Boxed Rice is Convenient — But Comes At A Cost
Flavor packets used in preparation can contribute to sodium overload
By Karen Collins, R.D.
Updated: 8:39 a.m. PT Oct 26, 2007
Looking for an easy-to-prepare crowd-pleaser that you can feel
good about serving to your family? Just grab a box of rice, right?
Well, not always. Choose the wrong box and you could end up
dishing out more than half the recommended daily amount of sodium
in each portion.
While advertisements make it seem like the perfect way to simplify
dinner preparation, rice sold with its own “flavor packet” is not such
an easy sell nutritionally.
Boxed rice may be convenient, but these products offer little more than
refined grains and lots of excess sodium. Eating a one-cup portion of rice
prepared according to package directions (including the prepackaged
seasonings and added margarine) can provide up to 1350 milligrams of
sodium. Compare that to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines’ recommended limit
of 2300 mg per day and you’re well on your way to sodium overload.
Sodium recommendations are designed to prevent or control high blood
pressure and reduce risk of stomach cancer. While the guidelines are set for
the general public, people who are more sensitive to the blood pressure-raising
effects of sodium — namely Black men and women, older adults and those
already diagnosed with hypertension — are encouraged to limit sodium even
further, to 1500 mg per day or less.
Seasoning — without sodium
Fortunately, making rice that is both healthful and convenient is a snap.
By choosing brown rice and adding your own seasonings, you not only
eliminate the extra sodium, you add plenty of additional nutrients, too.
Brown rice is the whole-grain form of rice, with more than double the dietary
fiber of its white, refined counterpart. It also provides more vitamin B-6,
magnesium and selenium, as well as additional phyto chemicals with antioxidant
properties that seem to help stave off cancer and heart disease. While traditional
brown rice requires about 45 minutes of cooking time, quick-fix brown rice is
now available that takes only 10 minutes to prepare.
In many boxed rice mixes, the heart of the sodium problem is clearly the flavor
packet. Rice itself has no sodium, so the value listed on the label is entirely due
to additional seasoning.
But in the same amount of time it takes to open a salt-loaded flavor packet, you
can just as easily open a jar of dried herbs. Simply add one-fourth teaspoon of
herbs for each serving of rice and enjoy a sodium-free flavor boost. Try thyme or
basil for a mild flavor or, for the more adventurous palette, add a pinch of curry
powder or ginger. Substituting vegetable stock or low-sodium chicken broth in
place of water also adds flavor, with no more than 75 mg of sodium per cup of
You’re also wise to consider using a tablespoon of olive oil in place of the two-plus
tablespoons of margarine usually recommended on package directions. Less added
fat means fewer calories, and eliminating the margarine (or butter) also decreases
the sodium by about 100 mg. Alternatively, you can leave out the added fat completely
if you like.
To boost nutrition even further, slip a few servings of vegetables — even fruit — into
your rice dish. Shredded carrots, chopped canned tomatoes, raisins, dried apricots
and pineapple all add color and nutrients.
Skipping convenience rice mixes and creating your own dish from scratch can
improve the nutritional quality — and add money to your pocket, too.
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