Spaghetti and meatballs will only satisfy your noodle cravings so many times before it gets dreadfully boring. Enter rice noodles, a chewy, light pasta alternative that’s common in Southeast Asian cooking. They may be gluten-free—but are rice noodles healthy? The answer is (thankfully) heck yes. With a moderate amount of calories and minimal fat, rice noodles are a healthy choice whether you’re avoiding gluten or not.
Yeah, They’re Gluten-Free, But Are Rice Noodles Healthy?
Pass the pad Thai, please
Are Rice Noodles Healthy?
Rice noodles are made of rice (maybe you figured that already…), specifically rice flour. So, they’re naturally gluten-free, unlike regular pastas and most noodles that contain wheat flour. Rice noodles’ signature gelatinous texture and transparent appearance is typically the result of corn starch or tapioca being added to the mix for extra chew. Like regular pasta, you can buy rice noodles fresh, frozen or dried and in an array of shapes and textures. (The super thin rice noodles you may have tasted before are called rice vermicelli.)
Rice noodles are a great low-calorie main to work into your dinner rotation. But like anything else, they’re only as healthy as what you cook them in. If you want to keep them as lean and clean as possible, prepare them with lots of fresh veggies and lean proteins while steering clear of pre-seasoned noodles or noodles that come with a packet of broth or seasoning. If you just want enjoy them in peace, go ahead and sauté them in whatever your heart desires.
Rice Noodles vs. Regular Pasta
Pasta and rice noodles are just about tied when it comes to calories, fat and fiber, as well as on the carb front (if you’re on a low-carb diet like keto, stick to zoodles). Regular pasta has about 2 grams of sugar per serving while rice noodles are virtually sugar-free. Both are also free of cholesterol.
The biggest difference is the sodium content. Rice noodles have 103 milligrams of sodium per serving, while pasta only has 3 milligrams. Regular pasta also contains 4 more grams of protein than rice noodles, as well as higher counts of some nutrients like iron and folic acid, since most dry pastas are enriched.
White rice noodles are made from white rice, a grain that only turns white after being stripped of its germ and bran (aka where most of its nutrients come from) in processing. While white rice is not devoid of benefits, medical professionals and studies often cite higher-fiber brown rice as nutritionally superior. Thankfully, whole-grain or brown rice noodles also exist. Look for those to boost the nutritional content a bit, or opt for soba, kelp or shirataki noodles instead, which are all higher in fiber and nutrients than rice noodles.
3 Health Benefits of Rice Noodles
1. They’re Gluten-Free
If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, rice noodles will be your go-to. While gluten isn’t inherently unhealthy, Harvard Medical School reports than nearly 2 million Americans may have celiac disease, though only about 300,000 of them have been diagnosed. So, if you have a hunch you could be sensitive to wheat, rice noodles might be easier on your tummy.
2. They’re Rich in Manganese and Selenium
Manganese is a mineral that’s crucial in regulating blood sugar and reducing inflammation. A two-ounce serving of rice noodles boasts 14 percent of your daily recommended manganese. Rice noodles also contain 12 percent of your daily selenium, an antioxidant that can help lower your risk for cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
3. They’re Rich in Phosphorus
Not only does this mineral assist your body in using and storing energy, but it also works alongside calcium to maintain tooth and bone health and helps the kidneys filter waste. Each two-ounce serving of rice noodles packs 87 milligrams of phosphorous, or about 9 percent of what you should have in a day.
The Bottom Line
Rice noodles are naturally healthy and an awesome gluten-free alternative to those who can’t eat regular pasta—though one isn’t dramatically healthier than the other. The nutrition of each is largely dependent on how they’re prepared. Whether you’re eating rice noodles for allergy-related reasons or not, one fact remains: They’re downright delicious. Here are a few rice noodle recipes to get you started: