Making Rice Safer: Tips from Brown Bag

Feb 08

Recently, Consumer Reports did an expose of sorts on rice; specifically, arsenic levels in rice.  What they found was surprising and a little scary.  After testing more than 200 samples of different kinds of rice products across brands (including well-known brands, store brands, organic products, as well as products targeted to gluten-free consumers), they found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, as well as organic arsenic, in almost all of them. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen and can set children up for other health problems later in life; organic arsenic is less toxic, but still very worrying.

How do these products come to contain so much arsenic?  According to Consumer Reports, “The U.S. is the world’s leading user of arsenic, and since 1910, about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes, about half of it only since the mid-1960s. Residues from the decades of use of lead-arsenate insecticides linger in agricultural soil today, even though their use was banned in the 1980s. Other arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted. Moreover, fertilizer made from poultry waste can contaminate crops with inorganic arsenic.”

Now that we know the arsenic is there, what do we do about it?  How can we make our food safer and what kinds of precautions should consumers take in relation to rice and rice products?  Here are a few suggestions:

Rinse your rice—really well.  It usually takes 4 to 6 rinses of your rice for the water to remain clear.  Studies show that thoroughly rinsing your rice reduces the arsenic content by about 25 to 30 percent.

Cook and drain your rice—like pasta.  By cooking your rice with 6 parts water to one part rice, you’ll end up with excess water at the end of the cooking process.  Just drain the excess water off of the rice after cooking.  The FDA reports that rinsing and draining your rice can cut arsenic levels by 50 to 60 percent.  You should also know that in cases of enriched rices, rinsing and draining will more than likely reduce the amount of added nutrients.

Choose aromatic rices and limit your consumption of brown rices.  Imported basmati and jasmine rices have been shown through testing to contain ½ to 1/8 the amount of inorganic arsenic of regular rices grown in theSouthern US.  Brown rices, on the other hand, hold onto higher levels of arsenic because its bran remains intact, making it a nutritional powerhouse but a larger source of arsenic.  Studies do show that brown rice grown in California and India have much lower levels of arsenic than those grown in the Southern US; so, if you have to have your brown, check its origins.

Look for rices grown in California.  You may think of Cali as the land of fruits and nuts, but now you can add rice to the list.  Tests show that rice grown in California had lower levels of arsenic than rice grown in other parts of the US.

Be careful with your babies!  Feeding rice cereal and rice milk to infants now has limits:  Consumer Reports recommends feeding no more ¼ cup of rice cereal a day to infants and cutting out rice milk entirely.  Gerber, it should be noted, has announced that it now sources its baby cereal rice only from California, rather than the Southern US.

The Consumer Reports study of arsenic in rice is certainly eye-opening, and we encourage you to take a read and examine their charts for levels of arsenic found in many of the products you use every day.  Ask your doctor or pediatrician for any other recommendations or precautions that he/she may have, and get informed.  If you are what you eat, shouldn’t you know what you’re eating?