Ask the Coach #45 – Sind Reiswaffeln gesund?

Ask the Coach #45 – Are Rice Cakes Healthy?

"Ask the Coach" is the column in which Wolfgang Unsöld answers your questions about training and nutrition. The book of the same name was published by Riva Verlag and Available right here on Amazon.

Question: Hello Wolfgang, would you recommend rice cakes to a customer as a snack? If not, why? Thank you in advance. Edward K

WU: Yes, rice cakes are an easy and good source of carbohydrates and are therefore very suitable as a snack. 

Of course, only within the framework of individual carbohydrate requirements and consumption. Of course, I do not recommend rice cakes as a snack for anyone who needs less carbohydrates because they need less carbohydrates, or rice cakes in general. The two most efficient ways as a personal trainer to determine the individual carbohydrate requirement is on the one hand via the YPSI skinfold measurement . 

Because the measurement acts as an accounting tool , it's easy to determine changes in body fat percentage and, more importantly, changes in body fat distribution as a result of reducing or increasing carbohydrate consumption. 

In practice, this looks like measuring the skin folds, then increasing or decreasing a customer's carbohydrate intake. And then after a few weeks, measure the skin folds again to determine a change. If the carbohydrates have been increased and body fat increases in certain areas, the logical consequence is to reduce carbohydrate consumption again. Conversely, of course, if the carbohydrates have been increased and the body fat is reduced in certain areas or remains the same, then the logical consequence is to maintain carbohydrate consumption or even increase it further, depending on the goal.

In addition to this basic method of determining individual carbohydrate tolerance via the YPSI skinfold measurement, there is a more specific method of determining individual carbohydrate tolerance, continuous glucose measurement - CGM for short. More about this in this German article .

The 3 benefits of rice cakes as a healthy, easy snack

Back to the rice cakes. They are a simple and good source of carbohydrates and are therefore very suitable as a snack. The three main benefits I see in rice cake are:

1. No Prep - Unlike most other carbohydrate sources like rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and gluten-free pasta, rice cakes require no prep. They don't need to be boiled or cooked in any other way. That saves time. And is more efficient, especially in a busy everyday life.

2. Easy to Carry - Because rice cakes are very "dry" as opposed to "wetter" carbohydrate sources like rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa and gluten-free pasta, rice cakes are very easy to pack and transport. That saves time. And is more efficient, especially in a busy everyday life.

3. Easy to portion - A rice cake has about 5g of carbohydrates. For those who measure and portion their carbohydrates more precisely, the rice cakes allow you to easily portion an exact number of carbohydrates without the need for a scale. That saves time. And is more efficient, especially in a busy everyday life.

Rice cakes and arsenic

In the past, rice cakes have been in the media due to their contamination with the toxic metal arsenic. In principle, however, arsenic pollution is not a problem with rice cakes in particular, but with rice in general. A study examining 223 different travel products including rice cakes (1) found arsenic contamination in almost all samples. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) published an expert report (2) which indicates that arsenic stays in the body in this form and amount for only a few days. The reason for this is probably that arsenic can be easily bound and removed from thiol groups (also called sulfhydryl groups).

So, from a practical standpoint, the next question is how do I ingest these thiol groups. The easiest way to do this is to eat foods rich in thiol groups, such as:

  • lime/lemon juice
  • meat and fish
  • eggs
  • Plants such as bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, turnip greens, mustard greens, radish, beets, watercress, artichokes, asparagus, bean sprouts, green beans, peas, spinach, arugula, chlorella, arugula, garlic, legumes, Jicama, papaya, pineapple, onion, leek, shallot and chives
  • Coffee
  • cream
  • Dark chocolate
  • coconut milk and oil
  • dried fruit
  • nuts
  • buckwheat
  • wine and grape juice

Thus, from a practical point of view, a diet rich in thiol groups in combination with a moderate consumption of rice and rice products such as rice cakes is probably the most efficient way to reduce this potential problem.

How does arsenic get into rice?

Arsenic gets into rice through the roots. In fact, every plant absorbs arsenic from the soil. With rice, however, this is particularly pronounced because of the water bed in which rice grows.

The dangers of a gluten-free diet

A 2017 study published in the Epidemiology Journal showed that people following a gluten-free diet had, on average, double the levels of arsenic than the comparison group. The reason for this is the higher consumption of rice. like dr Tom O'Bryan, who gave a lecture at the YPSI last year and is one of the world's biggest advocates of a gluten-free diet, stated very precisely in his lecture "The Dangers of a gluten-free Diet" that simply switching to "gluten-free" is not the solution to all nutritional problems. A gluten-free diet also brings dangers such as higher arsenic levels in the blood due to higher consumption of rice products.

A simple way to reduce this risk is to cut back on gluten-free carbohydrate sources and not rely entirely on rice, rice products and gluten-free products whose main ingredient is rice flour. Oatmeal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, polenta, buckwheat, and gluten-free corn pasta are other options with significantly lower levels of arsenic.

Corn waffles are also an alternative with which you can rotate the rice waffles.

How can I reduce arsenic in rice at home?

Because arsenic is water soluble, it can be “washed” out of the rice relatively easily. Published studies show that cooking rice in excess water (6-10 times the amount of water compared to rice) and draining off the excess water can reduce arsenic levels by 40-60%.

And a study published in 2015 (5) found a cooking method that reduced arsenic levels by 85%. They used a filter coffee maker to pump the hot water through the rice as it was cooking, thus dissolving and filtering out the arsenic directly.

There is also the option of soaking the rice in water for a few hours before cooking and then pouring off this water. 

And you can now also buy rice from manufacturers who have been shown to contain less arsenic and who have proven this with appropriate laboratory tests, simply search the offer.

Of course, these are all methods used only with rice that you cook yourself. For products like rice cakes, these options are hardly possible. Here is certainly the rotation of the sources, the simplest, most practical solution.

Rice cakes as a healthy snack

In summary, rice cakes are a simple and good source of carbohydrates and are therefore very suitable as a snack. Determining individual carbohydrate needs and rotating carbohydrate sources is also crucial to building the rice cake into a snack that actually works.

Image: A rice cake.

(3) Arsenic Uptake, Toxicity, Detoxification, and Speciation in Plants: Physiological, Biochemical, and Molecular Aspects, Ghulam Abbas et al, Department of Environmental Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Published: 2 January 2018
(4) The Unintended Consequences of a Gluten-free Diet, Bulka, Catherine M.; Davis, Matthew A.; Karagas, Margaret R.; Ahsan, Habibul; Argos, Maria, Epidemiology
(5) Rethinking Rice Preparation for Highly Efficient Removal of Inorganic Arsenic Using Percolating Cooking Water, Manus Carey et al, Published: July 22, 2015, PLOS

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