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If you didn’t already know this, there’s arsenic in your rice. If arsenic sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a poison that can be both found in nature and manufactured as a result of human interventions, such as pollution. According to a 2012 study done by Consumer Reports, this poison is in your rice. So here’s what you need to know, and why it’s important.
Types of Arsenic
First of all, let’s talk about arsenic. There are two types, organic (occurring naturally from the Earth) and inorganic (created by humans).
Organic arsenic is more likely to be found in seafoods, such as fish and shellfish. “[Organic arsenic compounds] are considered to be non-toxic or considerably less toxic than inorganic arsenic,” according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Inorganic arsenic is the dangerous kind that is associated with a number of health issues, including lung, skin and bladder cancer. It can be founded in building products and can go on to contaminate water (as it seeps into the water table). According to the World Health Organization, “Arsenic is highly toxic in its inorganic form.)
Inorganic arsenic is the kind that is found in rice.Adobe
While this may seem frightening, it doesn’t mean you should stop eating rice entirely. You might want to scale back a little bit though, especially if you’re eating it for every meal. At this point you’re probably wondering why rice even has toxic arsenic in it, and the answer is simple: people.
How Rice Gets Arsenic In It
Inorganic arsenic is the result of human activity. Certain types of mining and pesticides result in the production of the inorganic version of the toxin, which can seep into the land and water systems.
In fact, your drinking water probably has arsenic in it right now, especially if you live in a rural community out west. The WHO explained that arsenic can be a feed additive and can be used in pesticides, as well as in hide tanning.
Arsenic is absorbed from the Earth and water as plants grow. Some plants absorb more of the toxin than others, and rice seems to absorb the most arsenic of all popular foods. The absorption rate is so concerning, in fact, that the FDA has set limits on the amount of inorganic arsenic allowed in rice cereals for babies.
However, when it comes to adults, the FDA makes no recommendation. Instead, they simply advocate eating “a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one food.” In other words, don’t eat only rice. But you probably weren’t doing that anyway.
So what now? Consumer Reports advised that the best way to minimize your consumption of arsenic is to change up your grain rotation. Instead of sticking just to rice, try other grains such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, or farro.
Quinoa can be served as a side dish, as an ingredient to make your salads more hearty, or mixed into a casseroles.
Amaranth and buckwheat are also gluten-free grain options.
Farro is known for being a heartier grain (although it is not gluten-free).
All of those grains contain low levels of arsenic and a number of other health benefits, including high levels of protein and fiber. (Yes, you can actually get protein from grains. Vegetarians and vegans are onto something!)
Brown rice is the healthier rice choice, in that it contains more fiber, vitamins and minerals than white rice. However, arsenic levels are much higher in brown rice because the element accumulates in the bran and husk, which are removed during processing of white rice.
According to estimates from the Department of Agriculture, arsenic levels in brown rice are 10 times higher than in polished or white rice.
Although the amount of arsenic found in your rice is quite small (in the parts per billion range), prolonged exposure to even low levels of arsenic can result in serious health issues.
Rice is most contaminated with arsenic when it’s grown in Asia, including areas of Bangladesh and India. This is because the bedrock underneath the rice paddies is full of contaminated groundwater used for both drinking and irrigation of rice fields.
The WHO called inorganic arsenic one of the 10 chemicals that are a major health concern.
What Grains to Eat Instead
So should you stop eating brown rice forever and limit yourself to white rice once in a blue moon?
Well, that’s probably not necessary. But there are some easy steps to help reduce your arsenic consumption. An easy one (that you should be doing anyway) is rinsing your rice before you cook it. Flushing your rice with high volumes of water can help remove some of the arsenic. It will also reduce starches that cling to the outside of the grain and can make your cooked rice gummy and unpleasant.
You can also cook rice with extra water, which will remove some of the arsenic. Cooking the rice in a 6:1 ratio of water to grain (somewhat like cooking pasta) and then draining the excess liquid once the rice is cooked has resulted in the removal of up to 60% of arsenic levels in rice.
Now that you’re armed with this information, go forth and eat fried rice. Or maybe quinoa. It’s up to you.