Haven’t heard of black rice? It’s not surprising really, it’s pretty rare compared to its brown and white relatives.
But, by all accounts, black rice is a cut above the rest when it comes to its nutritional quality and health benefits.
Ancient Chinese lore claims that black rice was reserved solely for the Emperor and the Royal Family, due to its nutritional profile and healing abilities. Back in those days, if you were caught eating it without permission, your life was in jeopardy!
Today, black rice is available to the masses, with CNN reporting that researchers are trying to encourage its popularity.
Was the Emperor right when he decided to keep it all to himself? Is black rice worth tracking down for its healthful properties?
Nutritionally Superior to Brown or White Rice
White rice isn’t really all that nutritious and is a simple carbohydrate, meaning it can cause a quick rise and fall in blood sugar levels, leaving you tired, irritable and hungry.
Brown rice is a much better option. But can black rice beat it?
Here is what a typical serving (one quarter cup, uncooked) of black rice will provide your body with:
- 160 calories
- 5 g fat – 2% Recommended Daily Value (RDV)
- 34 g carbohydrates – 11% RDV
- 2 g dietary fiber – 8% RDV
- 1 g sugar
- 5 g protein
- No saturated fat
- No cholesterol
Let’s compare that with brown and white rice.
Brown rice has 170 calories, 45 g of carbs and 4 g of protein, while white rice has 180 calories, 53 g carbs and 3 g protein.
As you can see, black rice contains marginally fewer calories, fewer carbs and more protein than either brown or white rice.
It’s not a huge different but it does mean black rice is a better option in terms of nutritional value.
Rich Source of Antioxidants
Where black rice really puts itself ahead of either brown or white rice is when it comes to its antioxidant content.
An analysis of 12 different varieties of rice found that the antioxidant content of black rice was about six times higher than brown or white rice.
What’s more, black rice has been found to rival blueberries in terms of antioxidant power. That’s no mean feat, given that blueberries have been ranked number one for antioxidants when compared with 40 other fruits and vegetables.
A study presented in 2010 at the American Chemical Society, reports that one spoonful of black rice bran (equivalent to 10 spoonfuls of cooked black rice) contains the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of fresh blueberries.
I’ve talked about anthocyanin before in my article on the health benefits of blueberries – it’s a highly potent antioxidant that is responsible for both blueberries’ deep color and their incredible health benefits.
As well as being similar in terms of antioxidants, black rice bran contains less sugar and more fiber and vitamin E antioxidants than blueberries.
Eating black rice regularly would certainly be more affordable alternative to blueberries in terms of antioxidants.
While inflammation is a healthy bodily response to foreign bacteria and viruses, sometimes inflammation can get out of control, which is most definitely not a good thing!
While the brown rice bran didn’t suppress inflammation, the black rice bran did! This led the researchers to suggest that black rice may be a useful ‘therapeutic agent for the treatment and prevention of diseases associated with chronic inflammation’.
Of course, you won’t fight chronic inflammation by eating rice alone! I recommend including black rice or black rice bran as part of an overall anti-inflammatory diet.
Another supposed health benefit of black rice is usefulness in helping people reach or maintain a healthy weight.
I have to admit, when it comes to products making claims like this, I’m incredibly skeptical. There are just too many products on the market now that make the same claims – like this one and this one and all of these!
So does the science back up the claims about black rice and fat fighting?
One group ate meals containing white rice, while the others ate almost identical meals – the only difference being the white rice was replaced by a mix of black and brown.
Even though both groups had significant reductions in weight, BMI and body fat, the brown/black group enjoyed greater reductions in all three areas, when compared with the white rice group.
Of course, this is just one study. And it featured a mix of black and brown rice.
This makes it difficult to say if black rice is responsible for the extra weight loss, or if it’s simply down to the high fiber content of both black and brown rice.
I think more studies are definitely needed in the area of black rice and body weight.
However, this study (and many others) highlight the importance of fiber in maintaining a healthy weight. Because our bodies digest fiber slowly, high fiber foods keep us fuller for longer, preventing hunger and cravings.
So whether you choose black or brown rice, it’s always a better alternative to white!
