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What is Black Rice?

Black rice, also known as purple rice or forbidden rice, has been around for thousands of years, but has recently risen the ranks in popularity to the point where people are calling it a superfood. This colourful variation on the world's most popular staple crop is attracting a lot of attention for the very property which gives it its name – an abundance of anthocyanin pigment. On top of this, black rice is high in fibre, low in sugar, and a great source of vitamin E and iron.

Where Does Black Rice Come From?

Black rice has been eaten throughout Asia for thousands of years and has a significant history of use in China, India and Thailand. The term 'black rice' actually refers to a variety of rice types from the species Oryza sativa, and is descriptive of the colour, rather than other properties of the grain. Just like brown rice, black rice comes in a number of short grain, long grain and glutinous varieties.

Because of its unique aesthetic properties and pleasant flavour, black rice is frequently used to make sushi and desserts, and is becoming more widely available as more people become aware of the health benefits.

Black Rice Benefits

The pigments that give black rice its deep purple colour are called anthocyanins. These are the same types of pigment found in blueberries, black soy beans, red wine, and many other foods that have attracted attention for their health benefits. Anthocyanins are known to be powerful antioxidants.

Free radicals are unstable and highly reactive molecules. It is normal for our bodies to produce these in small amounts, but many factors, including metabolic stress and UV radiation, can increase the formation of free radicals. Free radicals cause oxidative damage within the body which may eventually result in DNA and protein damage and even cell death.

Antioxidants are able to neutralise free radicals, and in doing so, can help prevent oxidative damage. There have been studies showing that antioxidant supplementation can exert a preventative effect against the development of serious conditions like cancer, and may improve overall health (1). Antioxidant supplementation has been shown to lower markers of inflammation in the body. Inflammation has been a subject of significant research interest in recent times, because it is heavily involved in the pathology of serious conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular disease (2).

Aside from anthocyanins, black rice is rich in tocopherols, another type of powerful antioxidant which are better known collectively as vitamin E. Recent research has shown that antioxidants may work synergistically, meaning that foods containing two or more types of antioxidant may deliver greater health benefits than the sum of each antioxidant alone (3).

Black rice is also a great source of iron, potassium and B vitamins, and it is relatively high in protein. Aside from being an extremely rich source of nutrients, black rice is a lot cheaper and lower in sugar than other superfoods like berries.

Black Rice Benefits for Bodybuilding

Bodybuilders work very hard and place a lot of stress on their bodies. Unfortunately strenuous exercise is something that is known to generate a lot of free radicals. The antioxidants in black rice may assist in neutralising these damaging oxygen species. This not only has general preventative health benefits, but the high antioxidant levels also have the potential to improve post training recovery through their role in reducing inflammation. Additionally, B vitamins, iron and potassium are essential to muscle building.

Black Rice Cons, Side Effects & Negatives

There are no real drawbacks to eating black rice – it is a nutrient rich, low fat source of long lasting carbohydrates, and it is tasty and versatile. The only negative is mounting evidence that the benefits of antioxidant consumption may be overstated, or at least not quite not we first thought.

It is becoming clear that the relationship is not straightforward - antioxidant consumption does not directly increase the level of antioxidant in the blood plasma as was first thought (4). New research is coming out regularly, suggesting molecules like anthocyanins may still modulate oxidative damage, but in different ways. One of the more popular theories is that plant flavonoids like anthocyanins don't act directly, but work as signalling molecules, telling certain cells in the body to alter their expression of particular genes. It is the products of these genes which then exert protective effects against free radicals in the body (5).

Black Rice Recommended Dosage & Timing

Use black rice just like you would any other type of rice.

Black Rice Supplements

Black rice has not made its way into any supplements yet. Because black rice bran is both nutrient rich and a great source of fibre, we're expecting to it appear as an ingredient in superfood and green supplements in the near future.

Stacking Black Rice

Black rice with vegetables is a perfect combination. Not only are you doubling up on your antioxidants, but you've got the beginnings of a delicious and healthy meal.

(1)Hercberg et al (2004) The SU.VI.MAX Study A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of the Health Effects of Antioxidant Vitamins and Minerals. Arch Intern Med, 164: 2335-2342
(2) Bonomini F, Rodella LF, Rezzani R. Metabolic syndrome, aging and involvement of oxidative stress. Aging Dis. 2015 Mar 10;6(2):109-20.
(3) Peake et al (2006), The influence of antioxidant supplementation on markers of inflammation and the relationship to oxidative stress after exercise. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 18: 357-371
(4)Lotito SB, Frei B. Consumption of flavonoid-rich foods and increased plasma antioxidant capacity in humans: Cause, consequence, or epiphenomenon? Volume 41, Issue 12, 15 December 2006, Pages 1727–1746
(5)Williams RJ, Spencer PE, Rice-Evans C. Flavonoids: antioxidants or signalling molecules? Volume 36, Issue 7, 1 April 2004, Pages 838–849

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