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Rice Diet Guide + Is The Rice Diet Healthy And Good For Weight Loss?

Our nutrition coach evaluated the simplicity and efficacy of grain-centric eating.

The rice diet is an extremely restrictive weight loss diet that focuses on eating rice and fruit for the majority of your calories.

It was originally created to help patients with high blood pressure and kidney failure, but is now used as a weight loss diet.

We’ve heard over and over again about how we should follow “low-carb” diets as they are all the fad. So, is the rice diet, being a high-carb diet, healthy for you? Can you actually lose weight following it?

In this weight loss guide, we will discuss how to follow the rice diet plan, describe its different phases, and give you the pros and cons of the rice diet for weight loss and health.

Let’s jump in!

A bowl of rice and vegetables.

What Is the Rice Diet Plan?

The rice diet was developed in the 1940s by a research scientist at Duke University named Walter Kempner as a dietary approach to treat malignant hypertension (high blood pressure) and kidney failure.

As with many dietary approaches for treating diseases, the theory surrounding Kempner’s rice diet was that the diet could help reduce the workload on the kidneys, particularly by significantly reducing the amount of protein and sodium intake.

Interestingly, rather than being a flash-in-the-pan fad diet in the 1940s, the rice diet resurfaced in 2006 when Kitty and Robert Rosati popularized it in their book The Rice Diet Solution.

Then, in 2014, a journal article in Hypertension re-examined the rice diet for high blood pressure and noted that the rice diet revolutionized the treatment of several health conditions, including obesity and high blood pressure.1Klemmer, P., Grim, C. E., & Luft, F. C. (2014). Who and What Drove Walter Kempner? Hypertension64(4), 684–688. https://doi.org/10.1161/hypertensionaha.114.03946

Rice and beans.

How Does the Rice Diet Work?

Dr. Kempner originally developed the rice diet after doing research on participants with severe hypertension, which is high blood pressure.

While the rice diet did not cure everyone with malignant hypertension, 107 out of 192 participants did see a significant reduction in blood pressure as well as some of the comorbid symptoms of malignant hypertension, including enlarged heart size, retinopathy, and high cholesterol levels.

The heart muscle can enlarge when high blood pressure persists for too long.

While this may sound like a good thing, it can actually be a pathological condition, and in the 1940s, people with malignant hypertension had a life expectancy of only about six months.

This is largely due to the lack of treatment options available at the time, including some of our current pharmaceutical interventions.

The rice diet can potentially help reduce blood pressure because it is a low-sodium diet. Sodium is one of the primary drivers of high blood pressure because sodium leads to increased water retention.

Rice and vegetables.

When your body holds onto more water, you have a greater volume of blood, and there can also be some obstruction in the blood vessels, causing what is known as peripheral vascular resistance.

The heart then has to pump that much harder to circulate blood. The high volume of blood that is being forcefully ejected through the constricted blood vessels then drives up your blood pressure.

The rice diet plan was also theorized to help reduce blood pressure and health by helping people lose weight.

While not true in all cases, people who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of high blood pressure because the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body.

A bowl of rice.

How Do You Follow the Rice Diet Meal Plan?

Kempner’s original rice diet provided about 2,000 calories per day and consisted almost entirely of fruit and rice.

It was virtually devoid of protein, fat, and salt.

In fact, when comparing the rice diet protein and fat to the typical American diet macro ratios:

  • The rice diet had 4-5% of the daily calories from protein vs 25% of calories from protein in the usual diet.
  • The rice diet had 2-3% of daily calories from fat vs 25% in the typical American diet.

This makes the rice diet a low-fat and low-protein diet. Plus, the rice diet allowed only 150 milligrams (mg) of sodium daily.

The original meal plan also limited water consumption.

The updated diet in The Rice Diet Solution is designed to be a weight loss rice diet rather than one specifically geared towards treating “malignant hypertension, renal failure, heart failure, and their combinations,” as was Kempner’s aim.

The Rice Diet Solution rice diet plan has three phases: detoxing, losing weight, and maintaining weight loss. 

A bowl of rice.

It is a low-sodium, low-calorie weight loss diet that involves gradually increasing calories from just under 1,000 to over 1,200 calories per day plus whatever additional fruits and vegetables you add to your meal plan.

Note that while there are approximations for the rice diet calories, the authors suggest that you do not need to count calories because the meal sizes are strictly dictated in the meal plan and will provide the restricted calories necessary for weight loss.

Unlike the original rice diet meal plan, which was incredibly low in sodium, the 2006 rice diet plan requires a minimum of 300 mg of sodium per day and recommends consuming 500-1000 mg daily.

The sodium is primarily provided naturally in dairy products found in the meal plan.

However, if you do not consume dairy products, you should have two slices of bread or add 200 mg of sodium from another food source to ensure that you are getting enough.

The rice diet meal plan dictates specific portions for the allowable food groups as follows:

  • One starch: 1/3 cup of cooked rice or beans, 1/2 cup of cooked pasta or other grains, one slice of bread, or up to one cup of cereal
  • One non-fat dairy: 1 cup of fat-free soy milk, fat-free fortified rice milk or oat milk, fat-free yogurt, or fat-free cow milk
  • One vegetable: 1 cup of raw vegetables
  • One fruit: 1 medium-sized fruit or one cup of cut fruit
  • One condiment: 1 teaspoon (tsp) of honey or syrup. You can also have salt-free seasonings and fresh or dried herbs.
Rice.

Then, the number of servings per meal for each food group depends on the phase of the rice diet as follows:

Phase 1: Detox

This phase lasts one week.

For the first day, you have two starches and two fresh fruits each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Then, the rice diet plan is as follows:

  • Breakfast: 1 starch, 1 non-fat dairy, and 1 fruit
  • Lunch: 3 starches, 3 vegetables, and 1 fruit
  • Dinner: 3 starches, 3 vegetables, and 1 fruit

Phase 2: Weight loss

This phase lasts as long as it takes to reach your ideal weight. 

The book’s authors suggest an aggressive weight loss rate of 3.5 pounds per week or 14 pounds per month and suggest combining exercise with the rice diet meal plan.

Here, you have two starches and two fruits at breakfast, lunch, and dinner two days each week and the other five days of the week plan above.

You can add 200 calories of protein to meals if necessary.

A bowl of rice and vegetables.

Phase 3: Maintenance

This is the lifelong maintenance phase. 

You are supposed to have the two starches and two fruits at least one day a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then have four days a week with the meal plan listed above for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, respectively.

Then, for two days a week, you can have the following:

  • Breakfast: 2 starches and 1 fruit
  • Lunch: 3 starches, 3 vegetables, and 1 fruit
  • Dinner: 3 starches, 3 proteins or 2 dairy, 3 vegetables, and 1 fruit

You can also add some healthy fats like avocado and more lean protein if you want.

The original plan suggested having white rice, but the more modern meal plan suggests having either white or whole grain brown rice.

In addition to following the rice diet meal plan for weight loss, four other lifestyle factors go into the rice diet weight loss plan, including the following:

  1. Eat mindfully, think about every bite, and avoid distractions while eating. You are also supposed to understand the nutritional content of the food you eat for nutritional sake and not for emotional or social reasons.
  2. Decreasing stress and adding relaxation activities into your daily routine, such as breath work, mindful journaling, meditation, or tai chi.
  3. Get regular exercise every day.
  4. Building social support in your relationships and communities.
Diet plan on a notebook.

Is the Rice Diet Good for Weight Loss?

The authors of the Rice Diet Solution claim that the rice diet is an effective way for rapid but “safe” weight loss.

The book claims that typical weight loss results for males are 30 pounds in the first four weeks and 19 pounds for females in the first four weeks.

If you think about this practically, 30 pounds in four weeks is just over 7 pounds per week or a little more than a pound per day.

It should be noted that this rate of fat loss is very dangerous and unlikely to occur, raising questions about the claims made in the Rice Diet Solution.

However, again, much of the weight loss reported initially on this weight loss plan is likely due to water weight.

Even though rice is high in carbohydrates, which can cause your body to store water, the rice diet meal plan is very low in sodium.

This is because research suggests sodium promotes water retention in the body because the body holds onto more water in order to dilute the sodium concentration in your blood and interstitial fluids.2Rakova, N., Kitada, K., Lerchl, K., Dahlmann, A., Birukov, A., Daub, S., Kopp, C., Pedchenko, T., Zhang, Y., Beck, L., Johannes, B., Marton, A., Müller, D. N., Rauh, M., Luft, F. C., & Titze, J. (2017). Increased Salt Consumption Induces Body Water Conservation and Decreases Fluid Intake. The Journal of Clinical Investigation127(5), 1932–1943. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI88530

Evidence demonstrates that dietary sodium may also affect hormones that impact water excretion.3Zeidel, M. L. (2017). Salt and water: not so simple. Journal of Clinical Investigation127(5), 1625–1626. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci94004

‌The authors of the Rice Diet Solution say that salt is also an appetite stimulant, so decreasing salt intake can decrease food intake and overeating.

They also claim that the rice diet weight loss results are due to the fact that the diet limits saturated fats, is low calorie, and includes “fiber-rich carbohydrates“ which helps promote satiety and limiting it not only causes someone to lose water weight but also weight due to overeating.

A person getting their blood pressure taken.

Is the Rice Diet Healthy?

While the rice diet program does have some potential health benefits for helping people lose weight, decrease blood pressure, and reduce other disease risk factors, there are also some inherent problems and potential risks with the rice diet plan.

For one, it is very restrictive and it may be difficult for people to stick with it in the long term due to the lack of variety of foods.

Most concerningly, this diet plan can lead to nutritional deficiencies.

The rice diet is very low in protein, and the body needs a certain amount of protein to carry out essential functions as well as maintain muscle mass, catalyze chemical reactions in the body, form structures in cells, etc. 

The rice diet is also extremely low in fat.

Healthy fats are necessary for a variety of physiological functions, such as synthesizing certain hormones, absorbing fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, E, D, and K, and forming cell membranes, among other functions.

If you are taking medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or other chronic conditions, you should always speak with your doctor before trying the rice diet for weight loss or perceived health.

Overall, the rice diet plan is extremely restrictive and generally unsafe unless guided by a medical professional and nutritionist or dietitian.

The rate of weight loss is too aggressive, and the meal plan is quite low in protein, fat, and sodium, even with the updated version.

A diet planning sheet with vegetables and exercise equipment surrounding it.

References

  • 1
    Klemmer, P., Grim, C. E., & Luft, F. C. (2014). Who and What Drove Walter Kempner? Hypertension64(4), 684–688. https://doi.org/10.1161/hypertensionaha.114.03946
  • 2
    Rakova, N., Kitada, K., Lerchl, K., Dahlmann, A., Birukov, A., Daub, S., Kopp, C., Pedchenko, T., Zhang, Y., Beck, L., Johannes, B., Marton, A., Müller, D. N., Rauh, M., Luft, F. C., & Titze, J. (2017). Increased Salt Consumption Induces Body Water Conservation and Decreases Fluid Intake. The Journal of Clinical Investigation127(5), 1932–1943. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI88530
  • 3
    Zeidel, M. L. (2017). Salt and water: not so simple. Journal of Clinical Investigation127(5), 1625–1626. https://doi.org/10.1172/jci94004
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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