It goes without saying that keeping a healthy heart is vital for overall health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women, accounting for one in every four deaths.
Can black rice play a role in a healthier heart?
Some studies seem to suggest it can.
When this plaque builds up, it causes the arteries to harden and become blocked.
It’s a major risk factor for both heart attack and stroke. In this particular study, male rabbits were injected with high levels of cholesterol in order to cause this plaque formation. They were then divided into five groups, four of which were fed high cholesterol diets, one without rice and the others with various types of rice, including black.
The plaque was 50% lower in rabbits fed black rice (or red rice) than in those fed with white rice. Researchers conclude that the antioxidants in black rice may play a role in reducing atherosclerosis.
But that’s not all…there is further evidence that black rice may keep your heart healthy.
A 2013 study assessed the ability of black rice to inhibit cholesterol absorption. After investigating, researchers found that black rice did indeed play a role in this, thanks to the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanins.
The liver is one of our biggest organs, responsible for converting the nutrients from our food into materials that our body can use. It also regulates hormones and plays a vital role in detoxifying our body.
According to some studies, black rice can play a role in liver health.
This common condition, which affects up to 90 million Americans (even children!), happens when fatty deposits form on the liver.
Mice with fatty liver disease were fed either a normal fat diet, high fat diet or a high fat diet supplemented with black rice extract.
After seven weeks, it was found that those mice fed the diet with black rice had improved blood lipid levels and significantly lower levels of triglycerides and total cholesterol than the others.
From this work, researchers were led to believe that black rice may play a role in preventing fatty liver disease.
Rats were divided into two groups and administered alcohol to cause liver damage. One group was also given the anthocyanin from black rice, along with the alcohol. The scientists found that the rats given the antioxidant had lower levels of liver damage caused by the alcohol.
Both of these studies point to the beneficial effects of black rice for a healthy liver, most likely due to its high antioxidant content.
It’s true that certain foods can boost your memory – I’ve written about some of them here.
While I didn’t come across any studies that specifically looked at the effects of black rice on memory and learning, there are plenty that link antioxidants, in particular anthocyanin, with brain function.
After all, oxidative stress contributes to memory impairment, so it makes sense that antioxidants will counteract this to an extent.
A six year study of over 16,000 patients found that eating anthocyanin-rich foods can delay mental aging by up to two and a half years. The results also showed that even greater intakes of anthocyanins and other flavonoids were associated with even slower rates of cognitive decline.
This particular group of antioxidants don’t just slow down the mental aging process, they can also help boost learning and memory.
A 2009 study on rats showed that those treated with anthocyanins displayed improved learning and memory functions, over those that didn’t consume any anthocyanins.
Like I said, these studies don’t specifically link black rice with improved cognitive function, but there are a myriad of studies out there linking the main antioxidant in black rice with better memory.
This spread is a significant source of cancer death so scientists are constantly looking at ways to stop this from happening.
It was found in this particular study that the anthocyanins extracted from black rice showed a ‘marked inhibition’ on the spread of certain cancer cells.
A more recent study, from 2014, has also indicated that black rice anthocyanins have the potential to stop tumor metastasis in breast cancer cells.
Other studies show black rice’s ability to fight breast cancer by causing the cancer cells to die.
While these studies show that black rice shows some promise in preventing the spread of cancer, it’s not by any means a cure. Much more research needs to be carried out in this area.
Black rice certainly appears to have some health benefits, number one of those being its antioxidant content.
The antioxidant value of this rice doesn’t seem to be in dispute nor does its heart healthy benefits.
Other health effects of black rice, like its weight loss and anti-cancer claims, need a lot more investigation before we can say for sure if it works in these areas.
That said, I’m all for a varied diet so in my opinion any healthy foods should be added in to a healthy eating plan to give us more variety. Black rice is certainly a healthy food!
It also looks more interesting than brown does, and it has a unique nutty flavor that I just love! Try it in these delicious black rice tofu cakes.
So if you like rice and you like the sound of these health benefits, then by all means try some of this ‘forbidden rice’. Just remember, it’s not a ‘miracle cure’ for anything!
Have you ever tried black rice? Or are you interested in trying it after reading all about its healthy properties?
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