Recently my facebook feed has been full of negative press about rice and rice products. Friends have contacted me in a panic asking if they should stop feeding rice cakes to their children. Why? Well because……………
Rice contains arsenic!
That’s right, shock horror. Who would have thought there would be arsenic in rice?
I want to address this issue and explain why I’m not yet ready to give up eating rice totally. Rice is a staple part of my diet. As a high carb, plant based athlete I consume a lot of rice every week. I am not sure why everyone is panicking now though. A 2012 consumer report1 documented that our popular rice foods (baby cereal, breakfast cereal, rice cakes and crackers) as well as brown and white rice, contain dangerously high levels of arsenic. However the National Food Agency in Sweden recently examined 102 different foods to see how much arsenic they contain2. The results showed that the levels varied a lot between different products and different brands but on some occasions arsenic levels were very high. The report concluded to ensure a varied diet, including using different brands. They also suggested to not give rice cakes to children under 6 because they contain high levels of arsenic. The UK Food Standards Agency have also advised not to give rice milk to children under 4.
There are two types of arsenic:
Organic arsenic found in plants and animals such as seafood
Inorganic arsenic which is the most toxic form and is found in soils, water and rocks.
Rice is grown in flooded fields and this is what releases the inorganic arsenic. The fields require high amounts of (contaminated) water, the soil is contaminated with arsenic and rice absorbs a high amount of arsenic from the water and soil. All the above are a bad combination.
Arsenic may be a naturally occurring element in soil but that does not mean it is safe for us to consume. Studies have shown that regular doses of inorganic arsenic can potentially cause cancers such as skin3, lung4, bladder5, kidney and liver6 as well as contributing to diabetes7, cardiovascular disease 8, 9, hypertension 10 and reproductive/developmental issues. Scary hey ?
What about children? Because of their weight, children are at a much higher risk of arsenic toxicity. One serving of rice pasta per week could put your child at risk. If I was a parent, I would be looking at reducing their rice consumption and switching to alternatives such as quinoa or buckwheat.
Here are 5 simple steps to reduce your exposure to arsenic without having to completely give up rice:
- Eat more white rice. Brown rice on average has 80% more arsenic than white rice because arsenic concentrates in the germ, which is removed to make white rice.
- Mix it up and add alternative grains into your diet such as quinoa, millet and amaranth
- Rinse the rice before you cook it until the water turns clear. This may reduce levels by up to 30% 12 (if hopefully your water is not contaminated)
- Use more water to cook your rice, generally a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice. This can reduce arsenic levels by up to 60%12
- Choose Indian basmati or Thai jasmine which show the lowest levels of inorganic arsenic (compared to Southern US brands). Californian US brands were also much lower than other US brands12
According to the Australian Ricegrowers Association, ‘Australian rice is subject to regular and extensive testing to ensure it meets all Australian and relevant international health and safety standards, including those for arsenic levels.’
So choose your rice carefully and for the health of you and your family follow the above steps to limit your exposure to arsenic. I won’t be stopping eating rice but I will be changing my habits.