Arsenic in Rice: Should We Cut This Grain Out of Our Children’s Diets?

By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN

Move over juice—rice and rice products are now garnering considerable attention for being a source of arsenic, thanks to a recent Consumer Reports article. Following a report they published last January about concerning levels of arsenic in both apple and grape juices, the popular magazine now reveals surprising findings about rice and its many forms in 60 products commonly found in grocery stores. Turns out there’s arsenic—and sometimes, “worrisome amounts,” according to the report—in a range of rice products, including organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereal, brown rice, and rice milk.

The report itself—and no doubt the media frenzy surrounding it—has led many of us to scratch our heads, and wonder if we unknowingly exposed our families to a potentially dangerous chemical. You may have even thrown out all the rice and rice products in your cupboard. But are we overreacting?

Before you jump on what’s sure to be an anti-rice bandwagon, it’s important to understand what arsenic is, and to know that it’s not all created equally.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, arsenic is a chemical element naturally found in water, air, food, and soil. It also occurs as a result of contamination from human activity (such as burning coal, oil, or using pesticides that contain arsenic). Although found in both organic and inorganic forms, inorganic arsenic is the form that has been linked with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancers; and heart disease. Some studies have also suggested that chronic exposure to arsenic can contribute to cognitive and other developmental disabilities.

Although arsenic works its way through soil and water into many healthful foods, including grains, fruits, and vegetables, the FDA, which has monitored arsenic levels in foods since 1991, says rice may be more susceptible to absorbing arsenic than other grains.

Despite the findings by Consumer Reports and its own, just-released preliminary study findings on an analysis of 200 grocery store items (with another 1,000 to go),the FDA won’t, at this time, tell Americans to forego rice and rice products. Instead, it urges them to consume a variety of grains as part of a well-balanced diet.

Consumer Reports, however, suggests limiting infants to no more than 1 serving a day of infant rice cereal. They also encourage diets with lower arsenic grain options, including wheat cereals, oatmeal, and corn grits. Daily rice drinks for children under age 5 are not recommended.
Until more information is known, it’s probably wise to heed the advice of both the FDA and Consumer Reports. Continue to feed your child—and yourself—a varied diet with foods from all the basic food groups. Also, mix up the foods you choose from each food group—that way you’ll consume different combinations of nutrients, and at the same time, limit your exposure to chemicals that may prove to be harmful.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says additional research is needed before recommendations can be made on the possible risks involved in consuming rice and rice products, including baby cereal.

If you’re concerned about arsenic in your favorite rice product, contact the manufacturer or the FDA. And if you decide to remove rice and rice products from your diet, be sure to fill the gap with other healthful whole grain foods to get complex carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and other valuable nutrients.

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a Parents advisor. You can follow her on Twitter at @elisazied.

Image: Rice via Shutterstock

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  1. by Kristi Bennett

    On September 20, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I don’t use rice cereal for my children anyway – only Gerber Oatmeal with DHA added and nothing else. Now with my older kids, they had rice cereal and they are perfectly fine. Look, the way I see it, if you don’t want to run the risk of eating foods that MIGHT be dangerous – grow your own food, raise your own chickens and cattle. Do everything the old fashioned way..

  2. by Bine

    On September 20, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    I don’t pay attention to what the FDA has to say anymore. They’re not concerned about your well-being as long as the money is right.

  3. by Maya

    On September 21, 2012 at 1:20 am

    It is the first time I hear about this!
    I am vegen, and use many rice products.
    I will look in to this matter in more details.
    Thank you for the information.

  4. by ldawson

    On September 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I am just now starting my son on cereal. I threw the brand new box of rice cereal away when I heard the story on CBS this morning news & told my mom & mother in law about it. No rice for my son, and I will limit his other cereal intake too. Just because 5 out of 10 children are ok, doesn’t make it ok. what about the others who aren’t.

  5. by Michele Kautz

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:02 am

    Re: “Arsenic in Rice” Where are the samples from that were/are studied? Do we continue to use mass amounts of imported food product?

