Elizabeth Cantrell, ND
I am frequently asked whether rice is safe to eat. This may sound like a strange question, because; why wouldn’t it be? Well, it turns out that nearly every rice based product, contains measurable levels of arsenic. In fact, new testing reveals that one serving of a rice based cereal or pasta or a serving of rice cakes contains enough arsenic to put a child over their maximum recommended amount for an entire week.
So what effects can arsenic have on your body? Studies suggest that regular exposure to small amounts of arsenic can increase the risk of certain cancers, including those of the bladder, lung, and skin. In addition, arsenic exposure can increase the risk of heart disease and type II diabetes. 1
Consumer reports analyzed different rice varieties to determine which contained the highest and lowest levels of arsenic. Based on the findings, you may be surprised to know that brown rice, which is generally touted as the healthier option because it contains more fiber and other nutrients, has about 80 percent more inorganic arsenic (the more dangerous form) on average than the white rice of the same version. Unfortunately, organic rice takes up arsenic from the soil and water just like non-organic varieties do.
If rice is a staple in your diet there are some things you can do to minimize your exposure. In general, the type of rice and the region in which it was grown have the greatest influence on how much arsenic it contains. White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. contains, on average, half the amount of inorganic arsenic than most other types. 2 Overall, white rice varieties from California have 38% less inorganic arsenic than those from other parts of the U.S. 2
Choosing these varieties from these specific locations will reduce your exposure. Other tips to reduce exposure are to wash your rice thoroughly prior to cooking and to cook in more water (6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice) than typically recommended and then drain off the excess afterwards. Using this method can reduce inorganic arsenic levels by up to 30 percent. 2
- Martinez VD, Vucic EA, Becker-Santos DD, Gil L, Lam WL. Arsenic Exposure and the Induction of Human Cancers. Journal of Toxicology 2011;2011:431287. doi:10.1155/2011/431287.
- “How Much Arsenic Is in Your Rice – Consumer Reports.” How Much Arsenic Is in Your Rice – Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports, 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2014. <http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm>.