How to Cook Rice and Potatoes for Optimal Digestion

How to cook rice and potatoes for optimal digestion. Preparing rice (and other grains), potatoes, legumes, nuts and seeds properly unlocks the nutrients and ensures they aid rather than hinder digestion. 

There continues to be debate in the health community as to whether or not rice and potatoes are considered “healthy.” Are they pro-inflammatory and raise blood sugar? Do they irritate the gut lining? Are they too full of “empty” carbs?

The paleo community has long debated whether or not either or both are permissible, because while both have been a part of the human diet for over 3,500 years, both contain lectins, which can cause gastrointestinal issues or autoimmune flairs when they aren’t properly prepared.

I wrote an article titled Is Rice Paleo?, where I go into detail about the downsides of various types of rice (white, brown, wild, forbidden, etc), versus the potential health benefits. Check out the article if you want a deep dive into rice and why it could both be considered potentially harmful or healthful.

Korean Bulgogi and Rice Bowls with broccoli and kimchi | #healthy #dinner #recipe

The heated debate on rice and potatoes goes back to lectins (which are bad) and resistant starch (which is good). Fortunately, the way we prepare rice and potatoes can largely destroy active lectins and also make the resistant starch easier to digest, improving gut health and promoting regular bowel movements.

First, let’s discuss lectins and resistant starch.

What are Lectins?:

Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrate and serve as anti-nutrients. The purpose of lectins is to protect the plant from digestion so that if an animal were to eat it, the plant can survive the digestive process and still germinate after defecation.

Lectins are found in grains, potatoes, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

When consumed raw or undercooked, lectins in their active state can cause interfere with the absorption of minerals, especially calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Phytohaemagglutinin, a type of lectin found in undercooked kidney beans, cause red blood cells to clump together. It can also produce nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, diarrhea, bloating and gas. 

Lectins can bind to cells lining the GI tract, which may disrupt the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. It can also affect the growth of intestinal flora. Because lectin proteins bind to cells for long periods of time, they can potentially cause an autoimmune response and inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

The good news is, boiling lectin-containing foods deactivates the lectins, thereby removing the anti-nutrient property from them. The kicker is, they must be properly boiled or cooked, lest some of the lectins remain.

Ginger Turmeric Aromatic Rice


What is Resistant Starch?

Resistant starch plays an important role in digestion. Resistant starch is called such because it is resistant to digestion. It moves along your digestive system and arrives in your colon intact.

Resistant starch may help prevent colon cancer (due to its ability to bind food together to help it move through your body), improves your insulin resistance, makes you feel full and helps you sleep at night. We need both digestible and indigestible foods in order to keep our bowel movements regular and well-formed.

Now that we’ve covered the cons (lectins) and the pros (resistant starch and easy-to-digest carbohydrate), let’s discuss how to cook rice and potatoes for optimal digestion.

Roasted Sweet Potato Kale Salad with Quinoa, hemp seeds, and honey mustard dressing |

How to Cook Rice and Potatoes For Optimal Digestion:

The process of cooking a lectin-containing food for optimal digestion is simple. Both rice and potatoes need to be sufficiently boiled/steamed until they are completely cooked, and then cooled.

The cooling process, known as starch retrogradation, enhances resistant starch content after cooking, during which type 3 resistant starch is produced. Once starches are cooled after being cooked, the new structure of the plant is digestion-resistant, thus providing great benefit to your GI for optimal digestion.

For rice, place the rice in a pot and cover with at least 1 inch of water. Allow the rice to soak at least 15 minutes (overnight is better). Drain the water (I do this by using the lid of the pot while tipping it over the sink to release the water but not the rice), then add the required amount of water for cooking. The soaking process also helps remove lectins, potential pesticides, and also arsenic.

Follow the package instructions on the rice for cook time, but make sure the rice is not still al dente after the cooking process is complete. You don’t need the rice to be mushy per se, but it does need to be cooked through so that it is completely soft in the center. 

Once cooked, simply transfer the rice to a sealable container (I use glass tupperware) and refrigerate until completely chilled. Once the rice is thoroughly chilled, the starch retrogradation process is complete.

An easy tutorial on How to Make Coconut Rice

Similarly, cooking potatoes and then refrigerating them allows for starch retrogradation. This includes yams and sweet potatoes!

