Rice is a major food staple in many parts of the world, and even here in the United States, we eat a lot of rice. However, you may not know that nearly every type of rice is contaminated with arsenic. A study on arsenic conducted by Consumer Reports shows that brown rice actually has higher levels because it still contains the husk, where the husk is removed to make white rice. Even though brown rice is traditionally accepted as being a “healthier” option, replacing all white rice with brown rice isn’t really my recommendation…I prefer white rice in smaller amounts.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element present in the earth’s crust in water, air and soil (organic) – and it’s one of the world’s most toxic elements. Throughout history, it has been infiltrating the food chain and finding its way into our foods. It’s also produced chemically, used in insecticides, preservatives for wood objects and as an agent of war (inorganic). Its use in industrial applications has increased the levels of arsenic to alarming proportions, and it’s a worldwide problem. Contamination caused by the runoff of irrigating crops after being sprayed with pesticides soaks into the ground and eventually makes its way to underground water sources. Further contamination occurs when rainwater hits the ground and is diverted to lakes, streams and the oceans. When contaminated water is given to livestock or used to water crops, the problem multiplies. The ground continues to absorb the inorganic arsenic, which is then absorbed by the plants grown in it; and the animals absorb it into their systems as well. When these two become human food, the arsenic is passed on to us in greater quantities. Remember the adage “You are what you eat?” It’s true, and in this case, you’re probably eating arsenic without even knowing it.
CAN BE PROBLEMATIC ON BLOOD SUGAR
Like anything from the grain family, rice contains a certain level of anti-nutrients like phytates which can make it hard for us to absorb the minerals it contains. With white rice, the bran (or husk) is removed, which also removes almost all the phytic acid. This makes the rice more digestible and cuts down on the grain-based fiber (which can be harmful to the gut.) This milling process also removes more of the arsenic content. If you eat large amounts of rice, the white variety may be a better choice as the lowest levels of arsenic can be found in jasmine and basmati.
I get asked about rice often…because it’s “gluten free” and a safer choice for people with celiac disease and for those who are gluten intolerant but doesn’t mean it’s healthy for everyone. At the same time, many people do need some sources of healthy carbs and rice can be a relatively safe option. Women especially often see negative effects on hormones from consuming a low carb diet for too long, and of all the grains, white rice is generally an acceptable option for safe carb consumption.
I don’t think it’s necessary to eliminate rice from your diet completely unless you have a sensitivity to it, but I do recommend looking for a safe brand like Lundberg. Whether or not you can tolerate rice seems to vary greatly by individual, based on your cultural background, genetics and what the rest of your diet is like. For those already consuming a diet high in other carbohydrates and low in minerals, rice (or any grain) is definitely not the best option.
I personally lean toward organic basmati rice on the rare occasions that I eat it anymore (it tends to make me gain weight and elevate my blood sugar if I eat it too often.) However, white rice can be controversial in nutrition circles. On the one hand, some nutritionists recommend avoiding it, while others consider it a safe starch and say it’s OK in moderation. I have found that some clients do okay when eating rice in small amounts, but in others can be problematic – all because of bio-individuality. Since rice is a starch, it can play havoc with blood sugar levels, even when consumed in small portions.
EFFECTS OF ARSENIC TOXICITY
Long-term ingestion may increase the risk of various health problems. Regular exposure to arsenic can lead to cancer and other toxic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, neurological problems, and developmental disorders. It has been linked to high blood pressure and adversely affects the male reproductive system. Exposure to arsenic during the first trimester of pregnancy is known to cause intellectual disabilities in developing fetuses and may lead to diseases later in life. It has also been suspected of causing or aggravating lung, bladder, skin, prostate, kidney and liver cancer, diabetes, emphysema, bronchitis, and lymphoma.
The toxic symptoms of dietary arsenic usually take a long time to develop. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and severe diarrhea. However, it is possible to have elevated levels of arsenic which affect your overall health, without having any of these symptoms. Long-term exposure is collected and stored in the body, so in order to remove it, I recommend minimizing exposure and a complete nutritional balancing program, which is targeted at balancing the mineral and metal levels of the body.
MINIMIZING ARSENIC EXPOSURE
You should also know that it’s not just rice that is of concern when it comes to arsenic exposure. Many products these days are made with rice flour in an effort to make products that are gluten-free or use organic brown rice syrup (OBRS) instead of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a “healthier” alternative. Many toddler formulas and cereals are made with rice-based products, and researchers discovered that an “organic” toddler milk formula using OBRS had arsenic levels over five times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency states is acceptable for water. In addition, cereal and energy bars containing OBRS had higher arsenic levels than products without it. Young children are especially vulnerable to arsenic poisoning because their bodies are so much smaller than an adult and are much more sensitive to what they ingest. Unfortunately, the United States currently has no regulations that govern arsenic levels in food. The good news is that the FDA has proposed a limit of 100 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal, and has developed advice on consuming rice for pregnant women and the caregivers of infants.
Eating rice in moderation is still an option, you just need to take some additional precautions. You can follow a few simple cooking tips to reduce the arsenic content such as rinsing your rice before cooking if you don’t already do that. In addition, consider cooking rice with a greater quantity of water, similar to the way you cook pasta, then drain off the excess water and rinse it again. This has been shown to remove up to 60 percent of the arsenic level. When it comes to infants, be sure to monitor what types of products they consume and how much since it can affect them much more quickly than an adult.
Of course, your water source should be filtered. Spring water is always the first recommendation, but short of living near a spring or buying spring water, the next best thing is to filter your water. You may be able to find a spring near you at www.findaspring.com. Tap water, if unfiltered, often has too many contaminants to be good for drinking, so it is important to use a filter. Carbon filters (activated charcoal) or other natural filters are a good place to start. Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Buying Guide is very helpful in figuring out more information on why, how, and where to buy a filter. Even starting with a water pitcher filter like Brita is better than not using a filter at all, until you can do some research.
The last and most important piece of advice concerns your diet as a whole: Make sure to diversify your diet by eating many different types of foods. A healthy diet should contain a diversity of foods to reduce the diets toxicity, improve micro nutrient ratios and increase meal pleasurability.
Where do you stand on the rice debate? White? Brown? None?