Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Are Brown Rice Cakes Bad For You?



Short answer

Brown rice cakes have a high glycemic index, potentially leading to blood sugar spikes, making them less ideal for people with diabetes or those managing weight. They're low in nutrients compared to whole brown rice, and the presence of additives in commercial options can affect their healthfulness. Arsenic content in rice poses a health concern, suggesting moderation and diet variation. As part of a balanced diet, brown rice cakes can be a good snack if paired with proteins, fats, or low-GI foods to offset their rapid glucose release.



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Long answer

Glycemic Index Impact of Brown Rice Cakes

Understanding the glycemic index (GI) is crucial when assessing the impact of brown rice cakes on blood sugar levels. The GI is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed, and metabolized, causing a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore, insulin levels.

Contrary to what one might expect from a 'whole grain' product, brown rice cakes typically have a high glycemic index. Studies have shown that the GI of brown rice cakes can range significantly but often falls between 70 and 87, categorizing them as a high-GI food. This high ranking is due to the processing of the brown rice, which puffs it up and creates a highly digestible product that releases sugars quickly into the bloodstream.

This high GI means that brown rice cakes can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, which may not be ideal for individuals managing diabetes or those looking to maintain steady energy levels throughout the day. Here's how brown rice cakes may affect various individuals:

  • Individuals with Diabetes: Those who have diabetes need to regulate their blood sugar levels carefully. Consuming high-GI foods might pose a challenge to glycemic control, hence it is advised to pair brown rice cakes with a protein or fat source to help mitigate the blood sugar spike.
  • Weight Management: Foods with a high GI can lead to rapid peaks and troughs in energy levels, which may trigger hunger pangs and contribute to overeating. For those managing their weight, lower-GI alternatives might be a better choice.
  • Endurance Athletes: Endurance athletes sometimes prefer high-GI foods for rapid energy during long-duration sports. However, for sustained energy, it's better to combine these with other lower-GI foods.
  • Healthy Individuals: Even for people without any specific health issues, a diet consisting of high-GI foods can over time contribute to insulin resistance and other metabolic concerns.

It's important to pair high-GI foods with others that have lower GI values to create a more balanced effect on glucose levels. Examples of such pairings with brown rice cakes include:

Low-GI Topping Effect
Natural almond butter Provides healthy fats and protein, slowing down the release of glucose.
Avocado Contains monounsaturated fats which can slow carbohydrate digestion.
Cottage cheese Protein-rich, helping to moderate blood sugar levels.
Chia seeds Rich in fiber, which can help stabilize blood glucose levels.

When evaluating the inclusion of brown rice cakes in a diet, it's essential to consider the body's overall glycemic response and the presence of other nutrients that can mediate this response. For those who want to learn more about their personal glycemic response to foods, speaking with a registered dietitian or healthcare provider may provide tailored advice.

Nutrient Content and Its Significance in Diet

When discussing the nutritional value of brown rice cakes, one of the main points of interest is their nutrient density as part of a balanced diet. Brown rice cakes are often lauded for their whole-grain content, which carries a variety of essential nutrients that are important for maintaining good health. Here's a breakdown of the primary nutrients found in a typical brown rice cake and their significance in our diet:

  • Carbohydrates: Brown rice cakes are primarily composed of carbohydrates, which serve as a vital energy source for our daily activities. They have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels when compared to white rice cakes, owing to the presence of dietary fiber.
  • Dietary Fiber: A standard brown rice cake contains about 1 gram of dietary fiber, which aids in digestive health, helps maintain a feeling of fullness, and has been associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • Protein: Although not a high-protein food, brown rice cakes provide a small amount of protein. Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues and maintaining muscle mass.
  • Fat: Brown rice cakes are generally low in fat, making them a heart-healthy snack option. The fats present are primarily unsaturated, which are beneficial for heart health.
  • Vitamins: They typically contain trace amounts of B vitamins, particularly thiamine and niacin, which are important for energy metabolism and nervous system health.
  • Minerals: Brown rice cakes offer minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. Magnesium contributes to muscle and nerve function, phosphorus is crucial for building strong bones and teeth, and selenium plays a key role in cognitive function and immune health.

While brown rice cakes can be a sensible choice for those seeking whole-grain snacks, it's worth noting that their nutrient density is less than that of whole brown rice due to the air content. Therefore, incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods into your diet, alongside brown rice cakes, can help ensure a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.

Furthermore, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, the glycemic index (GI) of rice cakes can vary widely, but they typically fall into the high GI category, which might not be ideal for individuals with insulin resistance or diabetes. Therefore, it is suggested that brown rice cakes be consumed in moderation and paired with other low-GI, nutrient-rich foods to balance the meal.

