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11 Surprising Benefits and Uses of Black Rice

Health + Wellness
11 Surprising Benefits and Uses of Black Rice
Black rice. storebukkebruse / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Kelli McGrane, MS, RD

Also called forbidden or purple rice, black rice is a type of rice that belongs to the Oryza sativa L. species.


Black rice gets its signature black-purple color from a pigment called anthocyanin, which has potent antioxidant properties.

In ancient China, it's said that black rice was considered so unique and nutritious that it was forbidden for all but royalty.

Today, thanks to its mild, nutty flavor, chewy texture, and many nutritional benefits, black rice can be found in numerous cuisines around the world.

Here are 11 benefits and uses of black rice.

1. Good Source of Several Nutrients

Compared with other types of rice, black rice is one of the highest in protein.

Per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), black rice contains 9 grams of protein, compared with 7 grams for brown rice.

It's also a good source of iron — a mineral that's essential for carrying oxygen throughout your body.

A 1/4 cup (45 grams) of uncooked black rice provides:

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 1.5 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Carbs: 34 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Iron: 6% of the Daily Value (DV)

Summary

Black rice is a good source of several nutrients, particularly protein, fiber, and iron.

2. Rich in Antioxidants

In addition to being a good source of protein, fiber, and iron, black rice is especially high in several antioxidants.

Antioxidants are compounds that protect your cells against oxidative stress caused by molecules known as free radicals.

They're important, as oxidative stress has been associated with an increased risk of several chronic conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer's, and certain forms of cancer.

Despite being less popular than other rice varieties, research shows that black rice has the highest overall antioxidant capacity and activity.

In fact, in addition to anthocyanin, black rice has been found to contain over 23 plant compounds with antioxidant properties, including several types of flavonoids and carotenoids.

Therefore, adding black rice to your diet can be an easy way to incorporate more disease-protecting antioxidants into your diet.

Summary

Research shows that black rice contains over 23 types of antioxidants and has the highest antioxidant activity of all rice varieties.

3. Contains the Plant Compound Anthocyanin

Anthocyanins are a group of flavonoid plant pigments that are responsible for the purple color of black rice, as well as several other plant based foods like blueberries and purple sweet potatoes.

Research shows that anthocyanins have strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.

Furthermore, animal, test-tube, and population studies have shown that eating foods high in anthocyanins may help protect against several chronic diseases, including heart disease, obesity, and some forms of cancer.

Summary

Anthocyanin is a pigment that's responsible for the black-purple color of forbidden rice. It's also been found to have potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.

4. May Boost Heart Health 

Research on black rice's effects on heart health is limited. However, many of its antioxidants have been shown to help protect against heart disease.

Flavonoids like those found in black rice have been associated with a decreased risk of developing and dying from heart disease.

Additionally, early research in animals and humans suggests that anthocyanins may help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

One study in 120 adults with high cholesterol levels found that taking two 80-mg anthocyanin capsules per day for 12 weeks resulted in significantly improved HDL (good) cholesterol levels and significantly reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Another study analyzing the effects of a high cholesterol diet on plaque accumulation in rabbits found that adding black rice to the high cholesterol diet resulted in 50% less plaque buildup, compared with diets containing white rice.

While this study suggests that eating black rice may protect against heart disease, these results have not been observed in humans.

Summary

Black rice contains antioxidants that have been shown to help protect against heart disease. However, more research is needed to understand black rice's effects on heart disease.

5. May Have Anticancer Properties

Anthocyanins from black rice may also have potent anticancer properties.

A review of population based studies found that higher intake of anthocyanin-rich foods was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.

Furthermore, a test-tube study found that anthocyanins from black rice reduced the number of human breast cancer cells, as well as slowed their growth and ability to spread.

While promising, more research in humans is needed to fully understand the ability of the anthocyanins in black rice to reduce the risk and spread of certain types of cancer.

