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Arsenic in your rice?

by Okanagan Nutrition

Rice … who knew such a bland food could cause such panic!

Many have worried about their rice about being contaminated with arsenic! And they may have cause for concern …

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) collected 213 rice product samples, from infant formula to rice milks, and ALL samples had detectable arsenic in them.

Although there is no “safe” amount of arsenic set, the amount of arsenic found in rice products sold in Canada has not been deemed to post a significant health risk.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this, because I am ready to put to bed people accusing me of trying to poison them when I recommend brown rice as a source of whole grain in their diet!

What is arsenic?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical in nature. High levels are extremely toxic to humans and animals. It is present in water, soil and air.

There are two types:

(1) Organic arsenic
(2) Inorganic arsenic

Surprisingly, it is the organic arsenic that has been most closely associated with adverse health outcomes. Some of the most devastating toxicity side effects have been seen with people drinking water contaminated with organic arsenic.

Both organic and inorganic arsenic are found in small amounts in a variety of foods – meats, dairy, cereal grains, fruits and vegetables. These foods accumulate arsenic through absorbing it via the water and soil their are grown in or drink from.

Why is rice such a concern?

There is a high presence of arsenic in water, mostly still or stagnant water. Because rice is grown in still water, it makes sense that out of all other plants and grains, it seems to accumulate arsenic the quickest.

Brown vs white rice

Brown rice actually has higher concentrations on average than white rice.

This is because arsenic accumulates in the outer layer of the grain, the layer that is stripped away with processing to make white rice.

This all probably sounds pretty bad, but …

I will still recommend rice as a source of whole grain in the diet. Rice, particularly brown rice, is nutrient rich food, providing a good source of B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium and fabulous fiber.

Here is the catch …

Rice should not be your only source of whole grain in the diet. This can tend to be more of a concern for those who are celiac or have non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NSGS), as rice is a natural gluten-free grain that is often an easy go to!

If you need to avoid and exclude gluten from your diet due to celiac disease of NSGS here are some naturally gluten-free whole grains and pseudograins you can include into your diet:

  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Teff
  • Sorghum
  • Amaranth
  • Gluten-free oats

For those who don’t need to avoid gluten, in addition to above, other whole grain options include barley, farro, bulgar, whole-wheat couscous and millet for example!

Recommendations for reducing your arsenic exposure

  • It is recommended that babies have no more than one serving of rice cereal per day. Other fortified infant cereals can be made from wheat, oats or multigrain.
  • Rinse your rise thoroughly before cooking.
  • Cook rice in a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice, draining all of the excess water after cooking.
  • Eat a varied diet that includes different grains and pseudograins (as listed above).
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