wild rice – healthy superfoods – by Dr. Alberto Parra
Wild rice was an essential food for our ancestors in North America, where native tribes harvested this variety of grain, especially in the area of the Great Lakes. Even today, Z. palustris, the wild rice variation, grows predominantly in this area of the United States and shallow lakes located in Canada. It was regarded as a healthy-promoting food since 1924 when a comparative food research was done, and the researchers concluded that wild rice has a higher nutritional value than ordinary rice. But why is that?
Nutritional profile of wild rice
Wild rice is similar to many other varieties of rice in carbohydrate and protein contents. It has around 80% of carbs and 15% of proteins. It has identical nutrients than oats, corn, and other cereals. However, wild rice has a lot more fiber, vitamin B1, B2, B3, vitamin E, and zinc. Even though wild rice contains the same amount of protein than other types of rice, studies show it has a higher protein efficiency ratio, which is a value commonly used to evaluate the quality of protein in certain foods. There’s also an Asian wild rice variety, which contains more protein and vitamin C than other types of rice.
Additional to its superiority on some nutritional aspects, wild rice is also a source of molecules with potential health benefits, even if they are not considered to be nutrients. That’s the case of flavonoids, phytosterols, phenolic compounds, and purely antioxidant substances. As such, the antioxidant profile of wild rice is up to 13 times higher than conventional white rice, and this is one of the potential health benefits wild rice has to offer.
Health benefits of wild rice
- Antioxidant properties of wild rice: The classic health benefit associated with wild rice is related to its antioxidant properties. Wild rice has phenolic compounds, flavonoids and many other types of antioxidant, and many authors have complimented this grain for its antioxidant profile. Wild rice is such a potent antioxidant that it has been introduced in meat products to reduce the oxidation of lipids and prolong shelf life naturally.Cholesterol-lowering effects: We cannot stop talking about the cholesterol-lowering effects of wild rice, usually attributed to its high content in fiber and its phenolic content. Studies show that this cholesterol-lowering effect results from an increased rate of cholesterol excretion in the stools, which is precisely what soluble fiber does: it binds to cholesterol in bile and does not let this molecule to be reabsorbed by the body.
- Cardioprotective effects: For all of the abovementioned reasons, it is not hard to guess that wild rice can prevent cardiovascular problems and reduce our risk of stroke and heart attack. A higher concentration of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood coupled with a low antioxidant profile is a bad combination as it is what’s needed to start building up cholesterol plaques in the blood vessels, called atherosclerosis, which is the first step towards cardiovascular disease.
- Wild rice for hypertension: Deeply associated with the antioxidant profile in wild rice, studies have found that the stem of this variety has an inhibitory activity against the angiotensin-converting enzyme. In other words, it acts as a natural anti-hypertensive drug and has no side effects to it.
- Stimulation of the immune system: The stem and gall of wild rice have also a stimulatory effect on the immune system. Studies show it induces a molecule called human beta-defensin-2. This peptide is created inside the white cells and displays a highly anti-microbial activity It fights candida species and gram-negative bacteria, and studies suggest it’s deeply involved in protecting the skin and the lung from infection.
- Prevention of allergic reactions: Allergies are closely related to the immune system, it is no more than your over-reactive immune system harming healthy tissues while trying to fight what he considers to be a pathogen. But even though wild rice stimulates the immune system, it also modulates its action and reduces the degranulation of white cells to prevent the release of inflammatory markers that usually cause an allergic reaction.
- Anti-fatigue activity: In some studies, the wild rice variety Z. caudiflora was reported to have anti-fatigue properties as well. This activity was tested during swimming tests in rats, showing that after consuming wild rice, performance was improved, and blood levels of albumin, proteins, and glucose were higher, which makes it a candidate anti-fatigue plant food.
For all of the abovementioned reasons, wild rice is more than just an expensive gourmet food. It has a higher nutritional profile than ordinary white rice, and it is coupled with many health benefits for those who want to stay fit.