Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products

I reported last January that women who consume rice have higher levels of arsenic in urine when compared to women who do not consume rice. Since then I have seen a couple more studies from different areas around the world where arsenic has been found in drinking water, in rice grown in water, and in people who consume high amounts of rice. Rice is a major staple in many cultures worldwide, so this news is concerning.

A recent Consumer Reports investigation has found inorganic arsenic—a form of arsenic that is a known carcinogen and deadly at high dosages—in virtually all of over 200 samples of products. Brown rice was found to contain higher levels of arsenic than white rice, because the arsenic concentrates in the outer layer removed from white rice. Higher levels of arsenic were also found in rice that came from Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas when compared to rice from California, Thailand, or India.

The U.S. government has set a federal limit of arsenic in drinking water at 10 parts per billion, but there is no set limit for food. The FDA is currently conducting tests on arsenic in rice and rice products, in the hopes of setting federal limits on arsenic levels in food at the end of the year.

Based on this report, Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital School of Medicine, states, “I think it a prudent position for the next few months or years … is that parents avoid rice or at least avoid any rice that comes from Texas, Louisiana, or Missouri, and when in doubt go with barley or oatmeal.”

A major route of arsenic into food is via arsenic-containing pesticides and drugs used in agriculture. Consumer Reports recommends that these ingredients be discontinued or banned to prevent further accumulation of arsenic in our food. Remember that arsenic is also found in certain fruits and vegetables, due to the presence of arsenic in fertilizers made from manure that contains arsenic. Arsenic levels in apple juice have been found even higher than rice!

It looks like arsenic is to become the next mercury or lead. These heavy metals stay in the body and are linked to poor health. Consumer Reports recommends limiting children to about a quarter cup of uncooked rice per week, and adults to half a cup. They also recommend thoroughly rinsing rice before cooking. I agree. And when you do eat it, try to consume brands that have been found to contain lower amounts. Also, look out for the sweetener called brown rice syrup (or organic brown rice syrup), which has also been found in previous studies to contain high levels of arsenic.

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