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Can black rice combat high blood glucose levels?
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Can black rice combat high blood glucose levels?

Black rice has a low glycemic index and is high in antioxidants. Should you add it to your diet if you are diabetic or seeking to prevent onset of type 2 diabetes?

Diabetes & Black Rice

The forbidden rice has certainly not forbidden connoisseurs, chefs and health buffs from tucking into it with gusto. Black or purple rice was also called king’s rice or royal rice in ancient China where it was especially cultivated and served to those of blue blood.

Having caught the fancy of foodies and health aficionados globally, who want to explore its taste and health benefits, black rice has come to stay put on our platter.

While chef Tanmoy Savardekar rustles up divine puddings and salads with black rice as the star ingredient in his Bengaluru cloud kitchen, Dr Uma Maheshwari enjoys it as a healthy option.

“I have been eating black rice for diabetes of the Karuppu (meaning black in Tamil) Kavuni variety for the last three years,” shares Dr Uma Maheshwari, gynaecologist, Meyyalagan Clinic, Sankagiri, Salem, Tamil Nadu. “Natural foods and their health benefits have fascinated me. When I read about black rice being endowed with a low glycemic index (GI) and that it was great to keep type 2 diabetes away, I decided to include it in my diet although I’m not diabetic. The best part about eating black rice is that it is not only easily digestible, but you also don’t feel hungry soon,” she adds. Since it’s a hardy variety, Dr Maheshwari ensures she soaks it in water for 12 hours before cooking it as kanji (porridge) in a mud pot or steaming it as idlis (dumplings) from the batter of black gram and black rice.

Research reveals there’s much more to black rice benefits for diabetics than previously thought.

In different hues

Rice, a staple diet in south Asia and several tropical countries belongs to the Oryza Sativa L family and is grown in myriad species. A typical rice grain consists of an outer husk, a bran layer and the inner cereal germ.

White rice is the most common species that has been consumed for generations. In white rice, all three layers are threshed out and polished. It has a high Glycemic Index (GI) of 64 per cent and is heavy in carbohydrates, which are common factors leading to diabetes.

Brown rice is the same rice but with only the husk removed, leaving the bran and germ layers intact. These give the grains a brown hue. Brown and white rice have been found to have the same amount of calories and carbs, though brown rice is slightly higher in nutrition because of the bran content.

In India, red rice is a popular staple in the southern coastal regions of Karnataka and Kerala. The bran layer which is retained is usually red from a natural pigment called anthocyanin. This rice has a low glycemic index and is rich in antioxidants, and minerals that include calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.

Is black rice the dark horse?

Shankar Reddy, a farmer in Raichur who turned to natural methods of growing crops in 2011, not only grows black rice but also eats it. Lauding the rice’s health benefits, he shares, “Black rice has a low GI of less than 50 and contains the same amount of antioxidants and micronutrients present in nuts and dried fruits. For a farmer, black rice is easy to grow and I ensure I grow it once every season on a fairly smaller plot of my land.” He reveals that the demand for black rice had stopped for a while a few years ago because people thought it was gourmet food and not very palatable. But he is glad that with people realising its tremendous health potential, there’s been a gradual surge in its popularity and cultivation.

“Because black rice is in its natural hardy state, unlike other polished rice, it takes a longer time to cook. However, its nutritional composition is prodding diabetics and health enthusiasts to eat it regardless of its tastelessness,” he says candidly.

Qualities of black rice

Since ancient times, black rice was used as a nutrition supplement and in the treatment of peptic ulcers and gastritis.

Ayurveda practitioner Dr Samarth Rao, Amruth Ayurvedic Centre, Bengaluru, mentions the reference to black rice in ancient Ayurveda texts. “It was known as a universal health food that elevates all the three main life forces (vata, pitta and kapha doshas) that influence our movement, digestion and metabolism, and body structure. It is nutritious, strengthens the body, reduces inflammation, and improves hormonal function and fertility,” says Dr Rao.

Besides containing minerals like copper, manganese, potassium, sodium and zinc, it has a lesser amount of sugar content, is high in protein and has a huge cache of antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids and phenolic acids.

Reservoir of research

The innate qualities of black rice have spurred researchers to unearth the properties contained within its husk.

A research paper on the role of black rice in health and diseases by the department of food science and nutrition, Periyar University, Salem, Tamil Nadu, India, mentions that pigmented black rice contains six times the amount of antioxidants than even brown rice.

