Brown rice is considered a “health food” and its much healthier than white rice right? WRONG!!! Why…? ARSENIC
A few years ago Consumer Reports Magazine released their analysis of arsenic levels in rice products and the results were VERY concerning! Popular rice products including white rice, brown rice, organic rice baby cereal, and rice breakfast cereals, were ALL found to contain arsenic, a POTENT carcinogen that can be harmful for adults and especially to a child’s developing brain.
Where does it come from and where is it found?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the environment. It’s found in the earth’s crust and in the air, water and soil. It is also the result of human activity such as mining and added to things like pesticides and poultry feed, which are ways that it gets into our soil and water.
There are two types of arsenic: organic (in the biological sense) and inorganic. Inorganic arsenic is the kind that’s dangerous and is associated with adverse health effects, and it’s the kind that’s present in rice.
What are the potential health effects of arsenic?
Regular exposure to low doses of inorganic arsenic over time can cause a variety of different cancers including skin, lung, bladder, kidney, liver, and prostate cancer. It can also lead to other health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, reproductive problems and a compromised immune system. Research suggests that high levels of arsenic exposure during childhood are associated with neurobehavioral problems as well as cancer and lung disease later in life.
Just one serving of some rice pastas can put your child over the recommended weekly limit!
Since children weight less, they are exposed to more arsenic per pounds from the foods they eat compared to adults. This means NO rice cereal for babies and NO rice milk!
Studies not only found a significant amount of arsenic in many rice products on the market, but also that arsenic levels in the blood directly increase with greater rice consumption. Several products tested had more arsenic in each serving than the 5 parts per billion (ppb) limit for adults set by the EPA as safe. Rice is a very common ingredient in many Gluten Free products, so read those labels carefully!
Pregnant women should also be cautious about their rice intake, and minimize their exposure to arsenic to protect their developing fetus; finding another safe starch to replace rice during pregnancy would be a good idea.
Top reasons why white rice is better than brown:
Brown rice has significantly more arsenic than white rice and should be avoided or consumed rarely. Some of the brown rice brands tested contained at least 50% more than the safe limit per serving, and a few even had nearly double the safe limit. Brown rice has about 80% more arsenic than white rice because most of the arsenic is found in the grain outer layer.
Some of the worst offenders for arsenic are made from brown rice.
Processed rice products like brown rice syrup, brown rice pasta, rice cakes and brown rice crisps. These processed products are commonly consumed by those following a “healthy” whole grain rich or gluten-free diet, clearly this poses a significant risk of arsenic overexposure.
How to limit exposure.
Not all rices have the same levels of arsenic. Good news sushi lovers! White rice has much lower levels compared to brown, with basmati from India, Pakistan, and California being the lowest (Lundberg California White Basmati is a good choice).
“At one point during the reign of King Cotton, farmers in the south central United States controlled boll weevils with arsenic-based pesticides, and residual arsenic still contaminates the soil. Today, rice paddies cover fields where cotton once grew, and a large market basket survey published in the 1 April 2007 issue of Environmental Science & Technology now shows that rice grown in this area contains, on average, 1.76 times more arsenic than rice grown in California.”
(Food Safety: U.S. Rice Serves Up Arsenichttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1892142/)
I definitely recommend mixing up your grain consumption with other grains that are naturally lower in arsenic. Amaranth, buckwheat, millet and polenta have almost no levels of arsenic. Bulgur, barley, and farro have very low levels. And quinoa has less arsenic than rice. (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm)
They way in which you cook your rice can help you reduce the arsenic content.
The common method of cooking rice is in a limited amount of water which helps retain the most nutrition from the grain, but it also retains the arsenic. Boiling the rice in a 6:1 water-to-rice ratio (kind of like how you would cook pasta) and then draining the excess water once cooked, has been shown to remove up to 60% of arsenic levels in rice. Rinsing the rice well before you cook can also reduce arsenic levels.
Another option is WILD RICE! It's actually an aquatic grass, and not technically rice! It also doesn’t contain arsenic. Win Win.
The Chinese Knew!
Through centuries of emperioral observation the Chinese discovered that white rice is much easier to diget.
Brown rice is white rice with a thick coating around it. Its the shell , germ layer or bran that is polished off when making white rice. Eating this germ layer is like eating a walnut and not taking off the shell. Our body will have to spend a lot of time trying to break this down and it will SLOW our metabolism.
The Chinese eat almost everything including all parts of animals. Yet they don't eat all of the rice, just the white rice since they have found that it is much easier to digest.
So... If you have the option of white over brown, choose white, its much easier to digest and has less arsenic. Brown rice every now and then is ok. Switch up your grains, balance and moderation are key!
Dr. Kara MoraMarco
Doctors of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine with a practice in Beverly Hills / Los Angeles