Summary

Early research suggests that the anthocyanins in black rice may have strong anticancer properties, but more studies are needed.

6. May Support Eye Health 

Research shows that black rice contains high amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin — two types of carotenoids that are associated with eye health.

These compounds work as antioxidants to help protect your eyes from potentially damaging free radicals.

In particular, lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to help protect the retina by filtering out harmful blue light waves.

Research suggests that these antioxidants may play an important role in protecting against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. They may also decrease your risk of cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.

Finally, a 1-week study in mice found that consuming anthocyanin extract from black rice resulted in significantly less retinal damage when animals were exposed to fluorescent lights. Still, these findings have not been replicated in humans.

Summary

Black rice contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, both of which have been shown to protect your retina from potentially damaging free radicals. While anthocyanins may also protect eye health, research in humans is currently lacking.

7. Naturally Gluten-Free

Gluten is a type of protein found in cereal grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye.

People with celiac disease need to avoid gluten, as it triggers an immune response in the body that damages the small intestine.

Gluten can also cause negative gastrointestinal side effects, such as bloating and abdominal pain, in individuals with gluten sensitivity.

While many whole grains contain gluten, black rice is a nutritious, naturally gluten-free option that can be enjoyed by those on a gluten-free diet.

Summary

Black rice is naturally gluten-free and can be a good option for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

8. May Aid Weight Loss 

Black rice is a good source of protein and fiber, both of which can help promote weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing feelings of fullness.

Furthermore, early animal research suggests that anthocyanins like those found in black rice may help reduce body weight and body fat percentage.

One 12-week study found that giving mice with obesity on a high fat diet anthocyanins from black rice resulted in a 9.6% reduction in body weight. However, these results have not been replicated in humans.

While research on black rice's role in weight loss in humans is limited, it has been found to help reduce weight when combined with brown rice.

In a 6-week study in 40 women with excess weight, those who ate a mix of brown and black rice up to 3 times per day on a calorie-restricted diet lost significantly more body weight and body fat than those eating white rice.

Summary

Given that black rice is a good source of protein and fiber, it may aid weight loss. Also, while animal studies have suggested that anthocyanins may have benefits for weight loss, more research in humans is needed.

9–10. Other Potential Benefits 

Black rice may also offer other potential benefits, including:

  1. Lower blood sugar levels. Animal studies suggest that eating black rice and other anthocyanin-containing foods may help reduce blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Human studies are needed to confirm these effects .
  2. May decrease your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). A study in mice found that adding black rice to a high fat diet significantly reduced fat accumulation in the liver.

Summary

While more research is needed, black rice may help lower blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of NAFLD.

11. Easy to Cook and Prepare 

Cooking black rice is easy and similar to cooking other forms of rice.

To prepare it, simply combine rice and water or stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Once boiling, cover it and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the rice for 30–35 minutes, or until it's tender, chewy, and all the liquid has been absorbed.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the rice sit for 5 minutes before removing the lid. Use a fork to help fluff the rice before serving.

Unless specified otherwise on the package, for every 1 cup (180 grams) of uncooked black rice, use 2 1/4 cups (295 ml) of water or stock.

To keep the rice from becoming gummy when cooking, it's recommended to rinse the rice under cool water before cooking to remove some of the extra starch on the surface.

Once the rice is ready, you can use it in any dish in which you would use brown rice, such as in a grain bowl, stir-fry, salad, or rice pudding.

Summary

Black rice is prepared similarly to other types of rice and can be added to a variety of savory and sweet dishes.

The Bottom Line

While not as common as other types of rice, black rice is the highest in antioxidant activity and contains more protein than brown rice.

As such, eating it may offer several health benefits, including boosting eye and heart health, protecting against certain forms of cancer, and aiding weight loss.

Black rice is more than just a nutritious grain. When cooked, its deep purple color can turn even the most basic meal into a visually stunning dish.

If you want to try black rice and can't find it locally, shop for it online.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

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Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.