Arsenic in Rice – What you Need to Know
By Jessica Yoches, CNTP, MNT and Dr. Starling, DC, DCCN
Do you eat rice regularly or eat products containing rice, such as rice pasta or rice crackers? In the world of functional medicine we often substitute less allergenic foods when people get sensitized to foods like wheat. Those with Celiac disease, Lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroid, and other autoimmune conditions avoid gluten because of positive antibody response or just high incidence of cross reactivity between the gluten and gliadin proteins and antibodies to their own tissues. Some people just avoid gluten because it’s a highly inflammatory and allergenic food; whatever the reason, if you are eating rice instead, here are a few things to know:
- Many processed foods and gluten-free foods use rice flour as a substitute or use brown rice syrup as a sweetener.
- Of all grains tested, rice continually has the highest levels of arsenic.
- For those with detoxification issues, this may mean eliminating rice altogether.
- However, full elimination of rice is not necessary if you eat rice occasionally, stick to small amounts, select the least toxic choices, and soak or rinse your rice.
But why is arsenic in rice?
- Arsenic, both in its organic and inorganic form, is found naturally in the Earth’s crusts.
- Arsenic-containing pesticides and fertilizers used for modern agriculture have leached into the soil and water supply.
- Inorganic arsenic is more toxic than the organic chemical form. The inorganic form is also more common and contributes to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
- Buying organic rice will not reduce your risk; arsenic is in rice no matter how it is grown.
- Because rice is grown in water, it soaks up and absorbs arsenic more readily than other grains.
- When cotton was a cash crop in the south and central US, farmers used arsenic to kill insects; the remaining arsenic has saturated soils that now house rice paddies.
What is the best rice to buy?
- White rice has less arsenic than brown rice because the arsenic collects in the outer layer that is removed in processing white rice.
- Subsequently, brown rice syrup has a high arsenic content.
- White basmati and sushi rice from California, India, and Pakistan consistently reflect the least amount of arsenic, as does Jasmine rice from Thailand.
- Rice from Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana tests with the highest levels.
- Rice in its raw form is best; even if contaminated, it can be soaked or rinsed to reduce levels.
Can you reduce the arsenic in rice?
- Yes! Rinse rice, draining the water, or soak raw rice overnight to reduce levels.
- The latter method takes longer, but reduces arsenic significantly more than just rinsing.
- For both, 6 cups water to 1 cup rice.
- The nutrition content will reduce with soaking and rinsing, but less arsenic is optimal
What about other grains?
- Grains with low to no Arsenic: amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and millet.
While you don’t have to eliminate rice completely from your diet, it’s good to be aware of which types have the least amount of arsenic to make the best informed food choices.
How Much Arsenic is in your Rice? Consumer Reports. 18 Nov 2014. http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm
Potera, Carol. Food Safety: US Rice Serves up Arsenic. Environ Health Perspect. 16 Feb. 2012 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3346791/
Jackson, Brian et al. Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup. Environ Health Perspect. 16 Feb. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3346791/