The Rice Diet: A Comprehensive Diet for Beginners
In 1939, Dr. Walter Kempner was a physician for Duke University. He created the diet to treat chronic serious illnesses like hypertension. His first experiment consisted of 192 people with hypertension. He restricted their diet to 2,000 calories with supplements, rice, fruit, and sugar. Protein was limited to 20g per day and only 150mg of sodium. In his study, 25 patients died, 60 saw no changes, and 107 had a significant drop in blood pressure and heart size. Heart size in 66 of 72 patients decreased and edema disappeared in obese patients.
Dr. Kempner was known to strictly monitor his patients and the publication of the diet came about as an accident. When he saw how successful the diet was in a patient that didn’t follow instructions, he decided to experiment. This experiment led to the Rice Diet for the treatment of major and minor illnesses including obesity and weight loss.
Unlike most diets, this diet had been around for many years and isn’t considered a “fad”. The diet fell off over the years but regained popularity after being published in a dietitian book. The new version of the diet does contain some differences from the original. The major difference is the calories per day you’re allowed (2,400 maximum in the original version, 1,200 in the new version). Either version that’s followed has been proven to help aid in weight loss and treat conditions.
What is the Rice Diet?
Dr. Walter Kempner was a medical doctor and research scientist. He created the Rice Diet in 1939. He started it as a treatment for chronic conditions like coronary artery disease, heart and kidney disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and obesity. His patients came to him sick with kidney failure and malignant hypertension. There was no treatment plan for these patients at the time.
Dr. Kempner believed the kidney had two functions. One was to excrete and the other was metabolic. This thought process led him to start treating patients with rice and fruits.
The diet was intended for short periods and under the supervision of a doctor. The concern was nutritional deficiencies and the diet proved safe for most patients. At first, the diet was monitored strictly in-patient. He hospitalized them for several weeks while they were on the diet. He would stop his patient’s medication and begin his diet plan. When the patient started to improve, he’d add in lean meats and vegetables.
The diet became its own entity when one of Dr. Kemper’s patients didn’t follow his program properly. She misheard him and thought he said to come in for a checkup in two months instead of two weeks. During the two months, she didn’t experience any nutritional deficiencies and came back healthy.
The patient didn’t have high blood pressure anymore, her eye damage healed, and her heart decreased in size. After observing the patient, Dr. Kemper decided to treat his patients with the Rice Diet for longer periods. He also decided to expand the conditions to treat to more minor issues too.
During his career, he designed studies to prove the Rice Diet was a safe and effective treatment for many ailments. His studies included half on the diet and half no on it. He tracked the benefits of the diet by measuring the patient’s blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight.
Some of the results he observed were better than when people took medications. For example, cholesterol levels in patients dropped from 273 mg/dL to 177 mg/dL. He also found a high-carb diet improved blood sugar levels and reserved diabetes.
In one study, he had patients maintain the Rice Diet, exercise, and motivation talks. Those patients lost around 141 pounds and achieved a normal weight. For those with hypertension, the Rice Diet was shown to treat eye and kidney damage. Those with narrowing of the heart experienced a relief in chest pains and EKG abnormalities.
While it was only used in the past to treat ailments, it’s now become popular as a method to lose weight. According to the Rice Diet book, the diet works by limiting salt and salty foods. This reduces bloat and water weight. The diet limits saturated fats and replaces them with high-fiber foods. The diet focuses on lifestyle changes rather than just a diet because you maintain an exercise program and meditation throughout it too.
As the years went on, the diet become less popular because of advances in hypertension medication. However, the program did break away from Duke University in the early 2000s, and in 2013, the Rice House Healthcare Program was born. This program mimics the original diet and conducts itself in an in-patient environment. Like the original diet, patients are strictly monitored.
Since the invention of the Rice Diet, many forms have come to life in books. Unlike the original diet, these diets are designed to be more user-friendly. For example, they allow fruits, vegetables, and more carbohydrates. The two author’s version of the diet considers itself as a low-sodium, good-carb, and detox diet. Their diet focuses on whole grains, fruits, beans, and vegetables.
What Do You Eat?
The diet consists of three phases. Phase one lasts for one week. On the first day, you start the diet, you only eat rice and fruit. The rest of the week you can have vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereal, and nonfat dairy or plant-based milk.
Phase two lasts until you reach your weight goal. In this phase, you’ll focus on creating healthy habits to maintain your weight loss. Whenever you begin a new week, you eat the basic Rice Diet of rice and fruit. Then, you’ll add to the rest of the week. On one of the days of the week, you’ll choose a protein source, extra nonfat dairy or plant-based milk, or organic eggs. Phase two allows for more sodium and calories in the diet.
