Rice could come with a serving of arsenic

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 24th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

This holiday season, you may want to think twice before loading up on rice stuffing. New research from Consumer Reports found there were high levels of arsenic in rice and rice products, like rice milk, cereals and rice cakes.

The Federal Drug Administration tested 200 brown and white rice products and found traces of the toxin even in organic rice. What’s troubling is that eating just one serving of rice at the highest levels found in the studies could expose a person to more arsenic than the Environmental Protection Agency allows in drinking water. In fact, people in the study who ate one serving of rice had levels 44 percent higher than those who didn’t. And those who ate two or more rice items saw levels 70 percent higher than those who refrained from rice.

More research is needed before scientists tell people to shun rice from their diets, and the researchers aim to test more than 1,000 products. But the news is especially concerning for children, considering rice cereal is often one of baby’s first foods.

Soil, water and air can also contain traces of arsenic, which leaches into fruits and vegetables. But rice is especially susceptible to contamination because rice plants growing in flooded fields soak it up through their roots.

Long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic is linked to cancer, heart disease and poor brain function in young children. At high levels, it can lead to discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness, paralysis and blindness.

Can’t give up rice? Avoid grains grown in the southeastern United States, where levels are highest. Opt for white instead of brown, since the husk and much of the contaminant is removed. Rinse rice before cooking to remove up to 30 percent of arsenic. And go for other grains, like quinoa (KEEN-wa), bulgur wheat, barley and farro.