Duke Rice Diet

Despite its name, the Duke Rice Diet is more than a weight-loss program that involves eating rice. Consisting of four basic aspects -- medical supervision, education, group support and controlled nutrition -- the Rice Diet purports to be an effective treatment for obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. While the program is no longer affiliated with the Duke University Medical Center as it was at its inception, it is still located in Duke University's hometown of Durham, N.C. In 2009, "60 Minutes" reported that some participants experience significant weight loss on the Rice Diet, although there are several disadvantages associated with the program.


The Rice Diet was developed in the 1930s by the German-born Duke University Department of Medicine professor Walter Kempner. Kempner's medical research led him to note that cultures with people who frequently eat rice have a lower incidence of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease. He developed a weight-loss plan focused on rice, fruit, juice and dietary supplements, and this plan was used as a live-in treatment option at Duke University Medical Center in 1939. Since that time, the Rice Diet has grown to incorporate more foods and to strictly limit sodium and fat intake.


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The heart of the Rice Diet is an 800- to 1,000-calorie daily meal plan overseen by doctors, dietitians and nurses at the Rice House in Durham. The program has two distinct phases: Phase 1, in which participants eat only fruit and whole grains; and Phase 2, when beans, vegetables and fish are slowly reintroduced into meals. The meals are designed to provide no more than 150 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of fat and 20 grams of protein daily. During both phases, the medical condition of every participant is closely monitored, and dieters attend daily classes on healthy lifestyle choices and group encouragement sessions. Any length of stay is possible, though the Rice Diet Program main site recommends between three to six weeks.


Unlike fad diets that promise quick weight loss but fail to address lifestyle habits such as controlling portion size, making healthy eating choices and learning to exercise regularly, the Rice Diet attempts to address all aspects of weight management with a program that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and medically supervised weight loss. The program's low-sodium, low-fat, primarily plant-based eating plan fulfills the latest guidelines for a healthy diet. Participants in the program told "60 Minutes" reporter Rebecca Leung that following the plan in the supportive environment of the Rice House made it easier to lose pounds than when they were at home.


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The Rice Diet is a viable option only for people who have enough time and money to invest in a several-week stay at the Rice House. Although Robert Rosati, an associate professor of cardiology at Duke University Medical Center, has written several at-home guides to the diet, including "The Rice Diet Solution," they provide only a modified version of the actual diet plan and none of the medical support. Because the diet is so restrictive, many participants end up regaining the weight they lost when they return to their normal lives. Out of five Rice House dieters followed by "60 Minutes" for three years, three ended up gaining significant weight after leaving the program.