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Rice: go with the grain.

Rice: Go With The Grain

Rice is the principal food grain for more than half the people in the world. The average Burmese eats more than 500 pounds of rice a year; the average Japanese, 175 pounds. Until recently, we probably threw more of our 18 pounds at newlyweds than we ate. But that's starting to change.

Potatoes still account for 60 percent of the $1 billion sidedish market, but rice, at eight percent, is gaining steadily. We'd like to think that's because people are finally treating rice--mixed with vegetables--as their main dish and meat as their side dish.

Unfortunately, our refined, salty, fatty, packaged rice mixes aren't nearly as nutritious as the ethnic dishes they're trying so hard to imitate.


The average 10-ounce can of Campbell's Soup contains 1,047 mg of sodium. The average 3/4-cup serving of Rice-A-Roni contains 1,188mg. That's rights. Rice side dishes can be saltier than canned soup.

Most rice mixes contain anywhere from 600 to 1,000 mg of sodium per serving. Rice-A-Roni was the worst offender. Five of its 19 mixes top 1,500 mg, and two of those (Yellow Rice and Rice-Pilaf) are close to 1,800 mg. That's almost a teaspoon of salt--and the amount the National Academy of Sciences says we should ideally limit ourselves to for a whole day.

So rice dishes are salty. No problem. Just check the sodium information on the box or package before you buy. Oops. Uncle Ben's Rice-A-Roni, success, and Knorr don't list sodium--or any nutrition information, for that matter. How convenient.

Casbah has numbers...for everything except sodium. And that's not just convenient, it's illegal. "If a manufacturer puts nutrition information on a label, it has to include sodium," says James Summers, of the Food and Drug Administration's Division of Regulatory Guidance.

A spokesperson for Casbah had no idea why its rices didn't list sodium. Needless to say, "We'll get back to you" was the last we heard from the company.

One way around salty rice is to stick to brands that come with separate seasoning packets. Add only half the packet, and presto! You've cut the salt in half. Save the rest of the packet for the next time you want to zip up some homemade rice.

Most of these dishes are so salty to begin with that slashing the sodium actually makes them more palatable. At least we thought so when we used the technique on a half-dozen. It's not worth trying to do anything with salty dishes when the rice and seasoning come already-mixed, like Knorr's and Lipton's.


Rice alone has very little fat. But follow the cooking instructions and add butter, margarine, or oil, and your low-fat rice could end up as greasy as McDonald's Freench Fries.

With some dishes, you're stuck with the grease that has already been processed in. Budget Gourmet's Oriental Rice for example, has 2 1/2 teaspoons of fat in its pre-portioned 1/2-cup serving--take it or leave it (please).

But most mixes tell you to add the fat. don't.

If you follow the instructions on the package, a dish like Success chicken Rice will end up with 2 1/2 teaspoons of fat. Skip the grease, and the fat drops to about half a teaspoon. We made more than a dozen mixes both with the without added fat; in each case, the "without" was just as good.

Oh yes. don't be tricked into thinking that a rice dish is fat-free just because the box lists the fat content as "O." Lundberg and Casbah, for example, give nutrition information for their mixes "as packaged." That way they don't have to include all the fat they tell you to add. Pretty sneaky.

Speaking of sneaky, which those names. You won't find more than a tablespoon of vegetables in an entire box of Uncle Ben's Country Inn Broccoli Almondine or Rice-A Roni Spring Vegetables. And, because the vegetable crumbs are mixed into the seasoning packet, you can't add them without adding salt. You'd be better off buying a mix without the vegetables and dicing in your own.

Better yet, cook up some brown rice in vegetable stock or unsalted chicken broth. (Or use converted white--it's quicker than brown and has more nutrients than plain or instant white.) Saute it with a little oil and onion, add a touch of saffron or turmeric, and throw on some frozen peas at the last minute. The possibilities are endless...and delicious.


You won't find much fiber in rice side dishes. Only about a dozen of the ones we looked at were made from whole grains. The rest were parboiled (converted) or precooked (instant) white rice.

It's worth buying brown rice, which has three times the fiber, vitamin E, and magnesium, and more than twice the selenium of white rice.

If a dish has brown rice, your can be sure the box will tell you so--in big letters. After all, it's not sodium.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:nutrition information about packaged rice mixes
Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Previous Article:Tricks of the trade.
Next Article:Lessons from China.

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