Why Black Rice is not just a gourmet fad but has health benefits too

September 21, 2010 by  
Filed under featured, Food & Nutrition, Health

You may have noticed when strolling down the aisles of your supermarket that in the “exotic foods” section that among the ordinary everyday types of rice — of which there are already quite a few — you may have noticed something called Black Rice. What you may not know is just how special it is and what a treasure house of nutrients it contains.

In ancient China, nobles commandeered every grain of a variety of black rice known as “Forbidden Rice” for themselves and – as is the way with rulers all over the world — issued an order forbidding the common people from eating it. Well now you can take your revenge and raid the supermarket shelves to treat yourself because new scientific research has discovered that a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than are found in a spoonful of blueberries, plus the rice bran has less sugar, more fibre and an abundance of vitamin E.

In case you think this is a propaganda press release on behalf of the Chinese Department of Agriculture let me assure you this comes from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, USA. Many fruits are known to be rich sources of anthocyanin antioxidants and these phytochemicals show promise for fighting heart disease, cancer, and other diseases but this is the first time that black rice has been shown to have the same properties. . As part of a healthy diet many people have switched to brown rice — which is certainly an improvement on white rice — but it seems that black rice could be even more beneficial.

Brown rice is the most widely produced variety of rice in the world and has a brown colour because only the outer husks, or “chaff”, are taken off the rice grains during milling. When rice is processed more, and the underlying nutrient-dense bran is removed, the result is white rice. If you eat brown, not white, rice you are making a far healthier choice as the bran contains higher levels of gamma-tocotrienol, one of the vitamin E compounds, and gamma-oryzanol antioxidants, which are lipid-soluble antioxidants.

A large body of research has concluded these antioxidants can reduce blood levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol) and potentially lower the risk for heart disease. Indeed scientists at Temple University, Philadelphia have found that a specific natural compound in brown rice can reduce high blood pressure and protect blood vessels and Harvard University research suggests that eating brown rice may prevent type 2 diabetes.

An interesting side effect of their research was the discovery that pigments in black rice bran extracts can produce a variety of different colours, ranging from pink to black. Looking ahead, they think this may provide a healthy, natural alternative to the artificial colourings often added to some food and drink. This could certainly be beneficial as several studies have found an association between such colourings and cancer, behavioural problems in children, and other health concerns.

The Louisiana State researchers focused on testing black rice bran as this has the most potent effects, but I do not believe this to be commercially available anywhere. At least I have not been able to find it, if you do please let me know, so in the meantime it would still make sense to add black rice to your diet.

Black Rice has been promoted as a gourmet treat — which at its retail price it certainly is — and is more commonly used as decoration or for visual effect or mixed with either white or brown rice. However to get the maximum health benefits it would certainly pay you to add a tablespoon of black rice whenever you’re cooking any kind of rice.