Unlike additives that are not present in organic produce, rice plants take up arsenic from the soil and water as they grow. There is literally nothing we can do about the arsenic in our rice, except to avoid it as much as possible.
Arsenic is a toxicological concern that elicits a fearful response in most people. Acute effects of arsenic range from gastrointestinal distress to death. However, it is very simple to reduce arsenic consumption. Some of the simple methods to reduce arsenic content in rice are by washing and cooking the rice, avoiding rice-based infant formulas and cereals, and avoiding rice milk.
This also includes the healthy alternatives to rice and restricting consumption of rice-based products like rice vinegar and rice syrups. Here are some ways you could minimize arsenic consumption from rice.1
1. Cook Rice Differently
Rice and rice-based products contain arsenic, a naturally occurring element that is carcinogenic and is lethal at high doses. Rice and cooking of rice, however, are the major exposure routes to arsenic. A moderate approach you can try to reduce arsenic is to cook the rice in excess water. Cooking this way can reduce 40 to 60% of the inorganic arsenic content, depending on the type of rice.
- Use 6 to 10 parts water to one part and drain the excess water.
- To avoid overcooking, you can keep it at a low boil for the duration of cooking.
- Then, cover the vessel and place it away from the heat to steam for a few minutes.
Preliminary washing of the rice can remove up to 28% of the arsenic content. It is recommended to prepare rice dishes in abundant water, which should be discarded after washing and cooking. In addition, cooking of the rice in arsenic-contaminated water increases its concentration in cooked rice. Hence, get the water you use for cooking tested for arsenic levels.2
2. Avoid Rice-Based Cereals And Infant Formulas
It is a scary thing to hear that staples like rice can have high levels of a dangerous compound like arsenic. Families who avoid gluten eat lots of rice. You can limit the exposure of arsenic to babies and infants by keeping the rice-based cereals and infant formulas based on rice protein out of their diet.
Some infant formula and cereals also contain organic rice brown syrup as sweetener or rice flour or starch that may contain traces of arsenic. Do not substitute breast milk or infant formula or cow’s milk with rice drinks for toddlers and young children. An occasional bit of rice cereal or other rice products like rice cakes and crackers is probably fine but not on a daily basis. By choosing a varied diet, you can protect your kids from arsenic exposure.3
3. Avoid Drinking Rice Milk
Rice milk, considered a safe alternative to cow’s milk or formula, is found to have dangerous levels of arsenic contamination. It is commonly advised for children and adults with lactose intolerance. Rice milk is also advised for cancer patients to avoid hormones associated with animal and soy milk.
However, rice bran, from which rice milk is made, carries higher levels of arsenic than polished rice. The arsenic concentration of liquid rice-based products is lower compared to their solid counterpart, but they exceed safety levels. Children under 4 years are advised to strictly avoid rice milk to reduce arsenic exposure. Amazake, a liquid fermented rice in a porridge consistency, could be considered as an alternative as it is similar to yogurt or cream in quantities and can be used occasionally.4
4. Choose Healthy Alternatives To Rice
As rice is a commonly consumed staple, to reduce exposure, it is important to eat a well-balanced diet for good nutrition and to minimize adverse consequences of eating any one food in excess. A variety of grains including wheat, oats, and barley should be included for good nutrition.
Following a diet with a variety of grains can help you avoid the unwanted effects of arsenic exposure. Rice cereal with fortified iron is a good source of nutrients for babies, but it should not be the only source. Other fortified cereals include oat, barley, and multigrain options.5
5. Avoid Rice-Based Syrups, Flour, And Rice Vinegar
Rice syrups, used to sweeten cereals and other foods, are just empty calories spiking up your glucose levels with additional contamination of arsenic. Organic brown rice syrup is used as an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup but is equally harmful with alarming levels of arsenic. Hence, it is advised to use brown rice syrup in moderation. Use alternatives like local raw honey and organic cane sugar.
Rice vinegar made from rice contains arsenic, and other substances used in vinegar manufacture are liable to contain arsenic as well. Foods prepared with rice flour are also prone to arsenic exposure. Use healthy alternatives instead.6
Rice has higher levels of inorganic arsenic than other foods. Be aware of how much rice you or your family eat directly or through rice-based products. Following a varied diet and including healthy alternatives to rice can reduce the exposure to arsenic.
|↑1||Adams, Ashley. The Dairy-Free Kitchen: 100 Recipes for All the Creamy Foods You Love–Without Lactose, Casein, Or Dairy. Fair Winds Press, 2014.|
|↑2||Mihucz, Victor G., István Virág, Chen Zang, Yun Jao, and Gyula Záray. “Arsenic removal from rice by washing and cooking with water.” Food Chemistry 105, no. 4 (2007): 1718-1725.|
|↑3||Cullen, William R., and Kenneth J. Reimer. Arsenic is Everywhere: Cause for Concern?. Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016.|
|↑4||Meharg, Andrew A., and Fang-Jie Zhao. Arsenic & rice. Springer Science & Business Media, 2012.|
|↑5||National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “Review of WIC Food Packages: Improving Balance and Choice.” (2017).|
|↑6||Jackson, Brian P., Vivien F. Taylor, Margaret R. Karagas, Tracy Punshon, and Kathryn L. Cottingham. “Arsenic, organic foods, and brown rice syrup.” Environmental health perspectives 120, no. 5 (2012): 623.|