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All That Arsenic in Rice

Rice inherently absorbs more arsenic from its soil than other grains and foods.[1]  Given that rice is a staple and safe food for many people with mast cell issues and limited diets, it’s important to determine if your arsenic exposure through rice can be mitigated.

Arsenic is classified as carcinogenic by health organizations, including the CDC.[2] Regular consumption of arsenic increases the risk of developing skin, bladder and other cancers as well as other conditions like type II diabetes, neurotoxicity, and heart disease.[3] Arsenic has also been found to change gene expression in the hot topic of epigenetics, and increases the risk of developing other diseases.[4] (Exciting fact: Research is underway to determine the role of epigenetics in POTS!) Chemically, arsenic is classified as either organic or inorganic depending on whether the arsenic molecule is bonded to carbon or not. Organic arsenic is not as dangerous, but still not completely harmless to health.

How to Limit Arsenic Intake Through Rice


FDA recommends cooking rice in excess water, which can essentially halve the arsenic content!

They’ve demonstrated that rinsing rice does little to nothing to reduce arsenic, but did significantly reduce the vitamin content. However you can drastically reduce the inorganic arsenic content by about 40-60% by cooking in a ratio of 6 parts (up to 10 parts) water to 1 part rice.[1]

Try using basmati rice grown in California, Pakistan or India, since it generally has less arsenic.

According to Consumer Reports research from 2014,

“Consumers can eat about 4.5 weekly servings of basmati rice from India, Pakistan, or California, or sushi rice, and not increase lifetime population cancer risk. For other types of rice, we recommend two servings per week for adults and 1.25 servings per week for children. A serving size of rice is approximately 45 grams (1/4 cup) uncooked.”[5]

Vary your grains where possible.

Quinoa, amaranth and millet have much lower arsenic levels, and may be an option depending on your diet.[5] Wheat, oats and corn grit also tend to have lower arsenic levels.[6][7]

If you’re using rice milk, consider coconut milk.

Coconut milk is low histamine, and a great alternative to consider.[8] Dairy or almond milk can be options if tolerable.

How Much Arsenic Are You Ingesting?

Look through Consumer Reports impressively extensive study done in 2012 to estimate how much arsenic you’re ingesting through rice products. Consumer Reports Rice and Rice Product Testing Results

I’ve been having about a cup or two of Rice Dream Original Classic Rice Drink every day, which was tested to have an average of 49 ppb (parts per billion).[9] The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “approximately 1 in 100 people who drink water containing 0.05 mg arsenic per litre or more for a long period may eventually die from arsenic related cancers.”[10] (Note: Multiply mg/L by 1000 to get ppb.) The rice milk at 49 ppb was essentially at the WHO limit of 50 ppb for drinking water, though I wasn’t drinking rice milk nearly as much as I would drinking water, that’s worrisome enough for me, especially given my overly sensitive body.

The FDA doesn’t yet have an inorganic arsenic limit for rice products, except for finally setting one in 2016 at a limit of 100 ppb for infant rice cereal.[6]  The FDA claims it’s a priority for them, so hopefully they’ll be making progress on arsenic regulations for more rice products soon.

 

References & More Reading

1 FDA: Arsenic in Rice Questions and Answers

2 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: Arsenic

3 World Health Organization: Arsenic Fact Sheet

4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3035853/

5 Consumer Reports: Arsenic and Rice 2014 Test Results and Recommendations

6 FDA Statement on Testing and Analysis of Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products

Consumer Reports: Arsenic in Your Food

8 Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance Food List of Histamine Content

9 Consumer Reports Rice and Rice Product Testing Results

10 World Health Organization: Water Sanitation Hygiene

 

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