Phase three gives the dieter more freedom and allows more protein and some sodium intake. Each phase has portioned foods to help teach you proper portion control and caloric control.
What does the Rice Diet consist of? You can have 250-350 grams of rice each day. The type of rice doesn’t matter if there’s no dairy or salt. The rice needs to be boiled or steamed in plain water or fruit juice. Ensure there’s no salt, milk, or fat. For reference, one cup of white rice weighs 200 grams, contains 13 grams of protein, 150 grams of carbs, one gram of fat, and 700 calories.
Caloric intake varies between 2,000 to 2,400 daily. 95% of your calories are based on carbohydrates, 5% protein, 3% fat, 140mg of calcium, and 150mg of salt. Based on the condition one has, this can change. For example, those underweight will eat more calories than an overweight person. Keep in mind, the newer version of the rice diet begins at 800 calories and gradually increases to 1,200 per day.
Dried fruits, fruits, and fruit juices are allowed provided they don’t contain anything but sugar. As for regular sugar, you can use white sugar as desired. On average, most patients eat around 400 calories (100 grams) daily.
Supplements like vitamin A (5,000 units), vitamin D (1,000 units), thiamine chloride (5mg), riboflavin (5mg), niacinamide (25mg), and calcium pantothenate (2mg) are added to the diet to ensure there are no vitamin deficiencies. No patients have shown any deficiency symptoms, even when maintaining the diet for five months but it’s added as a precaution.
When the conditions in patients improve, they can begin to add small amounts of lean protein (prepared without fat or salt), potatoes, and non-leguminous vegetables. If at any time the patient begins to display symptoms once adding these foods, then they must revert to the basic Rice Diet.
In general, phase three dieters can eat any type of fruit, grain, and vegetable they’d like provided it doesn’t have added fats or salt. A teaspoon of maple syrup or honey is allowed once per day.
Portion controls look like the following:
- 1/3 cup of cooked rice or dried beans
- ½ cup cooked grains, pasta, starchy vegetables
- One slice of bread or ¼ to one cup of cereal
- One serving (one cup) of nonfat dairy, plant milk, or yogurt
- ½ cup cooked or one cup raw veggies
- One fruit serving (one medium-size fruit), one cup of grapes, or another fruit
- One serving (one ounce) of fish or lean, skinless meat, ¼ cup cooked dried beans or peas
Why is White Table Sugar Allowed?
White table sugar adds calories without extra proteins or fat. The addition of simple sugars helps keeps the protein content down. According to the diet, the body doesn’t need a large amount of protein daily. The fewer, the better for certain metabolic conditions.
The processing of protein stresses the liver and kidneys. Fruits and juices contain high carbohydrates (sugars) but are low in fat and contain little protein. The Rice Diet’s primary focus is to ease the already stressed body and provide it with clean energy. That’s why you avoid salt, fats, cholesterol, and animal proteins.
You might be surprised to hear that white sugar does have health benefits. You often only hear about the negatives. White sugar processes in the body differently than fruits, grains, and dairy. It provides the body with simple energy. Your body thrives off the glucose table sugar provides. When you take in more glucose than needed, your body stores it in fat and liver cells to use later. Sugar helps to boost moods. They act on receptors in the brain and produce feelings of euphoria.
Negative Effects of Sugar
While the Rice Diet advocates for white table sugar, it doesn’t come without negative effects. The positives of sugar don’t outweigh the negatives. White table sugar may cause weight gain. Sugar in moderation is safe but most people overdo it. When you overconsume sugar, it can trigger the hormone leptin. Leptin regulates hunger. Table sugar has been linked with increased visceral fat too. sugar may increase your risk of heart disease if you consume too much. High refined carbs risk causing acne. Sugar spikes blood insulin levels. This causes increased androgen production.
Research has found sugar can lead to obesity and increases the risk of certain cancers. We mentioned above that it boosts mood in moderation, but it can cause depression if you consume high amounts. A diet high in refined carbs may age you. Advanced glycation end products are compounds that occur when protein and sugars interact in the body. AGEs damage collagen and skin elasticity.
While sugar gives you a nice boost, it can also make you crash quickly. Food high in sugar spike blood sugars, then drop. These fluctuations can cause tiredness and mood swings. Sugar has many more negatives to it, especially when consumed in excess. The diet recommends sugar on top of the high carbs found in rice (refined if you choose white). You may want to seek a doctor’s advice before you add white table sugar in your Rice Diet plan.
What Do You Avoid?
The Rice Diet does have restrictions. You will need to rid of any bad food to move toward a healthier lifestyle. Foods to avoid include:
- Milk chocolate
- Processed foods
- Refined flour and sugar
- Trans fats
- Deep-fried foods
- Frozen foods and ready-made meals
- Junk food
- Bottled fruit or vegetable juices
White Rice or Brown?
