Rice on the Mediterranean Diet: Everything You Need to Know

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Rice is a staple found in many Mediterranean cuisines, but there are many questions about eating it.

This article will cover common questions about eating rice on the Mediterranean diet.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is widely recognized for its health benefits, incorporating the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. 

Characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil and fatty fish, it’s touted for its ability to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Can You Eat Rice on the Mediterranean Diet?

In short, yes.

Rice, especially whole grain varieties like brown rice, fits perfectly into the principles of the Mediterranean Diet principles.

Rice is also predominantly featured in many Mediterranean cuisines, for example, paella dishes in Spain or risotto in Italy. 

Although brown rice is best, remember the Mediterranean diet simply says that you should eat more whole grains and isn’t completely restrictive, so don’t feel guilty about having white rice occasionally.

White vs Brown Rice

The refining process distinguishes white rice from brown rice.

Brown rice is the whole grain form where only the outermost layer, the husk, is removed. It preserves the bran and germ layers, which are rich in nutrients and fiber.

On the other hand, white rice undergoes a more extensive refining process. This removes a lot of the goodness within the grain.

There are many reasons why brown rice is better than white rice:

  1. Higher in fiber: Brown rice is generally higher in fiber than white rice, with about 3x the amount of fiber. Fiber is important in reducing cholesterol and controlling your weight by keeping you fuller for longer.
  2. More nutritious: Brown rice is higher in certain vitamins and minerals such as manganese, selenium, magnesium and folate. 
  3. Better glycemic control: White rice has a GI of 72, so it is absorbed more quickly into your bloodstream. Brown rice has a GI of 50. This is considered a low glycemic index food (less than 55). These are important for diabetics for example, who need to control blood sugar levels. 

What About Basmati Rice?

Basmati rice was traditionally grown in India and Pakistan and is therefore found in dishes more commonly found in those cuisines likes curries, rather than the Mediterranean diet.

However, since the Mediterranean diet focuses more on the types of foods and their nutritional profiles, rather than whether they were found in a specific Mediterranean cuisine, they can be eaten.

When compared to white rice, the nutrient profile is similar. They have similar fiber contents but basmati rice is slightly lower in calories.

Brown basmati rice is also available, and this has a similar nutrient profile to brown rice, so this is what you should choose if possible to keep it Mediterranean-friendly.

Alternatives to Rice

If you’re looking to diversify your grain intake or explore new textures and flavors, consider the following options:

  1. Quinoa: Originally from South America, quinoa has made its way into various cuisines, including Mediterranean-inspired dishes. It’s a complete protein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids, and is also rich in fiber and minerals.
  2. Farro: Farro has been a staple in the Mediterranean for thousands of years, farro has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It’s great in salads, soups, and as a side dish.
  3. Bulgur: Made from cracked whole grains of wheat, bulgur is a staple in dishes like tabbouleh or pilaf. It cooks quickly and has a texture somewhat similar to couscous.
  4. Couscous: While technically a type of pasta made from semolina wheat, couscous’s fine grains make it resemble rice or quinoa. It’s commonly used in North African dishes like Moroccan couscous and has been adopted in Mediterranean cuisine.
  5. Barley: A chewy and hearty grain, barley can be used in soups, stews, salads, or even as a risotto-like dish.

Mediterranean Rice Recipes to Serve with Rice

Here are some of our favorite recipes that either use rice as part of their rice or are best served with rice:

Yayla Corbasi (Turkish Mint Soup)

Yayla Corbasi (or Yayla Çorbası) is one of the most popular Turkish soup recipes loved throughout the country.  It combines yogurt, mint and rice for a creamy, yet comforting soup. 

Moroccan Fish Tagine

Tagines are slow-cooked, savory stew, typically made with meat (like lamb, chicken, or fish) that’s seasoned with spices, garlic, and onions. It often includes fruits like apricots, prunes, or dates, and may be garnished with nuts. It is common in many North African dishes.

Mediterranean Rice Recipes

If you want a delicious recipe to level up your rice, try this Mediterranean-style yellow rice recipe, using spices like turmeric, cinnamon and cumin to spice it up or this ham fried rice recipe.

To Sum Up

Rice is a food commonly eaten on Mediterranean cuisines and is allowed on the Mediterranean diet.

Choose whole grain varieties like brown rice when you can, as these are more nutritious.

However, the Mediterranean diet isn’t completely restrictive, so you can enjoy white rice now and again.