In 2012 Consumer Reports released a study that showed large amounts of inorganic arsenic in rice products. This report is an update based on more analysis. It includes information on the amounts of rice products that are safe to eat in a week. Inorganic arsenic is considered a carcinogen (cancer causing agent). Arsenic is naturally occurring in the earth’s crust. It also goes into the environment from pesticides and poultry fertilizer, so it ends up in the soil and the water. Rice naturally absorbs more arsenic than many other plants. Regular exposure to small amounts of arsenic can increase the risk of bladder, lung and skin cancer and can contribute to kidney, liver and prostate cancer. There are no federal guidelines for limiting the amount of arsenic in rice and rice products. The FDA is planning to release an assessment of the potential health risks of arsenic in foods. Personally, I am taking action to limit these foods in my diet before hearing what the FDA has to say about it.
Besides being harmful to adults, children are at higher risks. Since children’s body size is smaller, their intake of these products must be smaller. Consumer Reports formulated a scale of points that show how many servings of different foods you can eat safely in a week. Seven (7) points is the magic number for both children and adults. In fact, one serving of infant rice cereal (¼ cup cooked) equals 1¼ points. The FDA recommended that infant’s first cereal should not be rice. One to three rice cakes is equal to 6¼ points in a child and 2½ points in an adult. So if I eat 2 rice cakes 3x a week, I’m over the recommended level. And that doesn’t include any other rice products I might eat the rest of the week. Rice drinks are surprisingly high in arsenic and it’s recommended that children under five years old should not drink them instead of milk.
Some rice has lower risks depending on the variety and where they are grown. White Basmati rice grown in California, India and Pakistan have half the amount of arsenic in them. Same with Sushi rice grown in the U.S. Brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type. Arsenic accumulates in the grain’s outer layers, therefore when less of the outer layer is removed, more arsenic remains. Brown basmati, a whole grain, from California, India, or Pakistan is the best choice with a third less arsenic. Unfortunately organic rice is no different when it comes to arsenic. The gluten-free grains amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and polenta or grits had practically undetectable levels of inorganic arsenic. Gluten grains, bulgur, barley, and farro, have very little arsenic. Quinoa had inorganic arsenic levels comparable to those of other alternative grains. Even the quinoa samples that were higher in arsenic were still much lower than brown rice.
One way to lower the inorganic arsenic content of rice products is to rinse it thoroughly before cooking, and cook it 6 cups of water to one cup of rice. After it is cooked, drain excess water off. Even though you lose some of the nutrients, it lowers the arsenic content by 30%. I have always rinsed my rice in a strainer before cooking, I thought to lower the starch content and make sure there is no debris in it.
Below is the scale recommended by Consumer Reports for your daily intake of some rice products for children and adults.