29 May Arsenic in rice: how to decrease your intake
Is arsenic in rice a concern when feeding your baby? What about older kids and adults; should you worry about the amount of rice you eat? Generally, I don’t like to fear monger or make you think our food is “toxic”, but I wanted to dig into this a little further today, since it’s such a common question.
Watch the video, or read on:
What is Arsenic?
Arsenic is an element naturally found in the air, water and soil. The natural arsenic in animals and plants is called organic arsenic and we’re not worried about that. Inorganic arsenic is the concern. It’s also found in soil or water, but is more dangerous. And levels of organic arsenic have been increasing, due to pollution due to industrial manufacturing.
Arsenic is listed as one of the World Health Organization’s 10 chemicals of major public health concern. But this is mostly in areas such as Bangladesh where the water is contaminated and thousands have died.
In terms of inorganic arsenic in the food we eat, rice is the largest source. It absorbs 10-20x the amount of arsenic that other crops do. And rice is found in so many processed products: rice milk, Rice Krispies, rice crackers, infant rice cereal. Many natural energy or sport bars also contain brown rice syrup as the sweetener. Which goes to show that “gluten-free” (mostly rice-based) or “organic” are not always healthier, and sometimes less healthy than regular options.
What are the health effects of arsenic?
Most of us know that arsenic in high doses causes death. But long-term ingestion of smaller amounts is linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancers. It’s called arsenics or chronic arsenic poisoning. In children, arsenic exposure been linked to cognition or reduced intelligence. Recent studies also suggest that arsenic exposure in utero may have effects on the baby’s immune system.
Limits on Arsenic
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States tested 1,300 samples of rice and rice products. Average levels of inorganic arsenic ranged from 1 ppb in infant formula up to 160 ppb in brown rice.
Based on its testing, the FDA in 2016 proposed limit, of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic, but only in infant rice cereal. The reason they chose to put limits on infant cereal is that: “Relative to body weight, rice intake for infants, primarily through infant rice cereal, is about three times greater than for adults. Moreover……people consume the most rice (relative to their weight) at approximately 8 months of age.” In the infant cereals the FDA tested, half were over the limit, generally by a small amount.
The FDA has not set a limit on the amount of arsenic in other rice products or the amount of rice that adults should eat. Instead, they recommend adults “Eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food.”
Tips to Decrease Arsenic Intake
- Rinse your rice in a colander under clean water.
- Soaking the rice overnight in 6 cups water per 1 cup rice. This can decrease the amount of arsenic in rice by 80%
- Cooking rice in 6-10 cups water per 1 cup rice decreases the amount of arsenic by 40-60%. according to the FDA. I would suggest not using your Instant Pot or Rice Cooker to cook rice, and instead cook it using this method – just like how you would cook pasta on the stove top. Drain the extra water when your rice is done. As a bonus, you won’t end up with burnt, crusty dry rice like I do much of the time, from using too little water!
- Buy rice grown in certain areas. The FDA discourages making country- to- country or state- by- state comparisons, as arsenic levels vary due to fertilizer, soil, season, water use. But they from their testing, they found that rice grown in California (particularly Basmati rice) had the lowest level or arsenic. Rice from Texas was high. And Consumer Report did their own analysis of arsenic in rice and suggests choosing rice from Himalayan region: North India, North Pakistan and Nepal.
- Eat some white rice. Brown rice contains 80% more arsenic than white. Arsenic accumulates in the grain’s outer layers, which are removed to make white rice. Brown rice has more nutrients and fibre though, so you shouldn’t switch entirely to white. If you’re able to rinse, soak and/or boil your brown rice, much of the arsenic will be removed anyways.
- For your baby: if you use infant cereal, skip the rice cereal. Use other options like wheat, mixed grain or oats. Or at least vary the grains, so you’re not feeding your baby only rice cereal.
- For toddlers or children. Avoid offering multiple rice products per day.
- For adults: I know it’s boring but moderation and variety is the key to health! Choose a variety of different grains. Avoid gluten-free diets unless medically required. Avoid eating brown rice syrup on a regular basis (check your bars and shakes). And cook your rice using the methods mentioned above.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, and share this video & blog if you have friends that would like to learn about this!
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