5 Ways to Keep Your Family Safe From Arsenic in Rice

Are you unknowingly poisoning your family with rice? Here's how to avoid it.

May 12, 2017
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Despite the many benefits of rice, this gluten-free, fiber-loaded, whole grain has a dirty secret: Arsenic. Arsenic is a carcinogen that has been linked to skin, bladder, lung, kidney, liver, and prostate issues, and is one of the worst chemicals hiding in your home.

More: The 10 Dirtiest Foods You're Eating

The most troubling part is that children are at the greatest risk for arsenic exposure through rice. "Infants and younger children have two to three times higher arsenic exposure than adults," reported the European Society for Paediactric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition (ESPGHN) in a review on arsenic in rice.

The researchers from ESPGHN and experts at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) offer these five tips to minimize your arsenic exposure from rice:

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1. Avoid rice milk

Rice milk is touted as a great milk substitute. Unfortunately, rice milk is made from rice bran—the most toxic part of this whole grain—making it more like to harbor arsenic. EWG researchers Sonya Lunder and Dawn Undurraga report in an article for Maria's Farm Country Kitchen that rice milk can exceed the EPA's drinking water limit for arsenic. In water, the arsenic limit is 10 parts per billion; in rice milk, it ranges from 17 to 70 parts per billion.

This is especially true for babies. The researchers from ESPGHN pointed out three types of formula: breast milk, cow's milk formula, and rice milk formula. They found that 80 percent of breast milk is clean, cow's milk formula has three times as much arsenic as breast milk, and rice milk formula has 15 times as much arsenic as cow's milk formula.

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2. Avoid arsenic in baby food

"Rice is a widely used carbohydrate source during weaning due to its availability, bland taste, nutritional value, and relatively low allergic potential," according to the researchers at ESPGHN. Unfortunately this puts children, especially ones with celiac disease or other food allergies (like these most common ones), at high risk for arsenic exposure. 

Instead of rice cereal, Lunder and Undurraga recommend orange veggies like sweet potatoes and squash. "Parents were once advised to start infants with fortified rice cereals, which were touted as non-allergenic and nutritive, but, with some exceptions, parents are no longer being encouraged to delay introducing potentially allergenic foods. Soft fruits, vegetables, or even meats are great first sources of complementary nutrients for a breast- or formula-fed baby."

More: 4 Foods That Are Toxic For Trying or Expecting Mothers

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3. Cook your rice properly

The researchers at ESPGHN discovered that cooking rice in uncontaminated water does reduce arsenic content in rice (as does cooking it in a coffee pot, really). Plus, Lunder and Undurraga point out that rinsing rice can reduce arsenic by 30 to 40 percent. Check EWG’s Tap Water Database to see if arsenic's been detected in your water. (If you're on well water, you should test for that.)

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4. Get creative with your grains

Rice is a problematic source of arsenic because of how it's grown. Flooding the rice patties exposes the rice plants to arsenic in the soil. Rice has a unique physiology that allows it to readily absorb the heavy metal from the environment. The researchers report there is .1 to .4 milligram of arsenic in every kilogram of uncooked rice. Fortunately, this doesn't apply to other grains. Wheat and barley, for instance, have a much lower .03 to .08 milligram of arsenic per kilogram.

"Good alternatives to Rice Krispies-type breakfast cereals include toasted oats, puffed corn, or whole grains like millet," say Lunder and Undurraga. "You can also find flour mixes that contain no rice or gluten for baking." (Just be sure they're organic!)

More: Your Guide to Perfectly Cooked Whole Grains

toddler drinking formula
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5. Avoid the sweet stuff

Corn syrup gets most of the attention, but brown rice syrup is another ingredient to look out for. The researchers from ESPGHN reported that toddler formula sweetened with organic brown rice syrup (yes, it's even in organic rice), have twenty times more arsenic than regular formula.

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