Arsenic and Rice: What To Do?

 

Hi Tracy,

I gotta say I’m a little freaked out learning that rice is loaded with arsenic.  It’s all over the news, and while we are trying to avoid too much wheat in our family, I realize I’ve been relying on a lot of rice-based foods instead.   Is that a smart strategy?  Or am I just trading one risk for another?  I guess this is just a big reminder that I need to get away from processed foods period huh?  What’s the real story?

Signed,

Risky Rice?

I received this question from several readers and think it’s an important one.  Though it was highlighted in the media just recently, it’s long been known that arsenic is a food contaminant in almost all plant foods and a particularly potent one in rice.  This plant absorbs arsenic from the ground more readily than other plant foods.  Rice (yes, even organic rice) may be planted in fields that were previously sprayed with arsenic-containing pesticides (especially orchards).  The arsenic thus remains in the soil, and this plant also has a unique ability to concentrate and pull arsenic up through its roots.  I am delighted by the recent media expose because I do think food companies (especially with known risks) should be regularly testing food for contaminants.  I also think it’s important to educate the world about the persistent effects of spraying pesticide on soil over and over again.

Keep in mind that the body will indeed detoxify arsenic – especially if we keep our livers healthy.  We are exposed to heavy metal toxins every single day; we just don’t always read about it in the media.  So I wouldn’t “freak out”.  But I would indeed try to ensure there is variety in your diet and that it isn’t anchored with rice, especially domestically-raised rice.  Eat large portions of cruciferous vegetables regularly to help your body to detoxify all heavy metals (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, turnips).  Try more veggies and fewer grains in general (especially sweet potatoes and winter squashes which are available this time of year).  Even better, consider taking a detoxification-oriented multivitamin (let me know if you want some suggestions) and doing a liver cleanse a couple of times a year.

In terms of choices, I would stay away from all (but especially rice-based) snack or processed foods (e.g. cereal, foods made with brown rice syrup) – if/until companies can confirm arsenic safety via testing.  As you know, I am not a fan of processed foods in general, especially sweetened ones.  Choose coconut or almond milk instead of rice milk as a dairy alternative.  Enjoy a wide variety of gluten-free grains (e.g. quinoa, millet, amaranth, wild rice (not rice at all but rather a grass plant)).  Nutribiotics is a sprouted brown rice protein product you can trust; it is tested to ensure low arsenic.  Choose basmati or jasmine rice (overall lower arsenic content).  And within the US, I believe rice sourced from California is by far the least contaminated (vs. southern state); more studies of this are underway.

But I think it’s fine to enjoy rice as a whole food occasionally.  Here are some suggestions that in total can reduce the arsenic content by 40+%:   Soak the rice for at least a few hours in plenty of water with a splash of vinegar.  Then rinse it very thoroughly.  Heat water for cooking until it boils but use about three times as much water as you need.  About ½ way through the cooking time, stir the pot well and pour off the extra water.  This will help to free and get rid of contaminants before the final liquid absorption.

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