Rice is a staple of many Asian cuisines and a popular alternative to wheat in other parts of the world. It owes its status to the fact that it is filling, though it also contains antioxidants and vitamins.
But, does rice have gluten? The short answer is no. In its natural form, rice doesn’t contain gluten. Though it can completely replace gluten products, it is best consumed in combination with other gluten-free grains to ensure one is getting enough minerals and vitamins.
Gluten Intolerance, Celiac Disease, and Wheat Allergy
Gluten intolerance is a medical condition caused by the body’s inability to process gluten protein. Depending on the symptoms and their severity, the condition may range from mild gluten intolerance to full-on celiac disease. Wheat allergy is another gluten-related condition. Here’s a word or two on each.
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. NCGS is a condition that manifests in ways similar to celiac disease. However, there is no damage to the small intestine as commonly associated with celiac disease. Usually, patients with gluten sensitivity experience brain fog (mental fatigue), physical fatigue, headaches, bloating, abdominal pain, and gas after eating foods that contain gluten. Some experts claim that 1% to 6% of Americans are sensitive to gluten.
- Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the small intestine, particularly the villi (parts of the small intestine in charge of nutrient absorption). According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 1 in 133 US residents have celiac disease. Some of the most common symptoms include chronic diarrhea, constipation, bloating, stomach pain, gas, pale stool, vomiting, and nausea.
- Wheat allergy. Wheat allergy is one of the most widespread food allergies in the United States. It is an allergic reaction to the proteins (including gluten) in wheat. Common symptoms include mouth and throat irritation, nasal congestion, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, eye irritation, rashes, and hives. Persons who are allergic to wheat usually experience the symptoms immediately after eating foods that contain wheat. In extreme cases, the symptoms can be life-threatening.
All rice is gluten-free in its natural form and only processed rice may contain gluten. This commonly happens with wheat-based mixes. Also, rice might contain gluten if it is produced in the same facilities (and with the same equipment) as other products that contain gluten.
Aside from that, if it is labeled wheat-free, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s free of gluten. If you have to or choose to live a gluten-free lifestyle, make sure to check the label or go with brands of rice that you know or trust to be gluten-free.
That being said, different types of rice have different health benefits and nutritional contents. Therefore, when preparing rice-based gluten-free food, you should make sure to pick the type that caters to your personal needs. Here’s some basic info on the major types of rice.
- White rice. White rice is the most common variety found on the shelves. However, much of its nutritional content has been sacrificed for the sake of longer shelf life and smooth texture. White rice lacks the majority of minerals, vitamins, and fibers found in non-processed rice.
- Brown rice. Brown rice is an unrefined variety. It is rich in nutrients and has more texture than white rice. Brown rice contains a lot of fiber, selenium, and manganese. If you’re buying uncooked brown rice, store it in airtight containers or refrigerate it.
- Wild rice. Wild rice, though marketed and sold as rice, is not really rice. It is a type of gluten-free grass. However, due to the significantly higher cultivation and processing costs, it is commonly mixed with white and brown varieties. Finally, wild rice is rich in fibers, vitamin B6, folate, and antioxidants.
If you have problems digesting gluten, you should also be careful when you go out to eat sushi. Even though it is considered generally safe (algae, rice, and raw fish meat don’t contain gluten), sushi might contain vinegar made from grains that contain gluten. If that’s the case, feel free to ask the chef to prepare the sushi with plain rice.
Other Gluten-Free Grains
Besides rice, there’s a host of other healthy and gluten-free grains. Here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular.
- Buckwheat is actually unrelated to wheat. It has no gluten and is rich in quercetin and rutin (potent antioxidants). A study published in 1995 found that consuming buckwheat can reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol.
- Quinoa is super-rich in protein and fiber. It has a reputation as one of the healthiest grains around and is extremely popular among vegetarians and vegans. It contains all of the eight amino acids the human body needs to function properly.
- Oats are rich in beta-glucan fiber and other healthy and nutritious substances. They can potentially reduce the level of LDL and boost HDL cholesterol, as found by this study. Beta-glucan fiber has also been linked to lower insulin and blood sugar levels.
- Amaranth was used by the Aztecs and the Mayas, and it has remained a popular grain even to this day. It is gluten-free and rich in other nutrients. It is effective at suppressing inflammation and keeping LDL cholesterol low.
- Millet has been a popular grain since the ancient times. Today, it is best known for its role as bird food. However, it can be effective at lowering blood sugar levels and glycemic response. A study conducted on rats and published in 2010 found that eating millet reduces inflammation and triglycerides.
- Sorghum serves as both animal feed and cereal grain. It is gluten-free and rich in antioxidants. It has been linked to lowered risks of chronic diseases and oxidative stress. Another study found that sorghum can help with inflammation.
Rice is one of the most widely used grains worldwide. It comes in many different varieties and is naturally gluten-free. Brown or unprocessed rice is the healthiest and most nutritious variety out there.
Rice, in general, is considered safe for people suffering from gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy. That said, gluten and wheat-sensitive individuals should be careful with rice mixes.
Aside from rice, individuals with gluten intolerance might also incorporate quinoa, millet, amaranth, oats, and buckwheat into their diet.