Rice

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Rice is one of the most widely consumed staple foods in the world and has many positive nutritional qualities. However, recent studies coordinated by Consumer Reports have revealed troubling levels of arsenic in various rice products, including hot and cold rice breakfast cereal, rice milk, cooked rice, rice pasta, rice crackers, rice cakes, rice flour, and rice syrup.[1] [2] Inorganic arsenic is a highly toxic “Group 1 carcinogen” that is known or suspected to cause cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, liver, kidney, and prostate.[3] In addition to finding arsenic in rice, research has shown a direct relationship between the amount of rice consumed and levels of arsenic in the body. Based on a urinary analysis of study participants in the U.S., researchers found that “people who reported eating one rice food item had total urinary arsenic levels 44 percent greater than those who had not, and people who reported consuming two or more rice products had levels 70 percent higher than those who had no rice.”[4]

Arsenic can enter food through soil that has natural arsenic deposits or human-induced contamination (the latter is most significant). For example, arsenic was used to make pesticides and herbicides until banned in the 1980s, and arsenic is still used today as an additive for raising chickens and pigs on factory farms.[5] Rice is particularly effective in absorbing arsenic from soil and storing it in the grain.[6] While federal standards are in place to limit arsenic in water, there are currently no standards for restricting arsenic in most food.

Minimizing Exposure to Arsenic in Rice

The health risk of any toxin is partly determined by the dose consumed, but “acceptable” levels of arsenic have not yet been identified for most food. Moreover, recent research suggests that chronic low-dose exposure to arsenic increases the likelihood of various types of cancer.[7] One way to eliminate rice from your diet is to substitute with grains that have much lower concentrations of arsenic, including oats, wheat (e.g., couscous, pasta), buckwheat, quinoa, millet, polenta, bulgur, barley, farro, and amaranth. If you prefer not to avoid rice entirely, you can lower health risks by following these steps:

  • Only consume white basmati rice from India, Pakistan, and California, which consistently yield the lowest concentrations of inorganic arsenic. Adults should limit their intake of cooked white basmati rice to 3 ½ cups per week to reduce exposure to arsenic, assuming that no other types of rice or rice products are consumed. Children should limit their intake to 2 cups per week.[7]
  • If the origin and type of rice cannot be completed controlled, adults should limit their intake of cooked rice to 1 ½ cups per week to reduce exposure to arsenic, assuming that no other rice products are consumed. Children should limit their intake to 1 cup per week.[8]
  • You can reduce the arsenic concentration in rice by 30 percent by using the Asian method of cooking rice: Rinse rice before cooking and use a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup of rice (drain remaining water after cooking).[9]
  • Minimize consumption of brown rice since it contains higher levels of arsenic than does white rice. (Arsenic is concentrated in the outer layers of the rice grain.)
  • Reduce consumption of food that contains rice flour or rice syrup. These are common ingredients in many types of frozen food.
  • Minimize consumption of processed rice food, including hot and cold rice breakfast cereal, rice milk, rice pasta, rice crackers, and rice cakes. Rice pasta and hot rice cereal have particularly high levels of arsenic per serving.

Minimizing Exposure to Arsenic from Other Sources

Other sources of arsenic include tainted water from private wells, grape and apple juice, beer, white wine (perhaps due to arsenic-laden diatomaceous earth in the filtering process), Brussels sprouts, and dark-meat fish.[10] [11]

  • Limit consumption of grape juice and apple juice (whole fruits are fine).
  • Consider unfiltered beer and red wine instead of filtered beer and white wine.
  • Limit consumption of Brussels sprouts and dark-meat fish: tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish, and swordfish.

 

Best Rice Option: Lundberg’s White Basmati

Based on the analysis by Consumer Reports, Lundberg’s White Basmati rice currently has the lowest concentration of arsenic.[10] See the table below to compare arsenic levels in this product with those of popular alternatives.

 

A Comparison of Inorganic Arsenic Levels in Popular Brands of Rice

ProductInorganic Arsenic
(micrograms per serving, upper limit)
Lundberg California White Basmati1.6
Trader Joe's White Basmati from India2.9
Whole Foods 365 Organic Thai Jasmine White3
Whole Foods 365 Organic Indian Basmati White3.5
Texas Best Organics Long Grain White4.3
Rice-Select Organic Texmati White4.8
Lundberg Short Grain Brown5.4
Texas Best Organics Long Grain Brown7.6
Whole Foods 365 Long Grain Brown8.4

Source. Consumer Reports. (2012). Arsenic in your food.

 

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Lundberg Organic California White Basmati Rice