Arsenic and Rice

Food Scare
Rice is a food staple for half the world. In fact, the Chinese word for “food” is “rice.”

The latest food scare concerns arsenic levels in rice. A new study from Consumer Reports claims samples of white rice, brown rice, and rice breakfast cereals may contain troublesome levels of arsenic. There have been no reports of people being harmed by eating rice.

The magazine tested more than 200 samples of rice products: including popular brands, store brands and even organic ones. They found measurable amounts of arsenic in “virtually every product tested.”

“We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern,” the authors wrote.

Tristan is enjoying his rice.

“All plants pick up arsenic,” John M. Duxbury, PhD, a professor of soil science and international agriculture at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., says in an email. “Concentrations in leaves of plants are much higher than in grains of plants. Thus, leafy vegetables can contain higher levels of arsenic than rice, especially when they are grown on arsenic-contaminated soils.”

The Question
The question to be answered is “How is the arsenic being absorbed into the rice?”

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks and soil, water, air, and plants and animals. Arsenic dissolves easily in water. So drinking water has long been monitored as a source of exposure to arsenic. There are higher levels of arsenic in groundwater.

Rice is different from other produce as it’s grown in paddies, which are flooded with water. This makes rice more vulnerable to arsenic contamination.

The Answer
More testing is needed before a trend can be established. The FDA is conducting their own study, which will be completed at the end of this year.

One suggestion is to rinse the rise before you cook it. I don’t know if this really helps, but it can’t hurt.

The concern for me is not the naturally occurring “organic” arsenic which is always present in plants, but the “inorganic” arsenic. I think the FDA advice is sound: People shouldn’t stop eating rice as long as they are eating a balanced diet with a variety of grains.


Arsenic in Rice Update October 3, 2012
According to Consumer Reports November 2012 edition, you can cut the arsenic risk by changing the way you cook rice.

1. Rinse the raw rice thoroughly before cooking.
2. Cook using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice, then drain the excess liquid after afterward.

Research has shown that rinsing and then using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic.

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