May 20, 2024

Rice cakes are a popular snack, especially for those looking to maintain a healthy weight, as they can be low in calories and carbohydrates. Why? Because a rice cake is basically pieces of puffed rice pressed together to form a patty. But are these crunchy snacks really good for your health? Here’s a primer on their nutritional content, benefits, and drawbacks, plus how to eat them in healthful ways.

Depending on the type of rice cake you buy, the nutritional information will vary. For example, you can find rice cakes in a variety of flavors like chocolate, white cheddar, apple cinnamon, and caramel corn, which all contain additional ingredients that bump up their sugar or sodium content. I recommend my clients stick to plain brown rice cakes, since they count as a whole grain and don’t have added ingredients.

For example, the nutrients in one small, plain brown rice cake (nine grams) break down like this:

  • 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

The standout nutrient in rice cakes is manganese, a mineral needed for immune function, collagen production, and strong bones. Rice cakes also provide small amounts of the B vitamin niacin—which helps convert carbohydrates into fuel for the body to use—and trace amounts of other minerals, including magnesium and zinc.

Because portion sizes vary, it’s important to check the nutrition facts label for a specific brand of rice cakes you purchase. For example, one Lundberg organic lightly salted brown rice cake is 18.5 grams (over double the size of the rice cake listed above). That means its nutrient content is similar to that of a standard slice of bread.

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. In general, it’s best to avoid flavored rice cakes, which contain higher amounts of sugar, sodium, and other artificial ingredients. You should also skip those made from white rice, a refined grain that’s been stripped of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. However, plain rice cakes made simply from puffed brown rice do offer some health perks.

1. Rice cakes contain antioxidants

Antioxidants are compounds in foods that act like bodyguards, protecting healthy cells from the DNA damage that causes aging and disease. A 2018 review published in the journal Antioxidants found that brown rice contains a variety of phenolic compounds—a group of antioxidants also found in tea and citrus fruits. Phenolic compounds protect cells from damage that’s been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease.

2. Rice cakes regulate blood sugar

Research has found that whole grains, including brown rice, can control post-meal blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and may even help prevent type II diabetes altogether. The reason? Whole grains contain high amounts of fiber, which the body cannot break down and absorb for energy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Therefore, these carbs don’t cause a spike in blood sugar like their refined counterparts. Plus, fiber from whole grains feeds the good bacteria in our gut, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which have been linked to diabetes and obesity prevention.

3. Rice cakes manage weight

Rice cakes can help you maintain a healthy weight if they replace high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods in your diet. For example, swapping one Thomas’ plain bagel with two Lundberg organic brown rice cakes cuts out 130 calories and 21 g of carbohydrates. Making that switch three times a week could result in nearly six pounds of weight loss over a year.

4. Rice cakes are easy to digest

Rice is easy to digest as it’s a low FODMAP food—and that’s true of plain brown rice cakes as well. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed during digestion, which for some can result in bloating, pain, cramps, and gas. Additionally, since brown rice is naturally gluten-free, rice cakes made from brown rice are a great option for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

For my clients who enjoy rice cakes, I recommend an organic brown rice option, such as Lundberg, which I’ve seen online and at major supermarkets, including Trader Joe’s O Organics or Sprouts own store brand. Plain rice cakes don’t have a strong flavor, but they do have 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

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health‘s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

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