With reports of more and more arsenic being found in our rice supply, patients and readers have asked for more specifics. This investigative report deals with the facts as reported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. According to Carolyn Smith DeWaal, director of food safety, there are steps consumers should take to reduce their exposure to arsenic in their rice. The following is a condensed and edited list of her top five suggestions:
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- Where it’s grown matters… “Rice grown in the Southeastern U.S. had the highest amount of arsenic, according to Consumer Reports, which makes sense given that this is the land where cotton was grown and arsenic was used as a pesticide for decades to combat the boll weevil.
Rice is grown in water, so the presence of arsenic in the soil can be readily transmitted. Even though they’ve done away with arsenic-containing pesticidesin the U.S., the arsenic remains in the soil [and other arsenic-containing ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted]. Once in the soil, the arsenic can come into the roots and into the grain of the rice itself.
Rice grown in California wouldn’t have the same problems — California-grown rice has much lower levels of arsenic, the studies found. And here’s one instance in which buying imports is better: Thai jasmine and Indian basmati had some — but much lower — levels of arsenic (about one-half to one-third the amount).”
- White vs Brown…Rice, that is! “Brown rice had much higher arsenic levels so the recommendation is to use brown rice sparingly and eat more white rice.” [The reason, says Consumer Reports is this: “Though brown rice has nutritional advantages over white rice, it is not surprising that it might have higher levels of arsenic, which concentrates in the outer
layers of a grain. The process of polishing rice to produce white rice removes those surface layers, slightly reducing the total arsenic and inorganic arsenic in the grain.
In brown rice, only the hull is removed. Arsenic concentrations found in the bran that is removed during the milling process to produce white rice can be 10 to 20 times higher than levels found in bulk rice grain.”]
- Cook With More Water… [For brown or white rice]“…there are ways to reduce the arsenic levels.
Consumers can wash the rice before they cook it and cook in extra water and
then pour water off at the end of cooking. (This can remove about 30 percent of the arsenic). Consumer Reports recommends 6 cups of water to one cup of rice.”
- Variety is the “Spice” of Life…“Use other grains in addition to rice and eat a variety. There can be much lower levels of arsenic in wheat and oats, quinoa, teff, millet, amaranth,
etc. Just like eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is protective, eating a variety of grains is protective too.”
NOTE: Organic products fared no better.
“The application of arsenic is based on historic use of pesticides, not current use, so the arsenic in an organic product may have limits in how recently the land has been treated with pesticides, but that may not be stringent enough to protect from the historic use of arsenic.
The bottom line is that rice is a very big part of many people’s diets and it plays a central role in many ethnic cuisines, like Mexican and Chinese….[But] people who consume large amounts of rice may want to take the precautions listed in this report.
Arsenic has been known for many years as a poison, there’s no safe level. It’s really a very toxic chemical that people need to minimize.”
- Infant Risk – ATTENTION – Parents of Infants… “Parents should not be serving rice cereal to their infants more than once a day on average. The infant cereals had low levels of arsenic compared to regular rice but because the body mass of the children is so much less, that’s why the advice is so stringent.” [And steer clear of brown rice syrup, used as a sweetener, which showed consistently high levels.]
Please don’t turn your nose up to alternative grains, they are delicious – get creative. I love quinoa and teff and have made extraordinary dishes for dinner guests and they are tastefully surprised. These alternative grains are healthy, especially for infants and small children, and easy to prepare just like rice.
I especially want to emphasize to soak the rice, I soak mine at least 6 hours and often overnight, and rinse a couple of times so that any contaminants can be significantly reduced or washed away.