  6. by Laura

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:06 am

    What about the Baby Mum Mum organic rice rusks?It’s made of premium Japonica rice, so the rice is grown in China. Should we limit this too? My baby love it.

  7. by Kay

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Does anyone have any information on how this effects gluten free diets? I use rice products very frequently in my gf cooking. Any addition info you find would be greatly appreciated.

  8. by Andrea Smith

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:10 am

    I have never heard this before. Seems like everything is bad for you nowadays. I am not too concerned until I start to notice a real problem.

  9. by Christina

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:32 am

    “And if you decide to remove rice and rice products from your diet, be sure to fill the gap with other healthful whole grain foods to get complex carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, and other valuable nutrients”
    You can get all of these from other food sources, including fruits and vegetables, without ever eating grains.

  10. by jaime

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I agree with Bine. The FDA is a joke. They do not regulate anything but their pockets. I believe part of this brown rice/arsenic controversy was a target to Baby’s Only Organic Formula, the only one on the market without hexane derived DHA added. If you really feel the FDA cares about food safety, just watch Food Inc and you’ll learn the same people who work for Montsanto (the conglomerate making all of our food GMO) hold positions at the head of the FDA. It should be against the law. The FDA cares about one thing: money. Period.

  11. by Sam

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:37 am

    As far as i am concerned anything that you buy in a store has some kind of health risk. unless it is reccommeneded that a product be thrown away and pulled from the shelves i am not to worried. my family eats what i consider a balanced healthy diet. i wuold love to supply all of our food grown at home but we live in town so i make due with farmers markets and freeze/can what i can.

  12. by Jen

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Here is another good article with links to additional information – and for me, that takeaway was this quote: “…US rice carries “1.4 to 5 times more arsenic than rice from Europe, India and Bangladesh.”

    I’m all for buying local but in this case, buy foreign!
    http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/09/waiter-theres-arsenic-my-rice

  13. by starfish

    On September 24, 2012 at 10:58 am

    i think it is a sad society we live in where we have to constantly worry that we are killing our children by the things we eat.It is unrealistic to expect the population to grow there own food and animals. it isn’t to much to expect the government to put sanctions in place that tells us exactly what chemicals were used to grow crops. or what hormones were used to fatten up an animal.

  14. by Nicole

    On September 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

    It seems like anything that’s been altered in any way to grow/make food with extra additives and preservatives is at the root of most of our problems. I don’t understand why we keep putting more chemicals in our food, when the studies that get published prove them to be bad for us.

  15. by Erika

    On September 24, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Wow… I’m totally gonna stop rice products consumption.
    Will be a bit difficult since as a Mexican, rice is often part of my dinner plate.

  16. by Red girl

    On September 24, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    What’s sad is I’m 7 months pregnant and I all I drink is rice milk… Smh this country is killing us slowly!

  17. by Angelique

    On September 24, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    This isn’t news everyone. Arsenic is naturally occurring and is found in the soil! Brown rice is worse in this case b/c it still contains the husk which in turn holds the arsenic moreso than white rice, which has been freed of the husk and also bleached. This has been the case for centuries! If you are just now discovering this, it’s just because you haven’t educated yourself enough about the food you consume. Don’t expect the FDA to do their homework, afterall tabacco is still legal and people are still dying from second hand smoke. *SMH*

  18. by Gem

    On September 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    I agree with Jen.
    I believe we don’t need to change our family’s diet due to this “arsenic” issues, but we need to be sure that our Rice we buy from the market are imported and NOT grown from U.S, because soil here have high Arsenic content.
    My ancestors dpwn to my Generation, rice is part of our everyday meal and No one in our history acquired Cancer nor any one had developemental delays on our kids, nor any kind of afflictions.

    So, i am not going to modify our rice-contained meal:-)

  19. by K

    On September 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    I use quinoa instead of rice (and pasta, usually).

  20. [...] Elisa Zied wrote this blog post for Parents Magazine. [...]