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Arsenic in Rice – Cause for Alarm?

To date the FDA has not set very specific standards on what levels of organic and inorganic arsenic are deemed to be safe.  The consumer report released last month is one of many to come out in recent years in order to urge the FDA to solidify the numbers for these levels.  This is the full list of rice products that the FDA has sampled so far. 

Organic arsenic is found naturally in the earth and is deemed much less toxic for human consumption.  Inorganic arsenic found often in insecticides is considered a toxic substance and exposure should be limited.  All kinds of rice have a tendency to hold onto arsenic, both organic and inorganic, compared to other grains.  A similar parallel is how mercury tends to concentrate in fish.  Arsenic is not held in the human body more than 24-48 hours, unlike mercury which can be stored in human tissue for years.  The long-lasting effects of this short exposure to arsenic is unknown, but is thought to possibly be carcinogenic.

I believe control of food contamination is necessary and I believe decreasing our cancer risk is important.  I also feel that sedentary lifestyles, sugar laden and nutrient devoid foods, lack of fiber and high alcohol/caffeine consumption are huge contributers to poor health.  So, do we need to eliminate brown/white rice all together to be healthy? I would say not.

So what to do?  After reading through the report and many different analyses of the report I have formed the following opinion:

1. A great opportunity has been presented for promoting the use of some underused grains such as quinoa, millet, and amaranth.  All of these grains are just as, if not more, nutritious, gluten-free and easy to prepare.  Oats are also useful and generally have very little to no gluten.

2. Basmati rice tends to have lower amounts of inorganic arsenic than non-basmati.  So, stick to Basmati.

3. White rice tends to have less inorganic arsenic than brown rice due to processing. However, the benefits of a whole grain vs. a processed grain still holds a high priority in my mind until more decisive information on actual risk is determined.  Therefore, I would do less brown than before but not get rid of it completely.

4.  Rice grown in the southern U.S. tended to have the highest amounts of arsenic.  This is potentially due to previous use of the land for cotton growing or from current chicken farm run-off. Rice from India and California tended to have less inorganic arsenic on average.  Lundberg company that makes rice is doing more extensive testing with this new information.

5. Avoid brown rice syrup in infant formulas and foods.  The syrup appears to have higher amounts due to the concentrated nature of the syrup. See this link for FAQs concerning brown rice syrup.

6.Quote from ConsumerReports.org : “Change the way you cook rice. You may be able to cut your exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking and draining the excess water afterward. That is a traditional method of cooking rice in Asia. The modern technique of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains has been promoted because it allows rice to retain more of its vitamins and other nutrients. But even though you may sacrifice some of rice’s nutritional value, research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content.”

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