One of the oldest staple foods in the world, rice is believed to have been domesticated around 14,000 years ago from the wild grass Oryza rufipogon. Extensive archaeological evidence points to the cultivation of Oryza sativa in the middle Yangtze and upper Huai rivers in China. Farming implements used to cultivate rice have been found in these areas that date back at least 8,000 years.
Rice is still considered to be one of the most important crops in the world, with around half the global population relying partially or wholly on rice as its main source of nutrition. Ninety percent of the world’s rice is cultivated in Asia and as such it is deeply embedded in their cultural traditions and cuisine.
Brown Rice/Red Rice/Black Rice
Unprocessed, wholegrain rice retains the bran which is the most nutritious part of the rice grain. It is packed with important vitamins and minerals as well as fibre and a good amount of protein. This is the type of rice being referred to in this article.
Rice is high in heart healthy magnesium, with just one serving providing around 28 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Magnesium helps to regulate heart rhythm by co-ordinating the activity of the heart muscle and the nerves that initiate heartbeat. Low magnesium levels can cause heart palpitations and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
It helps to keep the coronary arteries from having the spasms that can cause the intense chest pains known as angina. It is relatively well known that a deficiency in magnesium is the most common cause of these spasms.
Rice is also rich in plant lignans, phytonutrients that protect against heart disease by lowering blood pressure, arterial inflammation and decreasing the amount of fat in the blood. According to a 2006 study published in the “Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism”, a mixture of brown and black rice exhibited cardioprotective effects.
A 2016 meta-analysis of 45 separate studies was published in the “British Medical Journal”. The researchers concluded: “This meta-analysis provides further evidence that whole grain intake is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and total cancer, and mortality from all causes, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases, diabetes, and all non-cardiovascular, non-cancer causes. These findings support dietary guidelines that recommend increased intake of whole grain to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and premature mortality.”
Whilst brown rice, red rice and black rice are nutritionally very similar, red and black rice contain levels of antioxidants that can have a significant impact on health.
Black rice is rich in a type of antioxidants known as anthocyanins. A study published in the “Journal of International Immunopharmacology” reported that the main anthocyanin found in black rice is “CG3”. Highly effective at suppressing inflammation, CG3 is also reported to be one of the most powerful antioxidants in existence, coming out top when tested against 13 other anthocyanins in the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) assay, which tests for antioxidant activity.
Red rice is also packed with antioxidants, and again these are mainly anthocyanins. Other benefits of these powerful compounds are relief from joint pain (due to anti-inflammatory effects), enhanced heart health, protection from diabetes and obesity.
Brown, black and red rice are rich in insoluble fibre – the type of fibre that stays intact in the gut and adds bulk to digestive waste, improving regularity and alleviating constipation.
Recent studies have shown that insoluble fibre can be metabolised by bacteria in the colon to produce large amounts of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) – acetic, propionic and butyric acid predominately. These SCFAs provide fuel for the cells that line the wall of the intestine which in turn can lower the risk of colon problems.
Rice is also high in vitamin B1, a crucial nutrient in maintaining healthy levels of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is needed to initiate the breakdown of food within the digestive system. Insufficient HCL levels can cause poor digestion and inhibit the activation of critical enzymes that play a role in digestion.
Finally, the lignans found in rice encourage the growth and activity of healthy gut bacteria.
Healthy Weight Loss
According to a study published in the “International Journal of Preventative Medicine”, people who consumed one 150g serving of brown rice daily experienced a significant reduction in weight and waist and hip circumference.
Another study published in “Nutrition Research” found that overweight women who ate a mixture of brown and black rice showed a significant reduction in weight, BMI (body mass index) and body fat.
Usually boiled, steamed and fried before consumption. White rice in its raw form is favoured for all other cultural uses. A modern use of rice is to extract its protein element and create a protein rich powder to supplement the diet, removing much of the carbohydrate and fibre. This preparation is sought after by vegan athletes and those looking to supplement their diet with vegan high protein food.
Rice is ingrained into every culture in Asia with the word for ‘food’ sometimes being the same as ‘rice’. As important as it is for nutrition, rice is also used in other areas of life such as religion.
For Japanese society rice has become more than just a food and has influenced the way that this country has evolved. The idea of ‘wa’ (harmony) in ancient Japanese culture is thought to have arisen from the need to plant the next season’s rice crop at the same time. This is because each household would have had to pool their collective labour and resources; plus use the same water source which would have been used to irrigate each household’s crop. Without this approach, the possibility of crop failure and starvation were more likely.
A similar representation of how rice cultivation has impacted a specific culture is with the Iban of Sarawak. There is evidence to suggest that the Iban have formed their whole religious view around the annual rice crop. For the Iban, rice has a soul that must be respected in order to continue cultivation year after year. Observances in prayer, ritual and ancestor worship all involve rice as part of their content.
In India rice has many symbolic representations that include wisdom, fertility and abundance. There are also Indian fortune tellers that use rice as their tool for divination.
This food source has become an integral part of Asian culture. Even today there are a great deal of people that regard rice as being the essence of sustenance for humanity.
Brown Rice, whole, uncooked.
As well as protein, low fat and low sugar rice also contains a whole host of vitamins and minerals.
Folates, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5), Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamine (Vitamin B1) and Vitamin E.
Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Selenium, Zinc, Phosphorus, Potassium and sodium
Sodium and Potassium.
Phytochemical nutrients (antioxidants)
Flavonoids, Anthocyanins, Proanthocyanidins, Tocopherols, Tocotrienols, γ-oryzanol, and Phytic acid