Place the potatoes in a pot and fill it with water. Cover the pot and bring it to a full boil. Cook at a full or gentle boil for 20 to 30 minutes (depending on the size of the potatoes), until the potatoes are very tender when poked with a fork.

Pesto smashed potatoes - how to photo

Drain the water and place the potatoes in a sealable container. Seal and refrigerate until completely chilled! After the potato has been chilled, you can eat it like a baked potato or chop it and use it in a hash, or even cut it into matchsticks and bake for french fries.

Pesto Smashed Potatoes - an easy, healthy side dish that goes perfectly with any main entree

Should you boil and cool potatoes before roasting them? For the resistant starch benefit, yes! Roasting potatoes will not provide the same starch structure, so for optimizing digestion, boiling and cooling before roasting is the move. Sounds daunting? It’s worth the process, especially for those with sensitive digestive systems.

I know what your next question is…will I ruin the whole process if I reheat the rice and/or potatoes after cooling them? No worries, the answer is no. You can reheat them and still have the same resistant starch benefit.

While this process requires a step or two more than what you’re accustomed to, I assure you, this is such an easy habit to form! For those of you who meal prep, you’re likely already cooking rice and potatoes for good digestion without even realizing it.

I make a huge batch of both rice and purple yams at the beginning of each week to ensure I have plenty of resistant starch ready for every meal. It’s true – I add a little bit of rice and/or potato to each meal, as my body performs best with a good balance of protein, carbs, fat, and fiber. I eat a diet that is low to moderate in carbohydrate; but for me, having a small amount of resistant starch at every meal helps me nail good digestion!

So now that you know how to remove lectins from rice and potatoes! What now?! Well, you can consume them however you would like. Use either or both in your favorite bowl recipes, eat them as a side dish, put them on salad…sky’s the limit.

Roasted Veggie and Avocado Breakfast Burritos with sweet potato and zucchini - these healthy breakfast burritos are packed with nutrients.

Favorite Recipes From The Roasted Root That Call For Rice or Potatoes:

My cookbook, Paleo Power Bowls, is now available! CLICK HERE to check it out. Thank you for your support!


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  1. Leslie

    Any suggestions regarding Arborio rice used for risotto; soak, then cook as directed, adding water a bit at a time as it is absorbed?

    1. Julia Post author

      You nailed it, Leslie! Soak, cook as normal, then cool completely. The extra step of cooling is crucial to maximize the resistant starch benefit, so this means cooking the risotto a few hours (or days) before you intend to eat it 😀 Hope you enjoy!! xoxox

  2. Amy

    Thank you! This is a great article. I suffer from stomach and GI sensitivity that has yet to be figured out. I will definitely use this process for my rice and potatoes. What about yams and sweet potatoes? Boil and cool those as well? And beans? Does soaking, cooking, and cooling beans remove lectins?

    1. Julia Post author

      Hi Amy!

      Great question! Yams and sweet potatoes should be prepared the same way – steam/boil first, then cool completely to allow for the resistant starch to build.

      Yes, same story for beans, but the kicker here is most people get a pronounced inflammatory responses in the GI from beans and legumes. If you have a sensitive GI, I would say stay away from beans and legumes until you figure out what’s going on. Keeping inflammation under control is key in calming down or preventing GI flairs.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!!

  3. Jayne

    What about raw nuts? I eat a handful of raw almonds every day. And I cook with cashews. Do they also have to be boiled and cooked? Doesn’t sound appetizing.

  4. Zora

    This is so interesting! Thank you for this info- excited to try this with my rice and yam prep! One question- could you do the initial cooking of the potatoes in an Instant Pot, instead of boiling on the stovetop? Would it have the same lectin-removing capability?

  5. Robert

    Hello Julia,

    Thank you for this lovely article! One question – do you put the rice or potatoes into fridge immediately after cooking, or do you leave it to cool down a bit on a room temperature and then put it in?

    Some foods just dont handle putting them inside fridge while they are very warm, usually get spoiled, so just wondering how you are handling the cooling part.


    1. Julia Post author

      Hi Robert!

      I allow the rice and potatoes to cool down slightly. The rice can cool covered in the pot, and potatoes can be drained from the water (if boiling/steaming) and placed in a glass tupperware to cool. Let me know if you have any other questions! xo


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