Rice is often the first food infants are given because it’s unlikely to cause allergic reactions and it’s easily digested. Rice also figures prominently in many cuisines and is consumed in greater quantities by those on gluten free diets, as rice is gluten free. Plus, if you have people list the “good” carbs, brown rice is high on the list. The news that Consumer Reports found most white and brown rice samples to contain worrisome levels of arsenic is concern for many people.
We talked about arsenic in apple juice last year. It was Dr Oz pushing the envelope with testing. Many criticized him for blowing the scare out of proportion. Even after 200 rice samples were tested by Consumer Reports and many found to exceed the acceptable arsenic content for water (acceptable?)  the FDA isn’t alarmed. “We’re not prepared, based on preliminary data, to advise people to change their eating patterns.” And to my surprise (sarcasm), the Rice Federation agrees “there is no documented evidence of actual adverse health effects from exposure to arsenic in U.S.-grown rice.” This reminds me of a client who recently called her doctor’s office complaining of chest pains. They told her they didn’t have any openings.
FDA and rice peops how’s this for alarming info:
“In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that people drinking arsenic-contaminated water at 10 parts per billion would have a 1-in-300 risk of developing cancer over their lifetimes. Recent research suggests that people ingest about that much arsenic in a just a half-cup serving of rice, not an unusual amount for millions of Americans.”
 To see how your rice stacks up here’s a link to a handy and depressing chart.

So how did the arsenic get in the rice? Aren’t arsenic-containing pesticides banned? They are now, for the most part, but they weren’t in the past. Actually fields where cotton used to grow are suggested to figure into this situation. Remnants of the arsenic remain in the soil. Since rice gets flooded with water as it grown, it’s the perfect chemical storm. It absorbs the arsenic to a degree other crops do not. Rice, from Southern states, has higher arsenic levels than California or Asian rice according to this first round of testing.To add insult to injury, brown rice may have higher levels of arsenic than white rice. The fibrous bran layer, removed and polished in white rice, remains in tact in brown rice. The very part of the grain that’s ups the nutritional ante here acts like a chemical sponge. Before you switch back to white, less arsenic doesn’t mean safe.
Now that I’ve hopefully riled you up, what should you do? First, think about how often you eat rice. For some, rice is mainly a sushi ingredient. Note that brown rice syrup is also used as a sweetener. Perhaps you eat pad thai or rice cakes or rice milk? I liked this arsenic quiz to assess potential arsenic in your diet.We contacted the manufacturers of Foodtrainers’ products that contain rice. We immediately received a response from 22-Day Bars. They told us their brown rice protein was from Axiom Foods. They sent us a link for their independent testing for arsenic. I would hope other companies would take matters into their own hands.
When you cook rice at home (I say stick to brown) wash it well. You can also cook it ala pasta in a lot more water than you normally do. This is an Asian method and at the end of the cooking time you can drain excess water. We are suggesting our prenatal clients skip rice altogether.  For the rest of us, these are completely my own guidelines but I would keep rice to once per week. If you have a baby eating rice cereal ask your pediatrician about switching to oats instead.
Representatives from NY, NJ and CT are trying to introduce legislation for the FDA to set limits for arsenic in rice (the only limit in place is for water). The bill, appropriately titled the R.I.C.E Act, or Reducing food-based Inorganic and organic Compounds Exposure Act will hopefully accomplish that.
This is scary stuff. If there’s any way to see a bright side it’s that maybe I have a way to have clients control their sushi intake…but the mercury in the fish didn’t do it so I’m not sure.
Where do you get rice in your diet? Have you changed your rice intake since learning of the arsenic concerns? Any steps I didn’t mention to safeguard yourself or your family?


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