Most people don’t worry about arsenic poisoning when they sit down to a bowl of rice, but new FDA warnings about the levels of arsenic in rice has people raising concerns – especially new parents who feed their babies rice cereal as a first taste of solid food. Should you be worried about the levels of arsenic in rice? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is arsenic?
Arsenic is an element found naturally in plant and animal tissues, water, air, and soil. There are two forms of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic is typically found in plant and animal tissues and is considered less toxic than the inorganic form, which is found in water, air, and soil.
Inorganic arsenic is toxic to humans when consumed in high concentrations, so the FDA monitors the levels of arsenic in foods. In 2016 the FDA proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal to prevent toxicity.
Why is there arsenic in rice?
Arsenic occurs naturally in soil, so most foods grown in soil have a small amount of arsenic in them – but not nearly enough to cause concern. Rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods, partly because of the way it’s grown. Rice is grown in very wet conditions and rice plants are especially effective at soaking up inorganic arsenic from water – much more effective than other grains like wheat and barley. Couple that with the fact that rice is frequently grown in areas that commonly have high levels of arsenic in water, and you’ve got a recipe for concern.
Is arsenic a concern in organic rice?
The arsenic level of rice doesn’t have much to do with whether the plants are grown organically or not. Since rice plants are naturally efficient at absorbing arsenic, and arsenic is naturally found in soil and water, there’s no evidence that organic rice has less arsenic than conventional rice.
What are the health effects of arsenic?
High arsenic levels are associated with several types of cancer, including skin, lung, urinary bladder, kidney, and liver cancers. High levels of arsenic have also been associated with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Rice cereals are commonly introduced to infants as a first source of solid food, and since infants require much less arsenic to reach a toxic level than adults do, the toxicity of arsenic is a special concern for infants and children. The FDA reports that infants and children may be particularly susceptible to adverse neurodevelopmental effects of arsenic poisoning including impaired concentration, learning, and memory.
Should you be concerned about arsenic in rice?
Arsenic in rice can absolutely be a concern for those who eat rice every day or in considerable amounts. However, if you vary your diet to include multiple grain sources other than just rice, you likely don’t need to be concerned when you dish up your stir fry over a bowl of rice every so often.
According to a study of grain arsenic levels by Consumer Reports, brown rice has higher levels of arsenic than white rice because arsenic is mostly concentrated in the husk. I’d still recommend eating brown rice over white rice because it’s much richer in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but it may be wise to cut back a bit if you’re eating brown rice every day. Mixing up your grain consumption to include quinoa, millet, polenta, bulgur, barley, farro, and more not only keeps your meals interesting and varied, but also ensures that you’re not eating rice every day.
If you’re on a dairy-free or gluten-free diet, you may need to pay closer attention, since rice milk and rice flour-based products can make up a large proportion dairy and gluten-free diets.
As for infants, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends varying the grains in your baby’s diet as well. Infant rice cereal can be a great source of vitamins and minerals, but it doesn’t need to be the first or only source.
All in all, the levels of arsenic in rice are only a concern if you’re eating multiple servings of rice every day. For adults and children, the best advice for avoiding arsenic toxicity is simply varying your diet to include other whole grains in addition to or in place of rice. If you’re a huge fan of rice and want to eat it more than every so often, but without the concern of arsenic toxicity, you’re in luck! There’s an easy way to cook rice to reduce its levels of arsenic.
How to reduce arsenic in rice
The amount of arsenic in rice can be easily reduced by cooking it in excess water and discarding the leftover water – similar to how you’d normally cook pasta. This method works for both brown and white rice, reducing arsenic levels by about 50%.
Just boil rice in a 6:1 ratio (or greater) of water to rice until tender, then strain and serve! It’s actually even easier than cooking rice the traditional way – no exact measurements needed!
By eating rice in moderation, cooking it in plenty of water, and regulating your infant’s rice consumption, your whole family can easily steer clear of excess arsenic while still enjoying your favorite meals with rice.
Do you cook your rice in excess water or pay attention to the amount of arsenic in your infant’s food?