Dr. Kempner chose rice because he believed rice proteins digested better in the body and provided essential amino acids. This is true with other starches like corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. However, during the time the diet was created, most people consumed rice daily. It sometimes made up most of their diet.
At the time, white rice was considered more palatable and more available. Now, we have dozens of rice options available, and brown is now the most popular. Brown rice doesn’t undergo processing and contains more nutritional value than white rice. It has higher fiber content and whole grains. Realistically, you can use whichever rice you want but brown is the healthier option.
Does the Rice Diet Work?
The rice diet does have benefits to it. It’s high in fiber. This does reduce the risk of heart disease, improve intestinal health, and lower cholesterol. When you consume foods high in fiber, you feel fuller longer and that can help you to lose weight.
The diet has research backing it since the 1940s from Duke University. It has been a proven success for many years, unlike many fad diets that come out. Experts do agree that a diet low in salt, fat, and high fiber can prevent and improve many conditions. Since the diet does advocate for an exercise program and portion control, you will lose weight and can maintain it. The Rice Diet helps you to lose weight but does the Rice Diet help lose belly fat?
Many diets advocate for the removal of anything “white” in your diet. These refined foods have shown weight gain in the belly area. However, the Rice Diet has been shown to reduce obesity, cholesterol, and help people return to a normal weight. If the idea and research of white rice make you pause, you can choose brown rice. Brown rice has a better nutritional value than white if you decide to swap.
Is the Rice Diet Safe?
Overall, the diet does have scientific research to support the benefits behind it. However, it does concern some health experts.
The diet is effective as a short-term plan, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need higher protein, fats, and calorie contents like athletes, pregnant women, and those who breastfeed.
The diet, especially the newer version, restricts calories to a low limit from 800-1,200. This low amount of nutrition can lead to serious health complications and deficiencies. Common symptoms that occur with low-calorie diets include gallbladder issues, mood swings, hair loss, brittle nails, cold sensations, dizziness, tiredness, and feeling hungry. It’s not recommended you follow the diet without close supervision from a doctor.
The diet’s limitations and restrictions make it difficult to stick to. It can start to interfere with social events because of the restrictions. If you plan to try this diet, do so under the supervision of a doctor to ensure you’re getting adequate nutrition.
The Rice Diet may influence your mental health too. The diet is very restrictive. You eliminate almost all foods in exchange for rice, some veggies, and fruits. Those that attend frequent gatherings or eat out will struggle to maintain this type of diet. It could cause feelings of frustration, loneliness, or anger.
The newer versions of the diet allow for more flexibility and don’t just stick to rice as their main carbohydrate source. You will consume more fruits and vegetables on them too. However, they still advocate for lower calories, which isn’t healthy.
For the short term, the diet works well for weight loss and reduces blood pressure. You will need to be under supervision while you’re on it, especially if long-term.
Benefits of Rice
Rice has many wonderful benefits. Rice helps to provide you with more energy. It has a high carbohydrate content. These carbs get metabolized by the body and turn into energy. Rice doesn’t lack vitamins and minerals. These vitamins and minerals help increase your energy levels.
Brown rice doesn’t contain trans fats, cholesterol, or sodium. Make it a staple in your diet to make your meals balanced. These low levels of fat, sodium, and cholesterol can help reduce your risk for obesity and the health complications that come along with it. In addition to lower obesity risk, rice lowers your blood pressure. Brown and red yeast rice work the best for lowering blood pressure.
All rice types are high in insoluble fiber. This type of fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers. Rice also contains antioxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A, phenolic, and flavonoids. The antioxidants reduce the free radicals produced in your body.
Certain types of rice like black, brown, rice bran, and rice water are used in skincare treatments. Medical research suggests that rice powder can cure some skin ailments when applied topically. In India, rice water gets prescribed for inflamed skin. Rice has phenolic compounds. These compounds contain anti-inflammatory properties. Recent research has suggested that rice can help prevent wrinkles and premature aging because of the antioxidants.
In Chinese medicine, rice husks are used to treat dysentery. Plants husks three months and older have been said to have diuretic properties. Chinese medicine often treats digestive problems with rice. Rice can help with regular bowel movements because of its high fiber.
White and brown rice is recommended for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. Rice contains starch. The type of starch rice stimulates healthy gut bacteria and regular bowel movements. The insoluble fiber in rice can calm IBS, diarrhea, and constipation.
Negative Side Effects of the Rice Diet
While rice has positive effects on health, it has negative effects too. White and brown rice each have their own negative effects.
White rice might raise your risk for metabolic syndrome. This syndrome may increase your risk to develop health conditions like diabetes or heart disease. When you consume white rice daily, it increases your blood pressure, spikes your fasting blood sugar levels, can cause weight gain, lower your good cholesterol levels, and raise your triglyceride levels.
