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Years ago I went to a catered networking luncheon. Like a good gluten-free girl, I contacted the organizers ahead of time to request a gluten-free meal (if possible). They said it would be no problem.
When I arrived, I enjoyed the fish and vegetables, but they told me to avoid the rice. Stumped by this warning to avoid the rice, I inquired further. Perhaps they put something gluten-y in there?
No, it was plain brown rice cooked with water and salt. They told me to avoid it because rice contains gluten.What??
I explained to them that rice does not contain gluten after all. In fact, rice is gluten-free.
The only way rice would not be gluten-free is if it was cooked in some kind of broth that contained gluten or seasoned with something like soy sauce, which contains gluten.
Is Rice Gluten-Free?
Officially, yes, rice is gluten-free. This goes for all white rice, brown rice, black rice and wild rice. In fact, rice is a staple grain in most gluten-free diets.
Many packaged and baked goods are made with rice flour, as are many gluten-free breads and pastas.
Event “glutinous” rice, or sticky rice, is gluten-free including sushi rice. Glutinous refers to the stickiness of the rice, not the gluten protein typically found in wheat, barley and rye, which is off-limits to those on a gluten-free diet.
Beware of Boxed Rice Mixes
Rice, in its pure form, is gluten-free. However, not all boxed rice mixes are gluten-free. You must read ingredient labels carefully and inquire with each manufacturer when in doubt.
Rice-A-Roni®, for example, is not gluten-free:
We understand that individuals sensitive to gluten may have difficulty digesting even trace amounts of gluten. Since so many of our Rice-A-Roni and Pasta Roni products contain grain ingredients that have gluten, we cannot guarantee that any particular product is entirely free of gluten.
Pasta Roni is not gluten free as it is made from wheat flour.
Rice-A-Roni products also include wheat flour because they combine pasta such as orzo, vermicelli, etc. with the rice. Even Rice-A-Roni products that do not combine rice and pasta may possibly contain trace amounts of gluten because they are made in the same facility as products that include wheat flour and other grain ingredients.-Rice-A-Roni website
The good news is that while Rice-A-Roni is off-limits, there are several brands that are free from gluten including:
- Zatarain’s®: Many of Zatarain’s boxed rice mixes are labeled gluten-free (including its yellow rice mix) and can be enjoyed by anyone on a gluten-free diet.
- Minute Rice®: Several Minute Rice boxed rices are gluten-free as well, according to the manufacturer, including its brown rice, jasmine rice, rice and quinoa mix, and many of its ready-to-serve rices including the ready-to-serve yellow rice.
- Uncle Ben’s®: Many of Uncle Ben’s rice mixes are naturally gluten-free. Always check ingredient labels to make sure the exact mix you’re purchasing is free from gluten.
Beware of the Bulk Bins
Always buy rice that is found in sealed packaging and where the only ingredient is rice (or unless the words “gluten-free” are noted somewhere on the packaging).
Bulk bins are notorious for coming in cross contact with the items in the other bulk bins, may which contain gluten. People often mix up bulk bin scoops or some of the bulk bins spill into the other bins. This becomes tricky when the rice bulk bin is directly below or next do the shredded wheat bulk bin, for example.
Eating Rice at Restaurants
When eating rice at restaurants, ask how it’s cooked to make sure it is free from gluten-containing broths, soy sauce or other ingredients that would render it no longer gluten-free.
Be sure ask lots of questions, express the seriousness of your diet, and study up on my tips to eating out safely.
Rice is often served at Chinese restaurants and often is mixed with soy sauce in fried rice. Therefore, most restaurant fried rice dishes are not gluten-free. (Try my homemade gluten-free egg fried rice recipe though.)
Sushi rice, however, is made with glutinous sticky rice, rice wine vinegar and sugar, which is safe for you to eat (of course, make sure no other ingredients are added to the rice, and that the sushi toppings are free from soy sauce). Imitation crab is also a no-no at most Japanese restaurants.
Related Article: How to Make Gluten-Free Sushi Rolls
Mexican restaurants often serve seasoned or Spanish rice that is typically free from gluten. However, inquire within to make sure not gluten-y fillings are used in the seasoning of the rice.
Related Article: How to Avoid Gluten at a Mexican Restaurant
Arsenic in Rice
Gluten-free eaters eat more rice and are often exposed to higher levels of arsenic.
Arsenic is an element in the Earth’s crust and is present in our water, air, and soil. The FDA says that rice contains higher levels of inorganic arsenic because the grain tends to absorb arsenic more readily than other crops. On top of rice being a natural element found in the earth, arsenic is also sprayed on our crops, which leaches into the ground soil and also is absorbed by rice.
Consumer Reports tested different rice varieties to find out which rice has the lowest and highest arsenic contents.
Researchers found that white rice generally contains less arsenic than brown rice (as the arsenic is found in the outer husk, which is removed in white rice). In fact, brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type. Brown rice has more nutrients, though, so ditching brown rice isn’t the best choice either.
They also found that white basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. have about half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of most other types of rice.
Conversely, the researchers found that white rices from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana contain the highest levels of inorganic arsenic.
To ensure lower exposures to arsenic, experts suggest that you rinse your rice thoroughly before cooking (several rinsings). They also recommend cooking your rice in excess water and then draining it to also drain off excess arsenic.
Also, instead of eating rice, researchers suggested that gluten-free eaters enjoy alternative grains, such as quinoa (technically a seed), millet and buckwheat, all gluten-free grains that contain less arsenic than rice.
Rice is Nice
While rice is nice to eat when you’re a on a gluten-free diet, enjoy it in moderation. Fill your plate with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, potatoes, beans and other grains, like buckwheat, millet, and quinoa instead.
Related Article: The Celiac Disease Diet: What A Celiac Can and Can’t Eat
The good news is that it’s perfectly safe to enjoy rice when you’re following a gluten-free diet. Just enjoy the delicious grains in moderation … and always read labels to uncover hidden gluten.