What is the Rice Diet?

Updated March 21, 2017

The Rice Diet: fad diet or legitimate weight loss program? While experts debunk the current Rice Diet as a passing fancy, it might surprise you to learn that the Rice Diet was once a scientific program employed by a physician at Duke University's Medical Center to combat the ill effects of health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. Research into the Rice Diet reveals conflicting evidence that it is effective for every dieter who wishes to lose weight.

The Origin of the Rice Diet

German physician Walter Kempner is credited with the development of the original Rice Diet program. According to Duke University Medical Center's Archives and Memorabilia Department, Kempner was born in 1903 and joined the university in 1934. Observing that people who ate rice as a staple food rarely suffered from hypertension or diabetes, Kempner devised a diet consisting of rice, fruit, juices and vitamins that was employed on human participants in his Rice Diet program --purportedly with positive results. From the mid-1930s until Kempner retired from the Rice Diet program in 1994, he treated more than 18,000 patients. Kempner died in 1997 at age 93.

The New Rice Diet: Media Darling

In 2005, cardiologist Robert Rosati and his wife, nutritionist Kitty Rosati, wrote the book "The Rice Diet Solution," using Kempner's original diet as a model (although it is unknown how the Rosatis' version of the diet differs from Kempner's). The Rice Diet gained momentum with the American public when CBS featured the Rosatis' Rice Diet residential treatment clinic in Durham, N.C., on its show "60 Minutes." The National Enquirer named the Rosatis' version of the diet one of "The Hottest Diets of 2006." But it could be argued that the current Rice Diet owes much of its popularity to a Long Island woman named Susan Blech, who made the pages of People magazine in 2007. Blech, who spent £45,500 during the course of her treatment at the Durham clinic, went from 468 pounds to 227 on the 1,000-calorie-a-day diet. Blech became the cover girl for the Rice Diet, appearing in Woman's World, Prevention Magazine, First For Women and People Magazine again in 2008.

What's In the Rice Diet?

According to the Rice Diet official website, salt causes the body to retain water; purportedly decreasing sodium consumption to less than 500 milligrams a day permits dieters to get rid of excess water weight (according to the Mayo Clinic, recommended sodium intake is between 1,200 and 2,400 milligrams per day for most adults).

The Rosatis' Rice Diet is an extremely low-sodium meal plan that incorporates consumption of a rice (or a similar grain) at each meal. Dieters are allowed to eat a variety of some 30 foods, which include fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, fish and beans. Consumption of caffeinated beverages is discouraged, as is the use of sugar and creamer substitutes and alcohol. Because the Rice Diet limits food variety, dieters must also take daily vitamin and mineral supplements.

How Does the Rice Diet Work?

The home version of program outlined in "The Rice Diet Solution" is implemented in weekly "phases." Phase One of the diet limits dieters to daily caloric intake from 800 to 1,000 calories and includes rice, fruits and vegetables, and nonfat dairy foods. Phase Two of the diet adds fish to the dieter's menu; caloric intake is anywhere from 800 to 1,200 daily. Phase Three of the diet is the maintenance plan, which caps dieters at a daily intake of 1,200 calories -- roughly the amount needed to sustain a 2-year-old child.

Criticism of the Rice Diet

Will the Rice Diet work for every dieter? It must be noted that Kempner's original diet was to alleviate symptoms suffered by patients with serious health conditions, and generic obesity was not one of them. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) warns against fad diets such as the Rice Diet, which makes claims that a single food magically helps melt fat away. As the ADA points out, any diet will work as long as it is very low in calories, and certainly this is true of the Rosatis' Rice Diet -- which also incorporates exercise as a necessary component of weight loss. Fad diets such as the Rice Diet often fail because dieters get bored eating the same things each day. Alternately, they might find themselves eating too much of the "magic food" and gaining weight instead. The ADA also points out that fad diets such as the Rice Diet don't provide the requisite nutrients that the body needs.

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About the Author

Lisa Sefcik has been writing professionally since 1987. Her subject matter includes pet care, travel, consumer reviews, classical music and entertainment. She's worked as a policy analyst, news reporter and freelance writer/columnist for Cox Publications and numerous national print publications. Sefcik holds a paralegal certification as well as degrees in journalism and piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin.