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Arsenic content in rice--what to do?

2399 Views 13 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Capstan

Rice is contaminated with arsenic according to this comprehensive study:

The FDA basically says that it's not an immediate risk which is anything but assuring, since from consuming rice and getting all the arsenic you'll inevitably reduce your life expectency.

I had recently transitioned into using organic brown rice as a staple in my diet, and now its recommended not to consume brown rice at all.

Does this mean I should transition into eating organic white rice instead?

What about quinoa? Does anyone have statistics on arsenic levels in quinoa? The article unfortunately says there isn't any data on Quinoa, though it suggests that the arsenic levels are lower.
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I would take it with a grain of salt. I think if I stopped eating everything that someone somewhere in some research claimed was bad for me, there wouldn't be much left...maybe kale? Just eat your rice in moderation. There are so many other grains out there...millet, bulgur, buckwheat groats, oat groats, barley, spelt. I have heard of the arsenic research and it is not new. I have yet to hear of anyone getting sick and dying from arsenic poisoning due to rice consumption.
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Thank you for your advice and reply, and it is old news! I realize now the way I presented it might suggest it's something new.

I have yet to hear of anyone getting sick and dying from arsenic poisoning due to rice consumption.
Well in the short term I think that's true. But what happens if one ingests arsenic over many years in very small quantities? That cannot have good long term health effects.

I'm definitely going to stop eating brown rice.
A person can overdose and die from raw kale, so be sure to cook it ;)

Much of the arsenic on brown rice actually washes off, so wash it well.
I 'scrub' my rice by putting it in a 1/4 or 1/2 gallon mason jar, getting it wet, holding the lid on, and shaking it until it looks milky, then I wash from there until the water comes out clear. I use a sieve to drain the water.
I found this information on naturally and unnaturally occurring arsenic:

My guess is it would be impossible to completely avoid.
From what I have heard about this so far, no authoritative source is encouraging avoidance of rice. No one has shown any ill effects from the arsenic found in rice. Certainly the levels are concerning, but more from a public health and food supply standpoint. It is a good idea, arsenic notwithstanding, to vary your diet and not eat too much of any one food. If you like brown rice, maybe have it a couple times a week, and other days you could have quinoa or whole grain pasta or bread.

The sources that I have read have said the arsenic is incorporated into the hull of the rice, so it won't wash off. I haven't read about this very recently, so maybe there is something that I missed. It is a good idea to wash your rice with cold water prior to preparing as it can be dirty.
I heard about this issue a couple years back and what I remember reading back then was that soaking or cooking the rice in a relatively large amount of water and then pouring off the water is supposed to help decrease the arsenic. also I try to buy one of the types/brands that CR showed to have the lower levels in the first place. finally like someone else mentioned, I try to only have rice a couple times/ week and use other starches like potatoes, pasta, cornbread or whatever else instead.
The sources that I have read have said the arsenic is incorporated into the hull of the rice, so it won't wash off. I haven't read about this very recently, so maybe there is something that I missed. It is a good idea to wash your rice with cold water prior to preparing as it can be dirty.
The hull is the very outer coating and is removed-it's not edible. Brown rice is de-hulled, but has the bran intact.
I'm well versed as I once bought an 8 lb bag that many grains with the hull still on! It's very obvious when cooked, they look just like fennel seeds, and very "woody"! Was a shame too, it was organic from Pakistan and the best rice I've had! Almost worth the trouble of picking out.
Speaking of Pakistan, I have heard that rice grown in that part of the world did not test for arsenic. The U.S. seemed particularly vulnerable.
what I remember reading back then was that soaking or cooking the rice in a relatively large amount of water and then pouring off the water is supposed to help decrease the arsenic.
That probably came from one study I remember, published in 2007.
In the paper 'Arsenic removal from rice by washing and cooking with water' they took 3 brands of rice with roughly half the legal limit of arsenic (so a real world example) and washed the rice 3 times with cold water and then cooked the rice in too much water and poured off the excess water. The results showed that the rice done that way had about half of the arsenic compared to the raw rice they started with. Thats what got most reported. They also reported that they tested the rice after just washing with cold water 3 times, the results from that showed a 7 to 17% reduction in arsenic.
They didnt say 'vigorously washed' or anything so I expect they werent too brutal. When I wash rice I engage my core and act like its exercise, lol.
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Where I live, there is arsenic in the water, as well as uranium. Very few people make it to maximum life expectancy. You cannot avoid all things that will take a few days off your life. At this moment you have something like 200,000 cancer cells in your body. If your immune system is working well you should be okay. Ground water contains a whole encyclopedia of minerals, amoebas and other things in quanteties too small to do you any harm. Also, most people dye from chronic illnesses which they have now but do not know about. All we are is dust in the wind.

I won't stop eating brown rice because if this.

