Food Safety

Arsenic in rice

OK, get ready for some depressing news: Our beloved, easy, yummy, nutritious brown rice (and white, and other varieties) may contain enough arsenic that we should cut back. This goes for rice milk, rice syrup (common in nutrition bars), rice cereal, rice crackers, rice pasta, and any other rice products. Bummer!

Here’s the problem:

Arsenic has long been known to be poisonous at high doses, but chronic low-level exposure can also be carcinogenic and may contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. Arsenic is in our soil because crops such as cotton used to be grown with arsenic-based pesticides.

The Findings:

Both the FDA and Consumer Reports each recently tested over 200 rice samples of all kinds, and the results were disturbing. To quote the Berkeley Wellness Letter:

“Virtually all were found to contain both inorganic arsenic (a known human carcinogen) and organic arsenic (considered less harmful, but still of concern)–many at “worrisome levels.”

Brown rice was worse than white, because some arsenic gets stripped along with the outer coating. White rice from the southern US (where most US rice comes from) was worse than rice from California, India and Thailand.

A study by Dartmouth College found that cereal bars, toddler formulas and other products made with organic brown rice syrup contained elevated arsenic levels.

Yikes! What can we do about it? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Arsenic can be reduced by boiling rice like pasta–using lots of water and dumping out the excess. Nutrients will be lost, but some of the arsenic will be, too.
  2. Consumer Reports recommends that adults eat no more than 2-3 servings rice per week, and that children should eat no more than 1-1.5 servings (a serving is 1/2 cup rice). They recommend that children under 5 avoid rice milk.
  3. Dr. Michael Gregor, vegan educator and researcher extraordinaire from, recommends that adults limit rice intake to 2 cups per week.
  4. Consuming more quinoa, barley and other grains can help make up the difference.
  5. If your home uses well water, get it checked. Some wells have unhealthy levels of arsenic.

This is a good reminder of why it’s important to eat a diverse diet, even when eating nutritious foods. We never know when new findings will make us wish we hadn’t eaten too much of any one thing.

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