How You Can Avoid Eating Arsenic When You Cook Rice

Alarming levels of arsenic, a toxin that can cause bladder, lung and skin cancer, are showing up in rice. Why? It has to do with the way we grow food. Soil naturally contains some arsenic. But many of the pesticides and herbicides used on conventional farms add much more arsenic to the ground.

RiceConsumer Reports, which did the research on arsenic contamination in rice, reports that "According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the U.S. is the world’s leading user of arsenic...since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes, about half of it only since the mid-1960s. Residues from the decades of use of lead-arsenate insecticides linger in agricultural soil today, even though their use was banned in the 1980s. Other arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted. Moreover, fertilizer made from poultry waste can contaminate crops with inorganic arsenic."

Most plants absorb some arsenic when they are grown. But because rice is grown in water, it  absorbs significantly more arsenic, which ends up in the rice grains we eat. 

What can you do?

* Eat less rice, especially babies, kids and pregnant women - Consumer Reports recommends that "babies eat no more than one serving of infant rice cereal per day on average. And their diets should include cereals made of wheat, oatmeal, or corn grits, which contain significantly lower levels of arsenic, according to federal information."

* Wash rice before you cook it. Rinse rice before you wash it until the water runs clear, which will help wash away some of the arsenic .

* Cook rice in a lot of water. Consumer Reports recommends cooking rice in six cups of water for every one cup of raw rice you want to cook. When the rice is done, pour off the cooking water before serving. Between washing the rice and cooking it in extra water, you can reduce your exposure to the arsenic it contains by as much as 45%.

* Vary your diet. Regardless of your age, it makes sense to vary your diet and find healthful vegetable and whole grain alternatives to rice. Replace rice cakes with popcorn, rice cereal with oats or other whole grains, rice milk with almond milk or soy milk, rice syrup with maple syrup. Replace rice pilafs with whole wheat pasta dishes, couscous, or bulgur.

Crop duster* Buy more organic food. Ironically, some organic rice cereals contained levels of arsenic equal to or higher than non-organic brands. So when it comes to rice, there may be no truly safe option. Nevertheless, buying organic food generally will help reduce the amount of arsenic added to the soil and that gets into groundwater.

* Sign this petition. Anna Hackman at Green Talkstarted this petition to encourage the Food and Drug Administration to set specific safety levels for arsenic in our food. 


Here's the link to the original report from Consumer Reports.

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Diane MacEachern

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