It's also beneficial to consider the context in which brown rice cakes are eaten. For example, topping a rice cake with a source of protein such as hummus or cottage cheese can enhance the snack's nutritional profile. Combining macronutrients—like pairing the carbohydrate-rich rice cake with proteins and fats—can result in a more satiating and balanced snack.

In sum, while brown rice cakes are not nutritionally void, they should not be relied upon as a primary source of nutrients. Rather, they can play a role as a part of a diverse diet that includes a wide range of nutrient-dense whole foods.

Additives and Flavorings in Commercial Brown Rice Cakes

When we consider the health implications of brown rice cakes, it is vital to understand that the presence and type of additives and flavorings can significantly alter their nutritional profile. Many consumers choose brown rice cakes as a healthful snack option, believing them to be a simple, minimally processed food. However, the commercial varieties may include additives and flavorings that could detract from their health benefits.

Preservatives are one such additive. These are used to extend shelf life and prevent spoilage. Common preservatives include substances like tocopherols (vitamin E compounds) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which are generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, some rice cakes may contain preservatives like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), which have sparked some health concerns due to their potential effects as endocrine disruptors, as suggested in studies such as those published in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition".

Flavorings, both natural and artificial, are added to enhance taste and make rice cakes more palatable. While natural flavorings are derived from real food sources, artificial flavorings are synthesized chemicals. Some artificial flavorings have been linked to allergic reactions and other adverse health effects, though research is ongoing to fully understand their long-term impact.

Salt is another additive frequently found in flavored rice cakes. The sodium content in these varieties can be significantly higher than in plain brown rice cakes, which may be a concern for individuals with high blood pressure or those monitoring their sodium intake. It's worth noting that consuming high-sodium foods can increase the risk of hypertension over time, as highlighted in the "American Heart Association Journal". Checking the nutrition label for sodium content is a good practice when selecting a healthier rice cake option.

Additional additives may include texturizers or emulsifiers like lecithin, which are used to improve the mouthfeel and consistency of rice cakes. These ingredients typically have a safe profile but can have gastrointestinal side effects for some individuals, especially in large amounts.

To ensure you make the most informed choices regarding your consumption of brown rice cakes, consider the following points:

  • Read the label: Check for preservatives, natural and artificial flavorings, salt content, and other additives.
  • Consider organic or plain varieties: These typically contain fewer additives and are more likely to benefit from the natural wholesomeness of brown rice.
  • Portion control: Even with additives, consuming rice cakes in moderation can mitigate potential negative effects.

Remember that while brown rice cakes can fit into a mindful eating pattern, the presence of certain additives and flavorings may impact their overall healthfulness. Opting for varieties with minimal additives or enjoying homemade rice cakes could be preferable for those seeking the most natural snack options.

The Role of Arsenic in Rice and Health Implications

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the environment, but its inorganic forms can be toxic and pose a health risk when ingested in high amounts. Rice, including brown rice, tends to absorb more arsenic from soil and water than many other plants. This raises concerns about the consumption of rice products, such as brown rice cakes, and potential health implications.

There are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. The inorganic form is more harmful and has been linked to various health issues. In rice, the presence of inorganic arsenic is of particular concern. The health implications of consuming inorganic arsenic from rice and rice products include:

  • Chronic exposure risks: Long-term ingestion of inorganic arsenic has been associated with an increased risk of various cancers, including skin, bladder, and lung cancers.
  • Cardiovascular problems: High levels of arsenic exposure might be connected to a higher incidence of heart disease and hypertension.
  • Developmental effects: Pregnant women who consume large amounts of inorganic arsenic may put their babies at risk of low birth weight and impaired development.
  • Neurological concerns: There is evidence to suggest a link between arsenic exposure and cognitive deficits in children.

However, it is important to contextualize these risks. The occasional consumption of rice cakes, including those made with brown rice, is unlikely to lead to arsenic poisoning. Problems generally arise through chronic exposure to high levels of arsenic over time. The concentration of arsenic in rice can vary greatly depending on the rice's origin, with some regions having higher soil arsenic levels.

Several studies have aimed to quantify the risks associated with consuming rice products. For example, a study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health highlighted the variation in arsenic content among different rice types, indicating the importance of diversifying one's diet to mitigate risk (Smith, 2019).

In response to this issue, food safety authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have set guidelines and recommendations to limit arsenic exposure from rice. The FDA, for example, recommends a diverse diet that includes a variety of grains to reduce the potential risk from arsenic in rice products (FDA, 2020).

When considering the consumption of brown rice cakes as part of a balanced diet, it is advisable to take note of these guidelines. Consumers may also opt for rice products labeled as being sourced from areas with lower soil arsenic levels or select rice varieties that are known to absorb less arsenic, such as basmati or jasmine rice.

