A recent study conducted by Consumer Reports shows that disturbingly high amounts of inorganic arsenic are present in many rice products sold to American consumers. Some products are safer than others, though. The good news is California-grown rice tends to be much lower in arsenic than rice from states like Texas, Louisiana, Missouri and Arkansas. The latter are cotton-producing states, where, until recently, cotton farmers made extensive use of arsenic-laden pesticides. It’s believed that decades of use has resulted in arsenic contamination of soil and groundwater. And rice is especially good at taking up arsenic and concentrating it.
Arsenic is a classic poison; a weapon of choice for fictional and factual murderers alike. It was once so popular among the elite classes it was dubbed “the Poison of Kings, and the King of Poisons”. When it doesn’t kill you outright, arsenic is a carcinogen. It can also cause developmental problems in children.
So what to do? Consumer Reports does not recommend avoiding brown rice completely. Rather, it suggests limiting your intake. Children and pregnant women should consume no more than one serving per week, while adults may safely consume two servings per week. A serving is one-fourth cup of uncooked (about one-half cup cooked) brown rice. Babies should not be fed rice formula exclusively, and you should choose California-grown rice when possible.
Rinse rice before cooking, and cook it in twice as much water as suggested. Just pour off the excess liquid before serving. Much inorganic arsenic can be removed in this way. Given the concentration of arsenic in rice milk, Consumer Reports recommends that children under the age of five should not drink it.
Until tighter standards for this toxin are imposed by the government, you’d also be wise to limit your intake of products featuring brown rice syrup. Arsenic contamination is a widespread problem that affects drinking water and other crops, as well. A previous investigation by Consumer Reports identified higher than expected amounts of arsenic in some fruit juices.
Holtcamp W. Suspect sweetener: arsenic detected in organic brown rice syrup. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 May;120(5):A204. doi: 10.1289/ehp.120-a204a.
Horner NS, Beauchemin D.The effect of cooking and washing rice on the bio-accessibility of As, Cu, Fe, V and Zn using an on-line continuous leaching method. Anal Chim Acta. 2013 Jan 3;758:28-35. doi: 10.1016/j.aca.2012.11.011. Epub 2012 Nov 16.