Black rice, often referred to as forbidden rice, is a grain which has been used for thousands of years for its deliciously nutty flavor and exceptional health benefits. Although it’s less commercially popular than its white, brown and wild cousins, black rice is a far healthier- and arguably tastier- alternative.
Not only is it full of anti-oxidants, it helps prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and even some types of cancer. It’s also a great way to help the body build muscle and stay fuller for longer, making it a sensible choice if you’re serious about fitness.
As far back as the days of the Ming Dynasty, China’s rich and powerful realised there was something special about these shiny black grains which turn a deep purple once cooked. To prevent mass consumption and reinforce the idea that this was a luxury fit only for kings and emperors, this “forbidden” rice was only grown in very small quantities and kept away from the masses.
Finally introduced to the US in the 90s, it’s now available in most health food shops, grocery stores and you can easily find it online.
The science bit - why is black rice so good for you?
It’s a low GI food
If you’re looking for a food that tastes great AND makes you feel a little righteous, you can’t go far wrong with black rice. It’s got it all- fibre, antioxidants, minerals and cholesterol busting phytochemicals.
At just 160 calories per serving (11% less than white rice) it’s already a better option for weight loss, and yet its low GI levels also help stop insulin spikes, which are well-known culprits when it comes to piling on the pounds.
Black rice is a great way to level out insulin in the body. Although many still think of insulin purely in relation to diabetes, this important hormone plays an important role in fitness too. It’s highly anabolic, helping build muscle and improving blood flow around the body. When we eat carbs and protein, insulin is produced and released through the pancreas.
Muscle fibres are lined with insulin receptors which allow amino acids, glucose and creatine to reach the muscles and help them develop. Foods like white rice, white bread, fruit juices, sugary cereals etc all have high GI levels which cause blood sugar to spike, giving that quick hit that leaves you feeling sluggish later in the day.
In contrast, foods that have lower GI levels (wholewheat, beans, quinoa etc) keep you going for longer, getting the right amounts of insulin to your muscle tissues and allowing for a longer, more intense workout. For this reason, many athletes are now favouring low GI foods both before and after a workout instead of going straight for a sugar rush.
It’s a great source of fibre
Because black rice is unprocessed, the exterior is eaten and it contains high levels of insoluble dietary fibre, which makes you feel fuller for longer and help keeps the colon healthy.
Just 100 grams of black rice will provide you with a third of the dietary fibre you need for a day and its unprocessed nature means it retains all the goodness that is usually stripped away from white rice. High levels of fibre can also prevent a range of health conditions such as IBS, Crohn’s, bowel cancer, heart disease, diabetes and diarrhea.
It’s loaded with manganese
Manganese (AKA magnesium) is one of nature’s most important minerals; helping with everything from mood and cognitive function to the processing of protein in the body. One cup of black rice gives you 120% of your daily value of manganese.
It’s rich in antioxidants
Black rice purple hue is a good indication of its super food status. Purple foods (plums, blackcurrants, eggplants, kidney beans, black beans, cherries etc) all contain high levels of the anthocyanin antioxidants that help us fight the damage caused by free radicals and get all the bad stuff out of the blood.
As a general rule, if it’s purple, it’ll be packed with goodness.
It’s fantastic for building muscle
We all know how important protein is when it comes to building muscle mass- protein is made up of amino acids; the building blocks that help form muscle. Black rice contains more protein than white and brown rice, and its deliciously nutty flavour makes it the perfect addition to any protein rich meal- it tastes great with chicken, fish and quorn. It also contains essential amino acids including lysine and tryptophan.
It can protect against illness
Because black rice is packed with antioxidants, it can help protect against a range of health issues including cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s Disease and cancer.
It helps the body fight the damage caused from free radicals, meaning it can also reduce inflammation and repair itself after injury.
Black rice contains high levels of Vitamin E, renowned for the benefits it offers eye and skin health and overall immunity. The anthocyanins phytochemicals in black rice helps control cholesterol levels in the body and can also prevent the formation of atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries; one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes.
Cooking black rice
Because it’s harder and more chewy, black (and brown) rice takes longer to cook than white, easy-cook varieties. Although this makes it more time consuming to prepare it’s always worth considering the longer term benefits - ten more minutes now can save you precious time later in life.
Rinsing and soaking before you begin cooking will help reduce the cooking time and aid digestion.
- Soak overnight or rinse the rice well in cold water
- Place one cup of rice in a pan with two cups of water and add a pinch of salt (sea salt is healthier than table salt)
- Cover with a tight lid and bring to the boil
- Simmer for 20-30 mins if your rice was pre-soaked. If not, simmer for 50-60 mins. Check regularly.
The rice is done when it’s soft but still has some bite and chewiness. Serve with chicken breast and legumes for a delicious, protein-packed meal which contains all the nutrition needed for bodybuilders, athletes and marathon runners.
Remember - you can use black rice in any rice dish - just adjust the cooking times accordingly!
Black rice and banana breakfast
This is a great way to start the day - packed full of nutrients and slow release carbs, it’s a healthy way to bulk up and get some morning energy before a workout.
- 1 cup of black rice
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 2 teaspoons of maple syrup
- 1 ripe banana
- a pinch of salt
- Place rice, salt and coconut milk in a heavy saucepan, then bring to a boil.
- Simmer, covered, for 20-30 mins (pre-soaked rice) or 50-60 mins (unsoaked).
- Remove from the heat and add maple syrup, stirring well.
- Add to a bowl with chopped banana and enjoy.
So, what are you waiting for?
Making the change to black rice alone won’t promise to give you the body you want - as with any other “superfood,” it has to be combined with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s a great alternative to white rice if you’re serious about your health and fitness.
It’s no wonder this was such a closely guarded secret for so long - yet now that it’s no longer forbidden, we all owe it to ourselves to give it a try!