Updated: Mar 15
I have noticed more posts about arsenic in rice lately. Have you? Were you wondering why everyone is talking about arsenic and what that is all about? If so, let’s try to figure it out together!
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is found in soil, water, and air, as well as in plants and animals. However, increased global pollution seems to have increased the amount of arsenic found in our food supply. Most often arsenic can be found as part of other chemical compounds, organic or inorganic, with the latter being the most toxic for humans.
For most people, the largest source of exposure to arsenic is food and contaminated water. Rice in particular, compared to other foods, will have high amounts, because it takes up arsenic more readily from the environment than other grains do. Moreso, rice tends to accumulate the inorganic (which is the most toxic) form of arsenic. Considering that rice is a staple grain for people with celiac disease, a primary grain in some cultures, and used for baby cereals, many people are wondering what to do and whether rice is even safe to eat.
There is a lot of debate going on right now on this issue, but I am not going to comment on that…yet. It seems that lots of interesting research and statistics are about to emerge. What we do know is that at this moment, there is just too much controversy and not enough good evidence. Do we know for sure the amount of arsenic, found in rice and various rice-based products, that is harmful? Not yet. Should we all eat less rice? If so, how much less? There is little research, and therefore, there are no recommendations. However, if you are like me and do not like uncertainty, or if you feel worried about this topic and keep hearing “scary” messages through social media, here are some helpful tips on what you can do about it:
First of all, good news: scientists believe arsenic doesn’t build up in the body and is usually (though not always) eliminated from the body somewhat quickly.
Some studies show adequate intake of protein, folate, vitamin B6 and B12 helps prevent absorption of arsenic. This is an important point for people with celiac disease, as a gluten-free diet may be higher in rice, yet lower in B vitamins.
Researchers from University of Sheffield (UK) proposed a way to cook rice to reduce the arsenic content but preserving the nutrients. They suggest to add rice to a large amount of boiling water, boil it for 5 minutes, then discard the water (thus discarding arsenic that leached out). After that, fresh water can be added as per recipe and the rice is then cooked as usual.
Arsenic accumulates in outer layers, so yes, brown rice will have more arsenic than white rice. However, it is important to remember that unlike white processed rice, brown rice contains important nutrients and vitamins. Talk to your dietitian to create the best, balanced plan that is right for you.
In theory, choosing rice from a particular geographic region may also help. If arsenic concentration in that area is low, then the rice will naturally have less arsenic. However, this is not always easy to determine and may also change with time due to increase / decrease in environmental contaminants.
I truly hope you found these tips helpful! My main point is that from what we know to date, arsenic in rice may only be a concern if you eat it regularly and in large amounts. And while scientists are trying to figure out what exactly is going on with arsenic in our rice products, the best nutrition advice from experts seems to be as always, eat a variety of foods and eat in moderation. Love you all! Til next!