Rice cakes were a popular snack during the low-fat craze of the 1980s — but you may wonder whether you should still be eating them.
Made from puffed rice pressed together into a cake, rice cakes are often eaten as a low-calorie substitute for bread and crackers.
While flavored varieties are available, the most basic kind is made only from rice and sometimes salt. As to be expected, they don’t have much flavor on their own.
This article examines the nutrition and health effects of rice cakes.
Rice cakes are essentially rice and air and thus don’t boast an impressive nutrient profile.
One plain rice cake made from brown rice offers (1):
- Calories: 35
- Carbs: 7.3 grams
- Fiber: 0.4 grams
- Protein: 0.7 grams
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Niacin: 4% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Magnesium: 3% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 3% of the RDI
- Manganese: 17% of the RDI
Their sodium content depends on whether they’re salted.
Additionally, the process of puffing rice — as is used in making rice cakes — has been shown to decrease the rice’s antioxidant content (2).
Keep in mind that these nutrition facts are for plain rice cakes only. Flavored varieties often contain added sugars and other ingredients.
Summary Rice cakes are low in essential vitamins and minerals. They’re virtually fat-free and contain little protein or fiber.
One rice cake (9 grams) has 35 calories — primarily from carbs (1).
Most people eat rice cakes in place of bread or crackers, which both can be higher in calories.
However, you’d also miss out on 3 grams of fiber and various nutrients.
Additionally, two rice cakes provide only about 0.6 ounces (18 grams) of food, compared to 2 ounces (56 grams) for two slices of bread. In essence, the calorie difference may be due to simply eating less food.
In fact, gram for gram, rice cakes have more calories — about 210 in a 2-ounce (56-gram) serving, compared to 138 for whole-wheat bread.
Likewise, one ounce (28 grams) of whole-wheat crackers has 124 calories. If you were to replace them with an equivalent amount of rice cakes — three rice cakes, or 27 grams — you would consume 105 calories — a savings of only 19 calories (1, 4).
It may feel like you’re eating more because the air in the rice cakes helps to make you feel full, but the calorie savings in swapping out rice cakes for bread or crackers are minimal — and you may be missing out on fiber and other important nutrients.
Summary A serving of rice cakes is lower in calories than bread or crackers, but the difference is minimal. In fact, gram for gram, rice cakes may even have more calories. They’re also lower in fiber and nutrients compared to whole-grain bread or crackers.
Rice cakes may have both positive and negative health effects.
Some Contain Whole Grains
Rice cakes are often made using whole-grain brown rice.
A diet high in whole grains has been proven to lower your risk of chronic diseases.
A large study in over 360,000 people found that those who consumed the most whole grains — such as brown rice — had a 17% lower risk of death from all causes, compared to those who ate the fewest whole grains (5).
Additionally, whole-grain consumption has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity (6).
However, not all rice cakes on the market use whole grains, so look for “whole-grain brown rice” on the label to ensure that you are buying the correct one.
Most Are Gluten-Free
Rice cakes made solely from rice are gluten-free.
Some varieties incorporate barley, kamut or other gluten-containing grains, so be sure to read the label carefully if you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.
Additionally, rice cakes are widely available, which makes them a convenient gluten-free option away from home. If you find yourself somewhere where your favorite gluten-free products are unavailable, rice cakes are found in all mainstream grocery stores.
May Raise Blood Sugar
Rice cakes may raise your blood sugar.
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a food raises your blood sugar levels. Puffed rice cakes have a GI score of more than 70 — which is considered high-glycemic (7).
While some reports claim that rice cakes may have a GI score as high as 91, no scientific publications support this number.
Regardless, they’re mostly carbs with very little protein and fiber to slow the effect of these carbs on your blood sugar.
Eating rice cakes by themselves is likely to spike your blood sugar and insulin. To blunt their effect on your blood sugar, combine them with protein, such as meat, cheese, hummus or nut butter, and add fiber in the form of fruits or veggies.
Summary Rice cakes are made from whole grains and are usually gluten-free. However, they’re likely to raise your blood sugar quickly when eaten by themselves.
Combining them with protein and fiber can balance their potential effect on your blood sugar.
Try pairing rice cakes with:
- Hummus and sliced cucumbers and tomatoes
- Cream cheese, smoked salmon and sliced cucumbers
- Peanut butter and sliced bananas
- Almond butter and sliced strawberries
- Guacamole and sliced cheese
- Sliced turkey and tomatoes
- White bean spread and radishes
- Tuna salad and celery
- Mashed avocado and an egg
- Tomato, basil and mozzarella
Summary Most of the calories in rice cakes come from carbs. To balance their effect on your blood sugar, combine them with protein and fiber.
Rice cakes may be lower in calories than bread but also lower in fiber and other important nutrients.
Plain, whole-grain brown rice varieties may be slightly healthier, but this gluten-free food is still likely to spike your blood sugar. To balance this effect, it’s best to pair rice cakes with protein and fiber.
Rice cakes may be a common diet food, but there’s no real benefit to eating them if you don’t like them.