riceMany consumer groups are pressuring the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to establish guidelines on allowable levels of arsenic in rice.  At present, there are no guidelines established for how much is safe in food.  In a statement released by the FDA in September 2012, 200 different rice products were tested and showed harmful levels of inorganic arsenic.  Samples included short and long-grain rice, cereals, drinks and rice cakes (FDA urged to set standards for arsenic in rice, 2012) (Goodman, 2012).

How does arsenic get into the rice?

Because rice is grown in water on the ground, arsenic is soaked up through the roots of the plant and stored in the grains.  Arsenic is naturally found in soil, water and air and can also be found in fruits and vegetables.  Studies performed by the Consumers Union found higher levels in brown rice (80% more inorganic arsenic) over white rice.  It is higher in brown rice because arsenic is accumulated in the grain’s outer layers whereas in white rice the outer layer is removed.  White basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan plus sushi rice from the U.S. have much lower arsenic levels than basmati brown rice from those same areas (Shea, 2014).

How does this affect the consumer?

“Eating one serving of rice at the highest arsenic levels could expose a person to more arsenic than the EPA allows in drinking water” (Goodman, 2012).  High exposure over a long period of time could lead to bladder, lung and skin cancers, heart disease and may result in learning disabilities and low IQ in children (Goodman, 2012).

Tips to reduce your exposure

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has put out some tips to help minimize your exposure to arsenic in rice.  Do not rely on product labels that organic rice is safer.  Rice grown organically have fewer pesticides, but still have the same levels of arsenic.

  • Limit rice consumption by using quinoa, barley, grits/polenta, millet, couscous or bulgur wheat.
  • Cook rice in plenty of water.  Because white rice may turn mushy, you can reduce your exposure by rinsing the rice before cooking it (reduces exposure by 30%).  If you use brown rice, boil it in water like you would prepare pasta.
  • Change cereals such Rice Krispies to toasted oats or puffed corn.
  • Limit the use of products that have rice syrup as a sweetener (snack food and nutritional bars).  May be hidden on the label as a “natural” sweetener.
  • If you have well water, have it tested by our local health department.  You can also visit the EWG’s Tap Water Database to see if arsenic has been detected where you live.

For Your Children

  •  Switch to non-rice cereals for babies.
  • Tests have found traces of arsenic in apple, grape, pear and some juice blends so limit the amount of juice your child consumes daily; maximum amounts ½ cup to 1 cup.
  • Avoid products that have brown rice syrup as a sweetener.
  • Do not use rice milk as a substitute for cow’s milk.

To read more on this topic, click on the following links:

FDA urged to set standards for arsenic in rice. (2012, September 19). Retrieved September 21, 2012, from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/09/19/fda-urged-to-set-standards-for-arsenic-in-rice/prin

Shea, M. (2014). Yahoo Health, “Arsenic in rice: 11 facts you need to know”. Retrieved November 26, 2014, from:  https://www.yahoo.com/health/we-first-heard-the-bad-news-in-2012-rice-contains-103047447432.html

Jaslow, R. (2013). CBS News, “FDA:  Arsenic in rice won’t harm health immediately, but long-term risk unclear”. Retrieved September 7, 2013, from, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57601778/fda-arsenic-in-rice-wont-harm-health-immediately-but-long-term-risk-unclear/

Goodman, B. (2012, September 19). Arsenic found in rich at high levels. Retrieved September 21, 2012, from MedicineNet.com: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=163143

Lunder, S. (2012). Enviroblog. “Getting arsenic out of your (and your kids’) diet”, Retrieved October 8, 2012, from: http://www.enviroblog.org/2012/09/getting-arsenic-out-of-your-and-your-kids-diet.html?