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Arsenic in your rice? Oh my!

September 25th, 2012 | no comments

Concern over arsenic levels in rice and rice products created quite a stir last week. What exactly is arsenic and how can you reduce your exposure? Read on to find out!

What is arsenic?

Arsenic is a chemical element present in the environment from both natural and human sources, including erosion of arsenic-containing rocks, volcanic eruptions, contamination from mining and smelting ores, and arsenic-containing pesticides. There are two types of arsenic compounds found in water, food, soil and air: organic and inorganic. Although both are concerning, inorganic arsenic is the form that has been associated with long term health effects. Because it’s found in soil and water, arsenic can be absorbed in our fruits, vegetables and grains.

How is arsenic harmful to your health?

Long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is associated with higher rates of skin, bladder, and lung cancers, as well as heart disease. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assumes there is actually no “safe” level of exposure to inorganic arsenic. No federal limit exists for arsenic in most foods, but the standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Why pick on rice?

While most crops don’t readily take up much arsenic from the ground, rice is different because it takes up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains. In addition, some seafood has high levels of less toxic organic arsenic.

How to cut your arsenic risk:

  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.

Sources:
Consumer Reports: www.consumerreports.org (Arsenic in your food)
United States Food and Drug Administration: www.fda.gov (Arsenic)

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