Black Rice: Better than Blueberries?

There’s a new health food on the horizon—black rice. And this time, the media hype may be accurate. Emerging research shows that it is even richer in antioxidants and valuable plant compounds than blueberries.

As most of us know, the difference between brown rice (a “whole grain”) and white rice is that white rice is highly processed. First the hull is removed, leaving- in the case of brown rice- a brown colored layer of bran. When this layer of bran is removed you have white rice, a food that is– from a nutritional point of view– pretty lame.

With black rice, the hull is also removed, but this time the remaining layer of bran is black. Research by Zhimin Xu at the Department of Food Science at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center has shown that the black layer of bran is rich in a particular class of powerful plant compounds known as anthocyanins.

These anthoycanins are pigments that can appear blue (blueberries), red (raspberries) or purple (grapes and purple cabbage), and when ingested, they protect cells against oxidative damage from free radicals.

Free radicals damage our cells and our DNA and contribute to just about every degenerative disease. Scientists suspect that one reason fruits and vegetables are so healthy is because they are rich in the vitamins and phytochemicals that help defend against this damage. Though the best known of the antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc and beta-carotene, hundreds if not thousands of other similar healthy compounds (flavonoids, anthocyanins, polyphenols, catechins) are found in foods like nuts, berries, beans and tea.

“Our research shows that black rice bran is even richer in the health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants than blueberries- but with less sugar and more fiber”, Dr. Xu told me. Antioxidants have been shown to have an important role in fighting a number of diseases including heart disease(1) and cancer. (2)

The special value of the antioxidants in black rice is that they are both water-soluble and fat-soluble. “Vegetables and fruits- like blueberries- are rich in the water-soluble antioxidants (vitamin C), while soybeans, for example, contain fat-soluble antioxidants (vitamin E). Black rice is exceptional because it contains a rich mix of both classes of antioxidants”.

Black rice is widely available in specialty stores (Korean grocers and health food stores) and in Asian cooking it’s often mixed with white simply to create a pleasing visual presentation. But it can be cooked and served exactly like brown rice. “Be sure to extend the cooking time just a bit to soften the texture”, Dr. Xu advises.


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