Whats the big deal about arsenic?
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ranks arsenic as their #1 priority, above lead and pcb's, on the ATSDR 2011 Substance Priority List. And the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) ranks inorganic arsenic as a Group 1 carcinogen. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, "Non-cancer effects can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting; diarrhea; numbness in hands and feet; partial paralysis; and blindness. Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate." The EPA set a standard of 10 parts per billion for public drinking water.
Where does the arsenic in rice come from?
Arsenic is a natural mineral existing in the air and soil that never goes away, only changes form (organic and inorganic arsenic). It is naturally a result of weathering of arsenic-containing minerals in the earth. However, it is currently concentrated on fields used for farming rice and other produce due to arsenic residues and ingredients in insecticides, animal feed, and poultry waste fertilizer. This is a problem started just in the last century that still continues.
Below are are some takeaways from the report, but you truly need to read the Consumer Reports article to get the details and it is worth the few minutes it will take.
- Per serving, arsenic levels in rice are in the tens of parts per billion.
- Arsenic found in brown rice is higher than that in white rice within the same brand.
- Organic rice has no better arsenic level that conventional rice.
- Rice grown in the Southeast has higher levels of arsenic due to the history of pesticides used by cotton growers.
- Many sources for arsenic exist in our diet besides rice. According to Consumer Reports, "a 2009-10 study from the EPA estimated that rice contributes 17 percent of dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic, which would put it in third place, behind fruits and fruit juices at 18 percent, and vegetables at 24 percent."
- In addition, they report "According to federal data, some infants eat up to two to three servings of rice cereal a day. Eating rice cereal at that rate, with the highest level of inorganic arsenic we found in our tests, could result in a risk of cancer twice our acceptable level."
What are some changes we can make?
- Follow the serving guidelines when meal planning. This will be especially difficult for those people eating more rice due to a gluten-free diet.
- Talk to your pediatrician about the type of baby cereal they recommend.
- Rinse your rice and use more water when cooking.
- Choose cereals without crispy rice (bummer!). This is a great time to start having fun with breakfast like making refrigerator oatmeal!!! More on that later.
- Substitute quinoa, a super healthy rice like grain! My friend, Debra, used it in a broccoli cheese casserole from Pinterest and it worked great!
- Support the Consumers Union as they "urge the FDA to set standards for arsenic in food, to prohibit the use of arsenic-containing drugs in livestock and poultry, and to limit the arsenic allowable in manure used on rice fields."
Have you read the article yet?