconut milk recipe mentioned above. Any time I can use coconut milk/cream instead of water I always do. Broth, as mentioned above, also is tasty and nutritious as a cooking liquid.

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