Should you be worried about arsenic in rice?
Years ago, when research findings regarding arsenic in rice became main stream I didn’t pay much attention. We weren’t big rice eaters at the time so I skimmed the headlines and moved on. But in the past year we have been eating rice more often so I went back to the research to better understand the issue.
Arsenic is a natural compound in the soil so it isn’t uncommon for foods to contain minuscule amounts but rice can have 10-20 times more arsenic than others foods. (Because it’s grown in water, the plant is able to absorb more arsenic.)
On its website, Health Canada acknowledges that some foods, like rice, have higher arsenic levels and that long term exposure to elevated levels of arsenic contributes to the risk of some cancers (including kidney, liver, lung and skin). There is also research that connects dietary arsenic exposure with developmental issues in infants.
Health Canada doesn’t reference any research that provides guidance on what they consider “elevated” levels, or if we should limit how often we eat rice. Their general advice is to eat a balanced diet.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, on the other hand, states that rice-based infant cereal “shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source” for fortified infant cereals and suggests that parents also choose oat, barley and multi-grain cereals. The FDA also recommends that pregnant women eat a good variety of grains, not just rice, to reduce their exposure to arsenic.
If you enjoy rice, or have been eating more rice to avoid gluten-containing grains, there are many to reduce your exposure to arsenic.
How to Reduce Your Exposure to Arsenic in Rice:
- Brown rice has higher levels of arsenic than white rice because it still contains the husk.
- Basmati rice and sushi rice have lower levels of arsenicthan other varieties of rice.
- Rice cakes and rice crackers can have more arsenic than cooked rice
- Arsenic levels in rice milk can far exceed allowable limits for arsenic in drinking water.
- Soaking rice reduces the amount of arsenic in rice since it leaches into the water and gets washed down the drain when the rice is rinsed. Soak your rice for at least 10 minutes before cooking. You can also soak it overnight. Rinse well before cooking.
- Try cooking rice using the “open pot” method. You can cook rice like pasta, in a big pot of boiling water. Drain and rinse when it’s cooked to the texture you like.
- According to research conducted by the BBC, cooking rice using a five-to-one ratio of rice to water reduced the arsenic by more than half and when the rice was soaked overnight only 18 percent of the arsenic remained.
- Based on an analysis of arsenic levels in rice and rice-based foods, in 2015 Consumer Report recommended that you consume no more than four and a half servings of basmati or sushi rice per week and no more than two servings a week of other rice. Keep in mind that a serving can include hot and dry cereal, rice crackers, rice cakes, rice pasta, brown rice syrup, and rice milk.