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Is Black Rice the Latest Superfood?

Everyone knows that brown rice is healthier than white, but is black rice the fairest of them all?

Like its paler sibling brown rice, black rice is high in vitamin E, iron, fiber and antioxidants, but a new study suggests that it may also alleviate inflammation associated with allergies, asthma and other diseases.

An overlooked variety of rice sometimes known as “forbidden rice” because only emperors were allowed to eat it, black rice is still relatively rare in the West. Both black and brown rice retain many of the nutrients lost to white rice during processing, but black or purple rice is believed to be superior to brown varieties for several reasons.

For one, black rice rivals other deeply hued foods in its anthocyanin content, a potent antioxidant that can help protect against cancer and heart disease. Anthocyanins are found in purple, red and blue foods such as berries, grapes and eggplant. According to Zhimin Xu, an associate professor at the Department of Food Science at Louisiana State University, one spoonful of black rice bran – or 10 spoonfuls of cooked black rice – contains the same amount of anthocyanin as a spoonful of blueberries. In fact, Xu believes black rice is more nutritious than blueberries thanks to its low sugar content.

It may also have anti-inflammatory properties. Earlier studies done in cell cultures suggest that black rice suppresses the release of histamine, the neurotransmitter that causes inflammation in response to allergic reactions. The current study, published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, looked at the effects of black rice bran extract on skin inflammation in lab mice. The research was conducted at universities in Korea. Researchers found that feeding mice their standard diet supplemented with 10 percent black rice bran significantly suppressed chemically induced inflammation of the ear skin as compared to mice fed a diet without black rice bran or a diet supplemented with 10 percent brown rice bran. Prolonged inflammation is associated with a host of medical conditions, including allergies, heart disease, cancer and infectious diseases. Researchers are optimistic that in the future, foods containing black rice bran may be used to treat or prevent conditions associated with inflammation. To be sure, black rice is a healthy addition to any diet, but more research is needed before we start adding it to our Cheerios.

In the meantime, look for black or forbidden rice at Asian markets or buy it online. Keep in mind that the health benefits are found in the outermost layer (the bran), so it’s important to buy whole-grain varieties.

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