Multiple tests have proven there are dangerous amounts of arsenic in modern, conventional foods. The dangers of arsenic have been well-documented, with a strong relationship to multiple cancers and heart disease.
Yet, we still consume unhealthy, and even toxic levels of arsenic on a daily basis. One of the biggest culprits is a widespread diet staple: rice.
Here’s what you need to know to about arsenic, the risks you run eating it, and how to minimize the levels you consume – whether it’s opting for other whole grains or preparing your rice in a more mindful way!
What is Arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring mineral that comes in two forms, inorganic and organic, the latter is less toxic and is a natural element found in the earth’s crust. Arsenic can be released into the environment through a number of ways, including the use of pesticides and poultry fertilizer. In other words, arsenic is found in both our soil and water, meaning it can be found in foods that are prone to nutrient absorption, like rice.
Arsenic in Your Rice
Tests prove that inorganic arsenic content in rice varies greatly on the variety and growing techniques of rice. Here’s what you need to know:
- White basmati rice from India, Pakistan and California, have on average half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of other rice types.
- All types of rice (except sushi and quick cooking) from Arkansas, Louisiana or Texas have the highest levels of inorganic arsenic.
- Brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type.
- Arsenic absorbs in its fibrous outer later, which are removed to make white rice
- Rice that is grown organically absorbs arsenic in the same way and amount, therefore, relying on “organic rice” as a healthy alternative is not safer.
The Dangers of Arsenic
Arsenic is a known carcinogen and exposure can lead to increased risks of several cancers, including bladder, lung, and skin cancer. Additionally, increased and continuous exposure has been connected to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. New studies have even warned of the dangers of arsenic exposure pregnant women and fetuses’ health, leading to hostile utero environment and weaker immune systems.
There has been a lively debate in the health community and among health regulators. The USA Rice Federation says that studies prove, “white or brown rice in the diet provides measurable health benefits that outweigh the potential risks associated with exposure to trace levels of arsenic.” The FDA has publicly disagreed with this statement, saying that the health risks of arsenic consumption in rice, far outweigh the benefits.
While there is not an official federal limit of arsenic and in rice and rice products, the FDA has proposed an “action level” proposal for arsenic found in juice.
Consumer Reports has been calling upon the FDA to set safe limits for arsenic in rice, especially after the FDA released results of a large 2013 study confirming the presence of arsenic in rice and rice products. The FDA is still finalizing recommendations, but they do offer advice on their website for pregnant women and parents.
Grains Lower in Arsenic
Opting for grains other than rice, to avoid arsenic entirely or lower your arsenic consumption is an important step toward a healthier diet. Here’s a list of grains with no or negligible arsenic levels you can incorporate on a daily basis:
- Polenta or grits
Lowering Arsenic in Your Rice
Cutting out rice from your diet entirely is easier said than done. If you plan on eating rice in the future, use this simple and effective tip to lower the levels of arsenic in your rice: rinse raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice, and draining the excess water afterward. Even though you may sacrifice some of the rice’s nutritional value, research proves that rinsing and using more water removes roughly 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content.