Is Black Rice a Cure All?

It’s funny how food trends work.

One day in the summer, the organic food co-op I do nutritional work for started to get inundated with questions about “forbidden black rice”. The rice is a variety of heirloom rice from Asia that is black in color (although more like dark purple when cooked). It was originally called “forbidden” black rice because it was considered to be rice only for the Emperor. Others were literally forbidden from eating it (this according to the internet, so take that for what it’s worth).

The co-op had always carried the product, and it was moderately popular; more of a specialty item, really, with most people ignoring it in favor of ordinary brown rice or other rice varieties. But this one day we were completely wiped out of it and needed to order many times the normal order just to keep up with customer demand. So where did all this demand come from?

It turns out that the CBC had run an article the day before (followed by one in the Toronto Star a few days later) touting the benefits of black rice. The Star article even mentioned the food co-op at the end of the piece, so everybody and his sister were coming out in droves searching for this wonderful amazing new superfood.

I’ve seen similar trends with chia seeds, coconut water and goji berries. It’s as if, one day, the media decides to pump up one particular food and we all obediently try to add it to our diets. I think there’s extra points if you’re the first in your social circle to adopt the superfood of the moment.

It’s not that black rice is bad. On the contrary, black rice is quite good for you. Both the CBC and the Star emphasized the fact that black rice contains a great deal of anthocyanins, the potent antioxidant that gives fruits and vegetables like black currants, eggplants or purple corn their characteristic purple color. Both articles emphasized that the bran of black rice contains more of these anthocyanins than blueberries. It also contains more fiber and vitamin E than brown rice.

I’m not trying to knock eating superfoods, either. Adding them to your diet is always beneficial. Superfoods, although only loosely defined (and food distributors love to take advantage of this claiming everything from almonds to bananas are superfoods) are generally foods that are particularly high in nutrients, antioxidants or, say essential fats. Foods that have particular compounds with functional healing properties in humans often get called superfoods also. Rotating a few of these foods through your diet is a great practice.

It’s the attitude of the “cure-all” foods that I’m harping on here. Here in the west, we seem to have the “magic pill” mentality with our foods. People are sick of their medications and all their inherent side-effects and are getting hip to the fact of the healing potential of foods. This is a good thing. But they’re carrying the medication mentality into the realm of natural healing, and it just doesn’t work that way.

Serving black rice along side your normal processed food dinner probably isn’t going to do much for your health. It might be a step in the right direction, but whether or not it would be noticed is questionable. Eating for your health is an entire lifestyle. It involves taking in foods that nourish rather than ones that only taste good. Cherry-picking a few superfoods isn’t going to offset damage being done from other foods.

But because the CBC and Toronto Star articles had compared black rice to blueberries, the comments fields were overrun with people talking of dumping blueberries in favor of black rice (or adamantly stating they would not be doing this). It really shouldn’t be an either-or choice here! A diet with a variety of whole foods is a healing diet. A diet that consists of one or two of the “best” superfoods and nothing else to speak of is doomed.

The media is partly to blame for this, failing to put these superfoods into their proper context. I’m guilty of writing like this on occasion too. OK, regularly. But regular readers of my pieces know I’m not preaching cure-alls. I like to highlight the studies done on natural foods, finding their amazing healing properties, to encourage people to eat them over their processed, fast-food counterparts. It’s also to back up the overall thesis that natural foods are healing by their very nature.

So by all means, give black rice a try. Add in some chia seeds, sprinkle on some bee pollen and wash it down with a shot of wheatgrass. But remember that you haven’t found the panacea. And remember, if you nourish yourself with every bite you eat, you won’t need a cure-all.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.

A Quick Review:

I’d agree totally with your point about the media jumping on the band wagon of type of superfood instead of a varied diet of good foods.

But then again if it gets people trying new types of food they may never have tried before it can’t be a bad thing. If we take the example of green tea, most people probably wouldn’t have touched it until the media started talking about its health and especially its weight loss benefits.

On the other hand, a friend of mine introduced me to black rice several months ago. I find it more favorable than brown especially if you add a bit of garlic to it near the end of the cooking time (this was how he served it). I add it to my diet every once in a while for variety. It is beneficial to some extent but not as you say a cure all.