After learning that arsenic is present in rice and many food products, I needed to know more and to share what I’ve learned: Arsenic in rice, is it safe to eat?
What is safe to eat, anyway, safe for each of us individually and for everybody, collectively?
It seems to be something that needs to be regularly reassessed, as new findings are released, and individual requirements & restrictions & food sensitivities change. Food decisions are often a matter of trading one risk for another.
Arsenic in rice and rice products is a considerable health concern for many. I recently discovered that I had joined the growing numbers of people who have gluten sensitivities or allergies, including those with celiac disease or one of a hundred+ auto-immune diseases. I decided that it was best for my health to give up gluten, as well as dairy. For me, that included changing to gluten-free bread, which is readily available, and to rice for pasta, crackers, and a dairy-free milk alternative. So, while eating more rice & rice products, to eliminate gluten, I find that arsenic is particularly high in some of these foods.
Many others find themselves eating more rice for the same reasons. So, gluten-free eaters, as well as Asian and Latino food lovers, eat a considerable amount of rice, therefore arsenic, over a lifetime..
There are two types of arsenic compounds in water, food, air, & soil: organic & inorganic The inorganic forms of arsenic are the forms that have been associated with long term health effects. Because both forms of arsenic have been found in soil and ground water for many years, some arsenic may be found in certain food products, including rice, fruits, vegetables, & juices. due to absorption through the soil & water. While most crops don’t take up much arsenic from the ground, rice is different because it takes up arsenic from soil & water more readily than other grains.
Arsenic, a known toxin used to poison & kill in ancient times, is a heavy metal which accumulates in the soil & in our bodies. Long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, skin, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease and Type2 diabetes. The FDA continues to examine these and other long-term effects. Recent studies also suggest that arsenic exposure in utero may have effects on the baby’s immune system.
FDA has been monitoring the levels of arsenic in foods for decades, and in 2011, increased its testing, and it continues. There were many rice and rice products that were tested by the FDA. These products, many of which we think of as “healthy”, were found to have an especially high content of inorganic arsenic:
For a more complete list of foods and arsenic content:
How much arsenic is in your rice? Consumer Reports, Jan 2015, has an up to date listing & point system. Each rice product is assigned a point value. It is recommended that adults eat only 7 points of rice/products per week. Notice the difference in child points.
— Choose type of rice & where it’s grown wisely:
— Generally, brown rice is higher in arsenic content than white.
Arsenic accumulates in the grain outer layers, which are removed to make white rice.
Brown rice has more nutrients, so it’s recommended not to switch entirely to white.
Brown basmati rice, either from California, India, or Pakistan, is the best choice,
as it has 1/3 less inorganic arsenic.
White basmati from California, India, or Pakistan has 1/2 of most other types of rice.
Choose aromatic rices, like Indian basmati or Thai jasmine, as they have the lowest
levels of inorganic arsenic.
— Southern US rice has the highest rates of arsenic. Rice fields are often old cotton
fields, which were dosed with arsenic based pesticides for decades. The arsenic
persists in the soil.
— Stay away from all rice-based snacks & processed food (cereal made from brown rice
Choose coconut or almond milk, instead of rice milk, as a dairy substitute. A study in UK found rice milk had 3x the allowed amount of arsenic allowed by US & EU for acceptance i drinking water.
— Preparation to reduce arsenic content in rice:
Soak rice for at least a few hours with a dash of vinegar.
Rinse very thoroughly, which means changing water 4 to 6 times. This will reduce
arsenic levels by 25-30%
If you follow these guidelines, you should be able to continue to enjoy your favorite rice dishes. It is advisable to beware when using rice products and to do your research. Here are some articles to continue reading about rice and arsenic:
Cooking tips to possibly lessen risk of arsenic in rice from Chicago Tribune:
Arsenic and Rice – What You Can Do About It from Eat on Purpose
More info from FDA: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm280202.htm
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