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Is Your Whole-Grain Rice Poisoning You?

Jan. 7, 2015|408 views
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Whole grains are good for you, provided you don’t have celiac disease. If you do, you’ll need to avoid gluten from wheat, rye, and barley. But for most of us, whole grains are an important source of nutrients and healthful fiber. Whole-grain brown rice is an excellent choice. Rice is a staple food for billions of people around the world, and it’s increasingly popular with the gluten-free crowd.

There’s just one problem. As I reported two years ago, the consumer watchdog nonprofit organization, Consumer’s Report, investigated arsenic levels in a variety of rice products for sale in the United States, and they uncovered some unsettling facts: Questionable levels of the toxic heavy metal, arsenic, can be found in a number of brands of rice sold in the U.S. Some are domestic varieties, grown in the deep south, where arsenic from agricultural runoff and other practices has accumulated and contaminated rice paddies. Arsenic occurs in inorganic and organic forms. Inorganic arsenic is the most dangerous for humans. 

In a new follow-up report to Consumer Reports’ first exposé, the advocacy group warns that arsenic levels in some products are higher than previously reported. Brown rice grown in Texas is among the worst of the offenders. In contrast, basmati rice from California is among the safest to eat. Part of the problem is that the FDA has set no limits on arsenic in rice. That’s surprising, considering that arsenic is a known toxin. After all, the well-known play “Arsenic and Old Lace” is not about table settings. It’s about old women who commit murder with their poison of choice; the toxic heavy metal, arsenic.

So how do you safely consume more whole grains without contaminating your whole family? The results of Consumer Reports’ latest expose suggest that you stick to rice expressly grown in California, and avoid any domestic rice grown in the American Deep South (including Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas).

Alternative grains such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, or buckwheat are generally much lower in arsenic or other contaminants, too. White rice is generally lower in arsenic, because the toxin accumulates in the outer layers  of the grain, which are removed to make white rice from brown. But those outer layers also contain some of the most beneficial nutrients. Brown basmati from India, Pakistan, or California are good choices that are low in toxins.

Always rinse raw rice first, too. And try cooking the Asian method, which calls for up to six cups of water per cup of rice. Just strain to remove excess water at the end. One final note: Organic doesn’t necessarily mean arsenic-free. If arsenic is in the water used to grow rice, the plant will take up the mineral. Much of the arsenic in rice grown in the Deep South comes from agricultural runoff. One final word. Keep in mind that rice is featured in many packaged products, so you may need to pay attention to your family’s consumption of rice from all sources to prevent overexposure.