Arsenic not only is a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life.
Following our January investigation, "Arsenic in Your Juice," which found arsenic in apple and grape juices, we recently tested more than 200 samples of a host of rice products. They included iconic labels and store brands, organic products and conventional ones; some were aimed at the booming gluten-free market.
The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice. In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern. Moreover, the foods we checked are popular staples, eaten by adults and children alike. See the chart summarizing results of our tests for arsenic in rice or rice products.
Though rice isn't the only dietary source of arsenic—some vegetables, fruits, and even water can harbor it—the Environmental Protection Agency assumes there is actually no "safe" level of exposure to inorganic arsenic.
Test your water. If your home is not on a public water system, have your water tested for arsenic and lead. To find a certified lab, contact your local health department or call the federal Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.
Change the way you cook rice. You may be able to cut your exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking and draining the excess water afterward. That is a traditional method of cooking rice in Asia. The modern technique of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains has been promoted because it allows rice to retain more of its vitamins and other nutrients. But even though you may sacrifice some of rice's nutritional value, research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice's inorganic arsenic content.
Eat a varied diet. Some vegetables can accumulate arsenic when grown in contaminated soil. To help, clean vegetables thoroughly, especially potato skins. Some fruit juices such as apple and grape juice are high in arsenic, as our previous tests showed. To prevent obesity and tooth decay, pediatricians advise that infants younger than 6 months shouldn't drink juice; children up to age 6 should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces a day and older children no more than 8 to 12 ounces. Like grape juice, wine also can be a source of exposure, according to data collected in the FDA's Total Diet Study, which provides more complete information about arsenic content in a variety of foods. Go to fda.gov and search for "total diet study analytical results."
Experiment with other grains. Vary your grains, especially if you eat more than two or three servings of rice per week. Though not arsenic-free, wheat and oats tend to have lower levels than rice. And quinoa, millet, and amaranth are among other options for those on a gluten-free diet, though they have not been studied as much.
Image: Rice, via Shutterstock