Arsenic in Rice – What should you do? | Rachel Begun, MS, RD

By now, you’ve probably heard about the Consumer Reports study, Arsenic in Your Food, which reports about its investigation into arsenic levels in rice and rice products.  This is a concern for the general population, but of particular concern to the gluten free community as we tend to consume more rice and rice products.

You can read the report in its entirety by clicking on the above link, but here is a summary of the key points from the report and relevant information:

  • Following their investigation of Arsenic in Your Juice, Consumer Reports tested more than 200 (223 to be exact) samples of rice and rice products across a broad range of food categories, and found varying levels of arsenic in more than 60 rice and rice products
  • The investigation tested for both levels of inorganic and two forms of organic arsenic.  Inorganic arsenic is the form associated with long-term health effects
  • The report lists the brands and types of rice and rice products that were tested and the arsenic levels that were found
  • For brands that produce both white and brown rice products, brown rice was found to have higher levels of arsenic.  This may be due to arsenic concentrating in the outer layers of the grain, which are removed for white rice production.  There are varieties of rice, such as Basmati and Jasmine, that, depending on the processing, can be either whole grain or refined to remove the outer layer
  • Rice absorbs arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains
  • According to the FDA, “Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease.” However, more research needs to be done to determine if there is a causal relationship between those who consume higher levels of rice products and the type of illnesses usually associated with arsenic
  • Currently, there is no federal limit for arsenic in foods. The FDA is in the process of testing 1,200 rice and rice products by the end of 2012 so they can analyze the results from a wide variety of rice types and rice-based products as well as based on the geographical regions the rice is grown in.  Based on these results, they will make recommendations and take measures for reducing exposure to arsenic
What does this mean for you, the gluten free consumer, with respect to eating rice and rice products?
There is a mountain of evidence showing the health benefits of eating whole grains, including a reduced risk for chronic disease.  It’s important that we move forward with the right message and course of action, and that is to eat a wider variety of gluten free whole grains, so that we obtain the nutrients offered by all and minimize any potential risk caused by eating too much of one.

There are so many gluten free whole grains that we can be eating to reduce our consumption of rice, including certified gluten free oats (if you can tolerate them), quinoa, millet, teff, amaranth, sorghum, corn and buckwheat.  Products made with these gluten free whole grains, their flours, as well as nut and pulse (legumes/beans) flours are good options to get the nutrients we need while adding variety to the diet.

As we hear more from FDA regarding their findings, I’ll be sure to pass that information along to you.

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