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Arsenic is definitely not good for you. I think what's worse is the phytic acid in whole grains. Or is it? I know arsenic is a metalloid. So perhaps the phytic acid can chelate the arsenic and remove it from the body as it does with other minerals. Phytic acid is one of those double edged swords. Any one see any research on this? Perhaps this is one way to get around the arsenic. Or perhaps one more reason to eat white rice which won't contain the arsenic or phytic acid.
The arsenic in foods is as arsenite and arsenate, negatively charged. Phytate is also negatively charged so it would not immobilize arsenic.
Phytic acid isnt bad, particularly if whole grains are done properly.
The critter thats actually in grains isnt actually phytic acid, but rather 'phytate' or more specifically its calcium magnesium phytate. The calcium and magnesium that phytate supposedly 'removes' from food is the calcium and magnesium it comes with (tho, its true it can compete for iron, if I remember right).
If whole grains are pre-soaked (as they should be) enzymes that break phytate down get activated. The more time between pre-soaking and cooking the more phytate gets broken down to less 'antinutrient' forms, thus freeing its calcium and magnesium payload (as if to feed a seedling).
Cooking also breaks some down.
And phytate is emerging as an antioxidant.

The phytate as an antinutrient thing really just started as a blind guess by a scientist that got quoted as fact before it was tested.
But pre-soak your grains anyway, it also does other good things like increase some vitamins.
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Auxin. Thanks for your input. I'm reading that phytic acid becomes phytate when it has chelated with something. And that its more an issue of not releasing phosphorus. Which will grab the calcium or magnesium or iron etc... The enzyme that breaks down the phytic acid and phytates is called phytase. As I understand it soaking alone will only remove a small amount of phytic acid. And heat will destroy phytase. In the case of brown rice. It takes a repeated soaking regime of saving past soaking water and adding it to new batches of soaked rice to be effective. In most grains it requires germination and fermentation to really have an impact on the phytic acid. Hence the use of rye as a starter in sour dough bread. Rye is very high in phytase.

I have read of the use of phytic acid to remove heavy metals in the body. So yes it can be an antioxidant of sorts. Also there is a safe amount of phytic acid that can be consumed. It just depends on the level of nutrients coming in with the diet and the timing of consumption. I'm no scientist just relating what I have read in numerous places.

Sorry Sethmachine for the high jack :)
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I had a bad run-in with arsenic about 25-years ago. I had worked 4½-years at a busy lumber yard, where about ¼ of the lumber I handled was "pressure treated"- saturated with arsenic. At that time, it was very popular to build outdoor furniture, patio decks, railing, etc. from pressure treated lumber, because it's weather- and rot-resistant. I understand, since that time, building codes have been altered to restrict its use, particularly in residential applications. Late in my tenure there, I noticed I was feeling chronically ill. Hardly a day would go by that I didn't feel nauseated, and I couldn't figure out why, until I realized the lumber was impregnated with arsenic. Even though we wore protective gloves, etc., it's impossible to stay isolated from it. If you handle enough of it, it goes right through your clothing, gets dusted in your hair, in your ears, and so on. I noticed everyone who worked there had medical problems of one sort or another. I finally decided we were being slowly poisoned and quit the job.

The thing about arsenic is, once it builds up in your body, it tends to stay there. For many years after leaving the lumber yard, I continued to have chronic ailments- nothing super-serious- mainly skin rashes that, again, I couldn't account for. In the early 2000's, I read about a 3-year old little boy who had suffered with many ailments. His parents had taken him to doctor after doctor, with no success. In desperation, they took him to an holistic healer, who ran blood-tests, and discovered he had an elevated level of arsenic. Apparently, his folks had built a pressure treated wooden deck in their yard, where the boy often played on his hands and knees, and was absorbing the stuff through his skin. The doctor put him on a controlled regimen of selenium- an antioxidant- which was effective at purging the arsenic from his body. Within a few short months, he was healthy again. Reading this reminded me of all the arsenic I had been exposed to, so I went straight to the pharmacy, bought some over-the-counter selenium tabs and began taking them. CAUTIONARY NOTE: using selenium must be done with EXTREME caution. Too much selenium can produce very serious side-effects, including the weakening of the bones and the loss of your teeth. This is why many people living in Appalachia are toothless, because of the abnormally high levels of selenium in their water supplies. I don't share this experience to encourage anyone to self-medicate, but to provide information that may be shared with health-care professionals, like a doctor. Please be careful using selenium. Long story short: my rashes quickly began to subside, then vanished, and I haven't been bothered by them since.

I know this doesn't relate directly to arsenic in rice; nevertheless, there are other ways besides diet by which we can amass toxins. If you have a pressure treated wooden porch, lawn chairs, etc.- especially if they were made several years ago- you may be at risk of absorbing high levels of arsenic.

Sorry, I'm not really trying to change the subject.
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