Unlike brown rice, white rice doesn’t contain much fiber. Some people may have issues with constipation when only consuming white rice. However, those who need a low fiber diet can benefit from the low fiber.
White rice doesn’t contain nearly the nutrients that brown rice has. White rice has been stripped of the fiber-rich bran. You’re left with a processed version that was made to enhance taste, enhance cooking, and extend shelf life. White rice has a bad reputation because it doesn’t contain anything but carbs. Many countries add nutrients like iron, folic acid, niacin, thiamine, and other B vitamins to make it more nutritious.
Both white and brown rice have arsenic in them. However, brown rice contains more than white. Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance in certain foods, but it doesn’t come without complications. Arsenic has been linked to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. The arsenic in rice can get washed off somewhat. However, traces will still be present.
Brown rice has more fiber than white rice. While it’s a positive attribute, it’s also negative. High fiber can cause discomfort like bloating, gas, or diarrhea. Those who have sensitive stomachs should use caution when consuming brown rice daily.
A not well-known fact about brown rice contains antinutrients. Antinutrients reduce the absorption of nutrients in food. The higher levels of phytic acid bind to minerals and vitamins that reduce their absorption.
Brown rice is a starch, like white rice. Those who watch carbs or need to mind their blood sugar levels should portion their rice consumption. A cup of brown rice cooked equals a cup of cooked rice. The carb content is around the same too.
Sample Diet Plan
On day one you’ll just have two starch servings with two fruit servings at each meal. For the days beyond, you’ll have one starch, one nonfat dairy, and one fruit.
For lunch, you can have three starches, three vegetables, and one fruit.
For dinner, you’ll eat three starches, three veggies, and one fruit.
Two starches and one fruit.
Four starches, three veggies, and one fruit.
Three proteins, two starches, two veggies, and one fruit.
In phase three, you’ll eat the same diet as in phase two. The only difference is you can eat protein for an extra day during the week.
Controversy Behind the Rice Diet
While the diet was initially praised for its results, it didn’t lack criticism. Some doctors were convinced he falsified his results because of how well the diet worked. Given the era, not much was known about these diseases, and they were believed to be incurable.
Dr. Kempner created his own studies, which made other scientists criticize him. They believed his studies to be weak because he didn’t technically provide a control group for the experiments. He didn’t randomly assign his patients a group (one person would be on the rice diet, the other using conventional therapies). Dr. Kempner stated his patients created their own controls. He cited one patient that was previously treated with all the therapies medicine has to offer came to him with 220 over 160 blood pressure. He put him on the diet and his blood pressure dropped to normal ranges of 120 over 80. He believed that was proof the diet worked.
Dr. Kempner would compare his survival rate of patients that were considered the “control group”. He observed the life expectancy of these patients and found they’d live on average six months. His other studies found that 80% of those who stopped the diet before utilizing it for a year died. Those who completed a year on the diet but stopped had a 50% chance of dying. 90% of those who stayed on the program lived. Dr. Kempner felt that choosing who would and wouldn’t go on the diet would send those who didn’t get the diet to their death.
Dr. Kempner was criticized for his treatment of his colleagues and patients. He was seen by colleagues as short-tempered and domineering. They recount how intimidating he was and how badly he treated patients. Dr. Kempner admits his mistreatment of patients to get them to stay on the diet. He would yell, screw, berate them, and sometimes use physical force. Former patients sued him for whipping them to motivate them to stay with the diet.
The Rice Diet has been studied and recommended for many years for those who are severely overweight or have health issues. Research has been shown to treat many health conditions. The diet was discovered by accident when a patient of Dr. Kempner misunderstood him and didn’t come in for her checkup for months later. He found she was cured of her ailments and was in good health despite the lack of supervision.
He then decided to research if his diet could help with minor illnesses too. His experiments found that patients were healthier and could maintain the diet even when the experiment was over. The Rice Diet teaches you how to eat with proper portions, recommends exercise, and meditation. Overall, the program will help you to lose weight and maintain it. The restrictions of the diet could bring trouble.
The Rice Diet has three phases that start out with a severe low-calorie consumption of rice and food. A doctor monitors you and will move you to the next level as each week passes. When you first start the diet, you can only have rice and fruit.
Then, you can eat more foods throughout the week. However, your main food group will be rice. You can choose either brown or white. You’re only allotted up to 1,200 calories on the new version of the diet, while the original version will allow up to 2,000 calories per day.
While the diet does show promising results in those who are obese or have medical problems, it’s not recommended you follow it without doctor approval and supervision. The restrictive nature of the diet makes it difficult for people to stick with it and it could become dangerous if you don’t get adequate nutrition daily.