In summary, while brown rice cakes can fit into a healthy diet, being mindful of the potential for arsenic exposure is wise. It is recommended to consume rice in moderation, vary your grains, and follow the guidance of health authorities to minimize any potential health risks associated with arsenic in rice products.

Brown Rice Cakes and Balanced Snacking Choices

Snacking can play an important role in managing hunger and bolstering nutrition, provided the snacks chosen contribute positively to one's diet. Brown rice cakes can fit into this category with a caveat – balance and moderation are key. Let's dissect the attributes of brown rice cakes as part of a balanced snack approach:

Variety and Nutrient Density
Brown rice cakes are a whole-grain option encouraging variety in your diet. Compared to their white rice counterparts, they retain more nutritional value due to the presence of the bran and germ. However, while they are low in calories, on their own, they are not nutrient-dense. To turn them into a more balanced snack, pair them with:

  • High-protein toppings like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or a slice of turkey.
  • Healthy fats such as avocado or almond butter to boost satiety and provide essential fatty acids.
  • Vegetables like sliced cucumbers or tomatoes for added vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  • Fruits such as banana or berries to add natural sweetness along with antioxidants and fiber.

Caloric Control and Portion Size
Snacking on brown rice cakes can help control caloric intake, as they typically contain 35 to 60 calories each. Nevertheless, to prevent overeating and ensure a balanced intake, consider your portion size and the calorie content of your toppings. A mindful approach might look like one or two rice cakes with a measured amount of peanut butter or a light layer of hummus.

The Glycemic Index Factor
Although brown rice cakes are a whole grain product, they have a high glycemic index (GI), which means they can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar levels after consumption. Pairing them with low-GI foods can help mitigate this effect. Adding protein, fiber, or fat to the cake slows down the carbohydrate absorption and helps maintain more stable blood sugar levels.

Sodium Content and Sensitivity
Some brown rice cakes come with added salt, which might contribute to the daily sodium intake. For individuals with hypertension or those following a low-sodium diet, selecting unsalted varieties or being mindful of the sodium content in toppings is crucial.

Gluten-Free Aspects
For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, brown rice cakes offer a gluten-free snacking choice. However, all brown rice cake brands might not be certified gluten-free; therefore, checking labels for potential cross-contamination is important for those with severe gluten intolerance.

Overall Dietary Patterns
While brown rice cakes can be part of a balanced snack, they should not be the mainstay of one's diet. It's essential to reflect on overall dietary patterns; diversity, as part of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, is the cornerstone of sound nutrition.

Remember, balanced snacking is about complementing your diet, not creating deficiencies or excesses. A healthful snack, in this context, means considering not just the snack itself, but how it fits into your entire day's nourishment.

Frequently asked questions

Brown rice cakes are naturally gluten-free, which makes them a suitable option for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. However, it's important to check the packaging for 'certified gluten-free' labeling to avoid potential cross-contamination with gluten-containing ingredients during production.

Brown rice cakes are primarily composed of carbohydrates, so they may not fit into a strict low-carb diet. However, when consumed in moderation and paired with low-carb toppings like cheese or avocado, they can be included in a more flexible low-carb eating plan.

To incorporate brown rice cakes into a heart-healthy diet, choose unsalted or low-sodium varieties and complement with nutrient-rich toppings such as almond butter or avocado for healthy fats, as well as fresh fruits or vegetables for additional fiber and antioxidants.

To maintain the freshness and crispness of brown rice cakes, they should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Keep them away from moisture and heat sources to prevent them from becoming stale or soggy.

Ask a question about Brown Rice Cakes and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • blood sugar spikes
  • hunger pangs
  • potential allergic reactions from additives (e.g., flavorings)
  • gastrointestinal side effects from emulsifiers

Possible long-term side effects

  • insulin resistance
  • increased risk of metabolic conditions
  • potential increase in hypertension due to high sodium
  • cancer risk from chronic exposure to arsenic
  • cardiovascular issues from high arsenic levels
  • developmental effects in fetuses from arsenic
  • neurological effects from arsenic in children

Ingredients to be aware of

  • high glycemic index
  • bha
  • bht
  • artificial flavorings
  • high sodium content
  • inorganic arsenic


  • source of energy
  • digestive health from dietary fiber
  • contains essential nutrients
  • heart-healthy due to unsaturated fats
  • low in calories for weight management (if plain)
  • can be gluten-free for those with sensitivities

Healthier alternatives

  • low-gi whole foods
  • brown rice alternatives with lower arsenic
  • rice cakes with natural flavorings
  • plain or organic varieties without additives
  • homemade rice cakes

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Lundberg Rice Cakes

  • Whole grain goodness
  • Lightly salted
  • Healthy snack option
  • Gluten-free & Organic
  • Vegan-friendly
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

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