Rice has been a staple in diets for centuries. According to Lundberg Family Farms, rice feeds more than half of our world’s population. We use it in stir fries, soups and burritos, on salads and baked into puddings, cakes and more. Its uses are many and we get energy and satisfaction from eating it. So the question is, are we at risk of arsenic poisoning because we consume rice and rice products?
Arsenic is a semi-metallic element that is colorless and tasteless. It is more commonly known to exist in our drinking water. The FDA actually has a safety limit set for water, and they are now considering whether or not to set one for rice as well.
Arsenic is carcinogenic. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, arsenic in any form has been linked to bladder, kidney, liver, skin and lung cancer. It may also contribute to prostate cancer. Outside of the various cancers, exposure to arsenic is believed to affect proper and healthy development, plus it has also been linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and negative effects on the male reproductive system.
THE PROBLEM WITH RICE
The way rice absorbs and stores its nutrients lends poorly to its consumption and health benefits. In a New York Times article titled, The Trouble with Rice,
“The issue with the rice plant is that it tends to store the arsenic in the grain, rather than in the leaves or elsewhere,” said Jody Banks, a plant biologist at Purdue University, who studies arsenic uptake in plants. “It moves there quite easily.”
This is also why brown rice is believed to be worse for you, in terms of arsenic levels. Consumer Reports found that brown rice from some brands has more arsenic than white rice. Brown rice, considered very healthy, includes the outer layer of the grain and this is where some of the chemical is stored. For this reason, polished white rice was found to have less arsenic in comparison to brown rice.
The levels of arsenic in rice vary based on where it is grown. It is no longer permitted to be used as in fertilizers or as a pesticide, but it still lives in the soil due to its uses in the past. Plus, it exists naturally in our environment. Consumer reports state that, “White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, which account for 76 percent of domestic rice, generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic in our tests than rice samples from elsewhere.” If you buy a rice that is imported, or from another area of the US, your rice is more likely to have lower arsenic levels.
The grain that we cook in water until soft is not the only rice product holding arsenic that we consume. Rice cereal, often the first solid food fed to infants, as well as rice cakes, rice drinks, rice pasta, rice crackers and ready-to-eat cereal can contain levels of arsenic.
It is advised to diversify and eat other grains such as oats, wheat cereals, corn grits or polenta, barley, and quinoa. Rice and rice products don’t need to be cut out completely, but they should be limited. Consumer Reports recommends that parents feed babies only one serving of rice cereal per day. Oatmeal, wheat and other infant cereals contain lower or no concentrations of arsenic, according to the magazine's study, and are therefore a good alternative.
MONITORING THE CROP
Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are monitoring the crop in different states to determine the levels of arsenic in rice. The Rice Federation supplies samples for the labs to check. In addition, many growers are conducting their own analysis of their crops.
For more health related news and insights, sign up for our Newsletter.