Arsenic in Rice: Are You Being Poisoned by the Food You Eat?

Over the past few months I’ve read an alarming number of reports from the CDC and other health watch organizations about the presence of “worrisome levels” of arsenic in our food supply. The main culprits seem to be our drinking water, fruit juices and rice, specifically brown rice and brown rice based products, such as infant cereal and brown rice syrup.

What exactly is arsenic and why should you be concerned?

Arsenic is a semi-metal compound which occurs naturally in the environment as an element of the earth’s crust. In it’s natural state arsenic is considered an organic compound. It becomes inorganic, however, when it is combined with other elements such as oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur. Inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen to humans.

Inorganic arsenic can be as much as 600 times more toxic than some forms of organic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic can be found in pesticides and some wood preservatives.

Arsenic is odorless and tasteless and enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices. Water is considered safe when arsenic levels are kept below 10 parts-per-billion.

In September 2011, Dr. Oz shared some concerning results of an investigation conducted by Consumer Reports that showed that 10% of apple juice and grape juice had levels of arsenic far exceeding the levels considered to be safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The levels found in these fruit juices was over 23 parts-per-billion! Further investigation by the EPA has shown that the actual level of arsenic in these juices may be even higher than originally reported. Of greater concern is the fact that inorganic arsenic was found to be the predominant type arsenic present in the juice samples tested.

Inorganic Arsenic is considered extremely harmful to humans and has been linked to a number of health issues including:

  • Diabetes,
  • Hypertension,
  • Cardio-vascular disease
  • Cancer — specifically cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate

Next to water, rice is has been found to be the largest largest source of inorganic arsenic in our diets.

Why is that?

The rice plant, which grows in wet environments, is naturally good at extracting arsenic from the soil and water in which it grows. The outer layer of the grain, which is polished off to obtain white rice, is where the arsenic is stored.

Rice, particularly brown rice, is considered a health food. People like myself who eat a gluten free diet, often eat brown rice flour based products such as pasta or bread, as a substitute for wheat.

Brown rice is also a common source of soluble fiber used by many as a supplement to aid with sluggish bowels.

It is also a popular food for babies and toddler. Rice cereal is often one of the first foods introduced to infants. Yet children are particularly vulnerable to arsenic because of their rapidly developing brain and immature digestive system.

Pregnant mommies need to know that arsenic will cross the placenta so you may want to consider eliminating rice from you diet while you are pregnant.

So what can you do?

The easiest way to avoid being poisoned by the arsenic in rice based products would of course be to avoid eating those products altogether. But if rice is a food you enjoy you don’t have to go to such extremes. You will want to reduce your intake, but you don’t have to give it up completely. The recommended maximum is half a cup a day. Anything above that has resulted in toxic levels of arsenic in a multitude of studies.

Luckily, the human body, when healthy, is properly equipped to metabolize small amounts of toxic substances like arsenic. Recent studies have shown that gut bacteria plays an important role in this process. Probiotics are essential to a healthy gut flora.

Probiotics are a healthy bacteria with over 30 beneficial healing properties. They are essential for optimal digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. Probiotics also help our bodies produce vitamins, absorb minerals and aid in the elimination of toxins.

You can add probiotics to your daily diet in a number of ways, through yogurts and a variety of supplements. You will also want to avoid foods that compromise or “throw off” your gut flora such as processed foods and refined sugars.

There are many toxins that enter our food supply through the soil in which they grow, the water that iriguates the crops and the air we breathe. And we cannot always avoid them completely. But we can minimize the harmful effect of these toxins on our bodies by eating a healthy diet rich in dark leafy greens and supplementing with daily probiotics.

Personally, I only eat brown rice on occasion, as quinoa is a wonderful and satisfying substitute.

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