Arsenic In Rice? Should I Be Worried?

Arsenic in Rice
Arsenic in Rice

Arsenic In Rice? Should I Be Worried?


So many of us are shocked at the whole “arsenic in rice” debacle that “rice arsenic hoax” has become a popular Google search term. Unfortunately, no hoax is involved!

Although I don’t remember reading about the possibility of arsenic in rice until the past few weeks, the debate about arsenic contamination and rice has raged in scientific circles for more than a decade.

Is there arsenic in rice?

Rice played a big part in some of my earliest childhood memories. Like when my Peruvian grandmother would scold us for spilling rice on the floor.

She didn’t speak English, so she would point at the paddle on the wall and say, “Pow-pow!” She never followed through, so my brothers and I giggled whenever she threatened us.

During my six months in Honduras, I learned that the locals’ name for rice and beans was “casamiento,” meaning marriage.

They saw the beans as a dark suit and the rice as a pure white dress!

To learn that there is arsenic in rice is a big disappointment for me. The knowledge has forced some changes in the way we eat – and my family isn’t pleased about it.

So my research this week has been aimed at answering all their questions:

Should I worry about arsenic in rice? 

Yes. Long-term exposure to arsenic, even in minimal doses, can lead to cancer, heart disease, impaired immune system, diabetes, and lower IQ.

You don’t want this brittle metalloid flowing through your bloodstream.

What rice has no arsenic? 

Rice does not contain arsenic naturally. Rice is 10x more metalloid absorptive than other grains. When grown in arsenic-tainted water, all rice absorbs it like a sponge. 

Throughout the world, arsenic-based pesticides and fertilizers were standard rice-growers’ tools for decades. Their residues have permeated the water and soil in most places. I don’t know of any arsenic-free rice.

Does organic rice have arsenic? 

Yes, and as much as conventionally grown rice. Although organic rice doesn’t have the same pesticide exposure as conventional rice, it still absorbs the arsenic in the soil and water from past agricultural activity.

Some have estimated that agricultural interests applied 30,000 tons of arsenic-laced chemicals to cotton fields in the American south before their 1980s and ’90s arsenic prohibition.

Does brown rice have arsenic? 

The arsenic in rice pathway.

Arsenic accumulates most heavily in the rice’s bran and germ, its outermost layers. Brown rice retains these layers, along with an arsenic level 70-percent higher than processed white rice.

Because white rice lacks both layers, nutritionists traditionally consider brown rice healthier. But given brown rice’s higher arsenic level, neither is ideal.

However, brown basmati rice from specific areas does have lower arsenic levels.

So does the arsenic in rice vary by country? 

Because the use of arsenic-containing pesticides and fertilizers differed among countries, rice arsenic levels vary widely too.

According to these 2015 Consumer Reports guidelines, brown basmati rice grown in California, India, and Pakistan “… has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other brown rices.”

And the white basmati rice from those areas “…[O]n average has half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of most other types of rice.”

California aside, the United States has been reluctant to regulate the agricultural industry’s use of pollutants.

This is especially true of the Cotton Belt states Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. California’s rice averages 40-percent lower arsenic contamination than rice from those states.

Arsenic in Rice
White basmati rice from California, Pakistan, and India has half the arsenic l of other varieties.

This 2017 meta-analysis from Qatar University Associate Professor Amad M. Shraim, Ph.D. tested rice samples grown in various areas of:

  • America
  • Thailand
  • Pakistan India
  • Egypt
  • Surinam
  • Australia

and France.

The American samples tested the highest for arsenic.

Which rice brand is best?

My search for rice companies transparent about the arsenic levels in their product returned only one name. The Lundberg Family Farms website includes a graph of their annual inorganic arsenic levels.

It appears to be substantially lower than the U.S. national average, and their transparency has won them a new customer. My family will be eating their rice from now on!

When I Googled the same information for the Golden Star Jasmine Rice currently sitting on our kitchen counter, I came up mostly empty-handed.

However, I did learn that a consumer advocacy group intended to sue the company for violations of California’s Proposition 65 “concerning rice containing arsenic.” 

We need “low-arsenic” product labeling. But without a public outcry, the rice companies won’t do anything to draw attention to the “arsenic in rice” issue.

Will rinsing reduce the arsenic in rice? 

Research shows that rinsing rice for a few minutes before cooking decreases its arsenic level by just 10%.

How do you remove arsenic in rice? 

You can’t remove all of it. But by changing the standard cooking method, you can reduce it by about 60 percent.  Forget about the rice cooker or pot.

Instead, boil it the way you would spaghetti, with a 10:1 water-to-rice ratio. When it’s cooked, pour off the excess water. Over half of the arsenic should go down the drain. 

Is there arsenic n rice products?

Yes. Avoid Rice Krispies, rice milk, rice cereal, and products with brown rice syrup, including cereal bars, and rice cakes. All contain inorganic arsenic.

Rice cake snacks aren’t as healthy as we’d like. Enjoy your avocado on toast instead of rice cakes!

Is there anything I can take to reduce arsenic damage?

In a bit of good news, this study from India’s Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute found that turmeric curcumin can bind up heavy metals and reverse arsenic-induced DNA damage:

“Thus curcumin intervention may be a useful modality for the prevention of arsenic-induced carcinogenesis.”

And this NutritionFacts video reviews a second study showing that beta-carotene rich foods reduce the risk of developing skin cancer from arsenic exposure. The best way to get high levels of beta-carotene?

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables like greens and sweet potatoes.

The study’s participants with the highest blood levels of beta-carotene saw a 99-percent drop in their odds of developing “arsenic-induced skin cancer!”

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