Brown rice is often a go-to suggestion as a healthy grain alternative choice, especially today, with gluten-free being a popular dietary recommendation. Yes, it is gluten-free, and easy to find, to boot. So what’s the problem?
Digestive issues come in many shapes and sizes, with gluten being just one ingredient on the do-not-eat list that can upset digestion, and while brown rice is generally a safe alternative, it does have some dietary pitfalls that can cause bloating and gas that can result in discomfort, belching, and/or flatulence. Often, in my practice and my research for my book, I came across women whose digestive issues were caused by this super-common health food.
It’s relatively high on the glycemic index.
The GI is a rating system for the carbohydrates in foods that goes from zero (none) to 100 (way too much). Brown rice comes in at about the halfway mark with a score of 50, and for those who are highly sensitive to carbohydrates, this level can still induce inflammation, which can upset digestion. For comparison, take pearled barley, which (while not gluten-free) ranks at 25.
It’s still a starch.
For someone who has bacterial overgrowth, brown rice can still cause bloating, distention, and pain. If you notice these symptoms after eating rice, it’s a pretty good indicator, but if you want to know for sure, ask your doctor about a breath hydrogen test, which measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath. If you have too much, it can mean that you have high levels of bacteria from unabsorbed carbohydrates.
What about the BRAT diet, which you may have heard actually solves digestive issues?
Rice does make up the “R” in this popular dietary treatment (bananas, applesauce, and toast being the other letters), but white rice is actually the recommendation here because one thing you don’t want if you have loose bowels—fiber.
The good news—you don’t need to give up brown rice forever. After six weeks of elimination, if your symptoms subside, try a gradual reintroduction of brown rice—I recommend just having it at dinner. If your troubles recur, stop, but if you seem to have no big issues, go ahead and add it to another meal. If you have any recurrence of digestive troubles, back off or stop eating brown rice.
What are some good alternatives?
Polenta, couscous, and quinoa may work for you, but these grains are equally high or higher on the GI, and they are all still starchy choices. I’d recommend purchasing a ricer, or using your food processor, and giving cauliflower “rice” a go.
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