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Research Shows That Black Rice Can Be Very Beneficial for Your Eye Health

black rice
The Surprising Health Benefits of Black RiceProfessor25 - Getty Images

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For years, you’ve probably heard that brown rice is a healthier choice than white rice. But could black rice be an even better option to fill your bowl? Perhaps.

Also known as “forbidden rice,” this type of rice isn’t actually black or forbidden. “In ancient China, it was known as forbidden rice because it was reserved for royalty, and ‘common’ people were not allowed to consume it,” explains Philadelphia nutritionist Stacey Woodson, RD, who is also an author of nutrition books for children. “But today, it is more widely available and enjoyed by people around the world.”

Though this whole grain looks black in the bag, it turns a dark shade of purple once it’s cooked (which gives it the other, more accurate nickname of “purple rice”). “Black rice has been part of the Asian diet for thousands of years,” says Natalie B. Allen, RD, a clinical associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Missouri State University. “The deep color comes from anthocyanins, which are pigments found in purple and blue foods, and are typically lacking in the average American diet.” Like brown rice, black rice is unrefined, which means it contains all parts of the grain, including the fiber-filled bran and germ, giving it a nutritional edge over white rice, which has been stripped of those healthy parts.

Nutrition facts

Serving Size: 100-gram (from the brand Nature's Earthly Choice)

  • 372 calories

  • 3.49g total fat

  • 0g saturated fat

  • 79.1g total carbohydrates

  • 4.7g dietary fiber

  • 2.33g sugar

  • 11.6g protein

  • 0mg calcium (0% DV)

  • 1.67mg iron (9% DV)

  • 0mg vitamin C (0% DV)

  • 0IU vitamin A (0% DV)

Health benefits

  • It's high in antioxidants: We often think of fruits and vegetables when it comes to foods high in antioxidants — which are important for fighting off cell-damaging free radicals in the body —but whole grains often have a higher amount and more diverse array of antioxidants as well as the disease-fighting plant compounds called phytochemicals. The anthocyanins in black rice don’t just give the grain its pop of color: “Because of the presence of anthocyanins, black rice has a higher antioxidant content than other rice grains,” says New York nutritionist Melissa Rifkin, RD, who points out that this boost of antioxidants in your diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

  • It's a good source of fiber: Fiber is crucial to maintain a health digestive system —it can also reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. And some brands of black rice contain 4.7 g of dietary fiber per 100g. “Black rice is rich in nutrients and is higher in fiber, protein and iron than both white rice and brown rice,” says Chicago nutritionist Sara Chatfield, RDN. All that fiber as another benefit: It can help you feel full. “The higher protein and fiber content of black rice can help increase satiety at meals and may help with weight management,” Chatfield says.

  • It boosts eye health: While certain red, yellow and orange foods such as carrots are well-known for containing carotenoids (pigments that can give your eye health a boost), black rice surprisingly contains them, too — specifically, lutein and zeaxanthin, says Allen. Numerous studies have shown that these two carotenoids can help protect the macula from damage by blue light, and improve visual acuity, and have been linked with reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

  • It has a lower glycemic index than white rice: One of the downsides of white rice is its high glycemic index (GI), which can cause a spike in blood sugar. If you’re concerned about your blood sugar levels because of type 2 diabetes or another reason, black rice is a tasty option that has a lower GI. And the vibrant addition of black rice to a meal isn’t just an aesthetic win: a diet that has different colors of fruits and vegetables is the best way to get the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need, according to the American Heart Association.

FAQ

What does black rice taste like?

“I personally love black rice,” Chatfield says, calling it "a little chewier than other varieties of rice [with] a pleasant, nutty flavor.” She recommends pairing black rice with curries and stir-fries. “It will take a little longer to cook black rice than white rice, similar to brown rice,” Chatfield notes.

Allen prefers to prepare hers in a pressure cooker: “It's hands-off, but you can also steam or boil it,” says Allen. She adds, “It has a nutty flavor and goes well in a variety of dishes.”

Woodson recommends soaking the rice before cooking it: “Like many whole grains, black rice contains phytic acid, an antinutrient that can bind to minerals and reduce their absorption,” she says. “Soaking or fermenting the rice before cooking can help mitigate this effect.”

variety of rices jasmine rice brown rice and black forbidden rice
Jasmine, brown and forbidden black rice. StephanieFrey - Getty Images

Is black rice healthier than white rice?

When choosing between black and white, it's helpful to remember how white rice is produced. Rice is naturally made up of three edible parts: the bran (the outer part that gives rice its color), the germ (an inner "embryo" that can grow into a new plant) and the endosperm (the substantial white part, within the bran). During the milling process, rice is "refined" by removing the bran and the germ. This process removes about 1/4 of the protein in a grain, and 1/2 to 2/3 or more of many of the nutrients, according the Whole Grains Council. However, enriched white rice will still provide some of the benefits that are lost during the refining process. So yes, black rice does have more nutritional value, but white rice may be more soothing for an upset stomach or as a dose of comfort food.

Can I eat black rice every day?

As with most delicious things in life, it’s all about moderation. “Black rice is high in fiber, which is a good thing overall, but don’t overdo it, since eating too much fiber too quickly could cause an upset stomach or gas,” warns Allen. “While black rice is highly nutritious, rather than eating it daily, it’s best to rotate it with other whole grain options for more dietary variety and to reduce your intake of arsenic [which is found in most types of rice],” says Chatfield.

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