Studies also found reduced postprandial blood glucose levels among diabetics after eating it.

The research paper lists the health benefits:

  • Controls high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Improves digestion
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Protects heart health by reducing your chance of developing atherosclerosis
  • Improves your cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Reduces risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Helps in weight management

According to the research paper, ‘one serving of black rice measuring a quarter cup or 50 grams contains approximately 160 calories as well as one gram of iron, two grams of fibre and five grams of protein.’

Dr S Manonmani, professor and head, department of plant genetic resources, Centre for Plant Breeding and Genetics, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India, reveals that there are over 700 varieties of rice grown in India and black rice is one of them. While the Karuppu Kavuni breed of rice has been cultivated over the years, she explains why it’s still sparingly grown.

“Black rice is rare because it is sensitive to certain soil and hence it is grown only once a year. Moreover, it takes a longer time – about 150 days – to mature. In comparison, other rice breeds can be grown thrice a year in any season and with a shorter maturity period,” she says.

The Karuppu Kavuni rice for diabetes

This black rice grown in a few areas – Thanjavur, Thirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts – of Tamil Nadu has been known to have anti-diabetic properties.
In a study ‘Unraveling the nutritional and therapeutic properties of ‘Kavuni’ a traditional rice variety of Tamil Nadu’ conducted by the Centre for Plant Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, and the Centre for Plant Breeding and Genetics, TNAU, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India, Karuppu Kavuni rice was compared to three other white rice varieties grown in the state including the white Ponni. The biochemical analysis revealed noteworthy differences in the nutritional composition of the Kavuni grains when compared to the other three. Kavuni contains a significantly lower level of total soluble sugars, high levels of amylose (starch), dietary fibre, protein, β-carotene, lutein and polyphenols than the popularly eaten white rice varieties. The data also suggests that the therapeutic variety Kavuni possesses marked health benefits in preventing a higher amount of antioxidants and diabetic complications by inhibiting the key enzymes involved in their development.

Black rice is good for diabetics?

The colours of food can influence our appetite and mood. While it’s natural for us to veer towards reds and greens for their freshness factor, black-hued foods don’t look appetising to us, unless we know they’re healthy. This is where black rice scores high – on colour and nutrition.

Black rice gets its natural colour from a flavonoid called anthocyanin. Clinical trials in rats and humans reveal that it’s this anthocyanin content in black rice that displays anti-diabetic properties and could be great to prevent type 2 diabetes. Research data shows that anthocyanin could lower our blood glucose by improving our resistance to insulin and increasing its secretion, protecting our beta cells that manufacture insulin in our pancreas, and reducing digestion of sugars in the small intestine.

The proof is in the pudding

Throwing light on what makes black rice a gourmet favourite, Dr Manonmani says, “The beauty of this rice is its texture when it’s cooked. It’s fluffy and full, and each grain is separate, not sticky.” She explains the secret ingredient behind this rice’s popularity. “During our research on Karuppu Kavuni rice, one of the parameters was the cooking quality of the rice. Rice contains two types of starch – amylose and amylopectin. Each type of rice has a different amount of each starch which determines whether the texture of the cooked rice is sticky, fluffy, creamy or separate. So, when rice is cooking, the heat and the water in which it is cooked penetrate the grains and break down the starch. Since amylose is a long and straight starch, it does not become sticky during cooking. And because black rice has high amounts of amylose, each grain is a delight,” she explains.

On the other hand, amylopectin which is present in other short-grain rice varieties is responsible for rice turning sticky and gooey when cooked. “Another variety called sticky rice is high in amylopectin and contains no amylose,” the professor says, adding that though black rice takes longer cooking time it is also slow to digest, therefore making it ideal for diabetics.

The properties of black rice are cited in ancient Ayurveda, says Dr Rao. He explains that since this rice has a low glycemic index, it is ideal for not only elderly diabetics but also those who want to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes because of their sedentary lifestyle.

Dr Vaishali Verma, consultant dietician and diabetes educator, Manipal Hospital, Delhi, informs that since every rice variety has some amount of carbohydrates, the amount of rice you eat is important and not the rice type.

“For example, if you’re diabetic and have been eating a tiny portion of about 20 grams of white rice or brown rice to cut down on carbs, you could perhaps increase the quantity to 40 grams if you switch to black rice. But ensure you add some fibre and proteins to it while cooking,” she advises.

If you have a yen for healthy new food trends, black rice might be just what the doctor ordered.

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