Red rice the wondrous grain


The writer Anna-Britta Ståhl photographed on a visit to the Minneriya National Park. In the background are a herd of Elephants

by Anna-Britta Ståhl

HEALTH FOOD Red Rice has emerged as a potential cholesterol treatment in tablet form. In the kitchen it increasingly replaces the white, polished cousin which makes blood sugar levels soar. Svenska Dagbladet has spotted the trendy red rice in Sri Lanka, where there are several different varieties.

Red rice is a staple diet in many Asian cuisines and Sri Lanka is no exception. Here many days begin with fresh fruits, red rice and a spicy chillie curry. A little later, the popular rice is served up again, now for lunch and dinner.

The red rice is unpolished, which means that the nutritional film which enclose the grains remain. And the rich, slightly nutty flavour makes it just as good in a salad as in a spicy chillie chicken, meat or fish dish.

The fibre- rich red grains have been studied at the University of Colombo where four types of red rice were examined. It was found that they also accommodate antioxidants. These are useful substances that protect the body against the stress caused by the oxygen we breathe that can cause various diseases in the long term.

- Red rice contains more fibre, vitamins and minerals than ordinary rice. It is also rich in protein and has a slightly grainier texture than the white, polished rice. Our traditional Ayurvedic doctors prescribe it frequently as medicine. We attribute it almost divine qualities and also use it as a sacrifice at various religious ceremonies, says celebrated Sri Lankan chef, Kollu Ranawake, in an email.

Among trendsetters in the West, TV-chef, Marcus Samuelsson, offers a prescription for red rice salad with lemon and miso dressing on his website. Even singer Eva Dahlgren makes autumn risotto of red rice, mushrooms, beef, shallots, garlic, apple, parsnip, ginger and rosehip wine. "Try it, you’ll love it!", she urges on her Facebook page.

But the biggest rice enthusiasts are health-conscious people who espouse the red grains for their alleged cholesterol-lowering effect. Studies indicated that red rice contains so-called statins, such as Monacolin K, chemically similar to lovastatin, an ingredient of cholesterol-reducing drugs. And, according to the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, there is scientific evidence that Monacolin K may help maintain normal cholesterol levels.

The red grains are also addressed in an article in Läkartidningen (Swedish Medical Journal) stressing that although they can lower blood cholesterol levels, they should not replace the medications, read statins, which already exist: "There is no reason to choose treatment with red rice as a substitute for established and well documented statin therapy, "writes Lars L Gustafsson, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology, and calls for more scientific studies to elucidate the possible side effects of the red rice.

But patients do not always do what the doctor wants and many reject the pills of school medicine in favour of a food supplement made ??from fermented red rice. It quickly topped sales charts in Finland and today Swedish health food stores testify of a similar hype.

Anders Mothander, age 62, in Stockholm was told he had high cholesterol levels four years ago despite having eaten healthy and exercised regularly. He is one of those who went over to the supplements variant after first having tried regular medicine.

- My friends in France told me that their family doctor wrote out a prescription for a French food supplement made ??from red rice. And since I’m reluctant to take medications, I started eating it.

- Then I discovered another, slightly cheaper version, and began to take it instead. It stabilizes my cholesterol in the same way as the medicine and so far I have not noticed any side effects.

No one can say for sure whether it is the food supplement or something else that stabilizes users’ cholesterol. It remains to be seen whether the red rice has any side effects. But the question whether we should be cured with food or medicine is far from new. It was debated already 400 years before Christ, and then formulated by Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine: our food should be our medicine and our medicine should be our food.

Good for the blood

Red rice is grown in Camargue in the Rhone delta, in northern Italy and in a number of countries in Asia which each have their own version of the popular rice variety.

It is used as a medicine in Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.

The rice has approximately the same cooking time as brown rice, namely 30 to 40 minutes. In Sri Lanka it is usually steamed. Kiribath, red rice cooked in coconut milk and flavored with cardamom, is often the first cooked food small children eat. The dish is also served at weddings.

Red rice is available in traditional grocery stores, Asian stores and health food stores. Also available in online stores.

In health food stores there are several different cholesterol-lowering supplements made ??from red rice. According to the NFA adults have to eat 10 mg of monacolin K through supplements to affect cholesterol.

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