Are Rice Cakes as Healthy as People Think They Are?
Think of classic snacks, and rice cakes most likely make the list. Crispy, crunchy, and low in calories, rice cakes are often touted as an easy snack that won't leave you feeling stuffed between meals. But are rice cakes healthy?
We asked a nutritionist about the pros and cons of rice cakes and if they're actually good for you, plus how you can prepare them so they deliver more health benefits.
Nutritionally speaking, what's healthy about rice cakes?
In general, rice cakes tend to be made from minimal ingredients. Unlike other processed snacks that can come with a laundry list of unrecognizable ingredients, rice cakes can be made from brown rice—and nothing else. They're also super low in calories.
"One serving generally contains 60-100 calories, so they're great for people who like to eat something crunchy, but might normally choose a less healthy snack, like potato chips," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color. Another advantage: "Rice cakes are low in sodium at about 35 to 70 milligrams per serving, which is much less than other crunchy snacks." Sodium-free options are also widely available.
OK, so what's not so great about them?
Depending on the type you buy, they may have added sugars or artificial flavors. "Avoid the ones with chocolate drizzle and other sweet flavors," recommends Largeman-Roth. "They don't have that much sugar per rice cake, but if you eat several of them, it can add up to 12 to 15 grams of sugar."
Instead, opt for unflavored, lightly salted rice cakes made from brown rice and other grains, like quinoa. "You'll get a little protein from the quinoa and a bit more fiber from the brown rice," says Largeman-Roth.
What are healthy toppings that can be added to rice cakes to make them more filling?
It's no secret that when eaten on their own, rice cakes are not remotely filling (not to mention pretty bland). In order for them to actually satiate you between meals, toppings are a must. According to Largeman-Roth, avocado tops the list (you're welcome).
"Avocados are virtually the only fruit with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, aka the good fats," she says. Both types can contribute to your overall fat intake without raising LDL (bad) cholesterol levels like saturated and trans fats found in animal products and processed foods can do.
"Avocados are also a good source of fiber," notes Largeman-Roth. "Dietary fiber adds bulk to the diet and can help you feel fuller faster, which can increase satiety and help manage weight."
Not in love with avocado? Spread some hummus on rice cakes for a hit of plant-based protein. If you're craving something sweet, try topping a rice cake with almond butter, crushed fresh raspberries, and a dash of cinnamon for a healthier take on your classic PB&J.
Bottom line: Are rice cakes healthy and a solid snack choice?
While not a terrible choice, overall, you could do way better. Most people aren't committed to crafting a heartier rice cake with smart toppings, so chances are high they may sit down and accidentally eat half a sleeve of them, says Largeman-Roth. "For those individuals, I suggest going straight to a [snack that pairs] healthy fat and fiber, like avocado on sweet potato toast or grapes and almond butter," she added. Not only will these options up your fruit and veggie intake for the day, but they'll also keep you satisfied for longer. Because the less hanger, the better.