Arsenic Is In Rice – dangerous?

Arsenic in rice – Fact

Arsenic is rice is a big deal.  In 2011 Diane Gilbert-Diamond and her colleagues at Dartmouth medical school discovered that pregnant women who ate as little as a half cup of rice had just as much arsenic in their urine as those who had imbibed an entire liter of water contaminated with 10 parts per billion of arsenic, the maximum concentration allowed under the federal Safe Water Drinking Act (Gilbert-Diamond 2011 – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA

In 2012, the independent, highly regarded Consumer Reports research organization made public tests indicating that arsenic concentrations commonly exceeded 100 parts per billion in rice, rice flour, crackers, pasta, hot and cold breakfast cereals and infant cereal (Consumer Reports 2012).  Arsenic levels in rice milk often surpassed 10 parts per billion, the maximum allowed in drinking water.

The FDA published tests of more than 1,300 samples of rice-based foods.  Its findings were in line with those of Consumer Reports (FDA 2013a).

Last July, CODEX, a joint commission of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, adopted a new standard for acceptable arsenic levels in rice:  it recommended that governments shouldn’t allow no more than 200 parts of arsenic per billion in white or “polished” rice and no more than 400 parts per billion in brown rice (FAO/WHO 2014). The European Food Safety Authority has discussed a more restrictive limit of 100 parts per billion of arsenic in foods marketed for infants and children.

Andrew Meharg, a professor of plant and soil sciences at Queen’s University Belfast and recognized international expert on the problem of arsenic in the food supply, urged regulators to lower the bar to 50 parts of arsenic per billion for foods made for infants and children and 100 parts per billion in rice sold to the general public.  He contended that arsenic concentrations greater than 100 parts per billion in food posed an unacceptably high risk of cancer.

Does organic rice contain less Arsenic?

Organically-grown and conventional rice both contain arsenic.

Arsenic concentrations in rice appear to vary based on the variety and the region where it is grown.

White rice, particularly basmati, jasmine and pre-cooked “instant” rice tends to have lower concentrations of arsenic than brown rice because arsenic accumulates in rice bran.

Rice varieties grown in California or imported from Southeast Asia are often lower in arsenic than rice grown in other parts of the U.S.

How much Rice can we eat?

Consumer Reports suggested that adults eat no more than one to three servings of rice or rice-based foods per weekdepending on the food type.

It recommended that children eat a maximum of 1.25 servings of rice, rice pasta, rice breakfast cereal or rice pasta per week or one small serving of rice-based infant cereal per day.

Consumer Reports urged parents not to give children younger than five rice-based beverages regularly.

How to cook/eat rice?

Rinsing rice before cooking may reduce arsenic content to some extent.

Some research indicates that the amount of arsenic in rice can be cut by as much as 40 percent if the rice is boiled in a large volume of water like pasta and the excess water discarded.  Here’s a recipe.

Cooking rice like pasta is a good option for brown rice, whose superior nutritional benefits must be balanced against higher arsenic content.

Nutritional guidance:  Soft fruits, vegetables or even meats are great first sources of complementary nutrients for a breast- or formula-fed baby. Try bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes and squash, not rice cereals.

How heavy metals such as arsenic get into food?

Heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, and lead are naturally present in water and soil.  Intense concentrations exist as a result of industrial pollution and decades of agricultural use of lead- and arsenic-based pesticides. Cadmium is a contaminant in phosphorous-based fertilizers (WHO 2010).

Cadmium concentrations are lower in organically-grown fruits, vegetables and grains (Baranski 2014).

Arsenic levels are consistently elevated in rice and foods made with rice flour, bran, and rice-based sweeteners.  Carrots, mushrooms, peanuts, seaweed, fruit juices and wine occasionally have high arsenic concentrations (FDA 2011).

Many authorities single out Rice as a special problem because of its propensity to harbor arsenic. While all plants can absorb some arsenic, rice plants, due to their physiology and growing conditions, accumulate 10 times more arsenic than other grain crops (Sohn 2014).

Americans get more arsenic from food than polluted water

Scientists have long known that people who drink arsenic-contaminated water have higher rates of lung, skin and bladder cancers. For that reason, federal and state governments have invested millions of dollars in reducing arsenic concentrations in drinking water.

However, in 2010 scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculated that a typical American ingested twice as much inorganic arsenic from food as from water (Xue 2010). They estimated that infants and children had more intense exposures to arsenic than adults.