How to Reduce the Arsenic in Your Rice

Arsenic occurs in our environment from both natural and human sources, including contamination from mining and pesticides.  Inorganic arsenic has been associated with increased skin, bladder and lung cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Arsenic exposure during pregnancy may affect a baby’s immune system.

Arsenic can be absorbed from soil and water into many foods, including grains, fruits and vegetables.  Rice is especially vulnerable because it absorbs arsenic more readily than other foods, with levels up to 10 times more than wheat or other cereals.

The USA Rice Federation says the health benefits of rice outweigh the potential risks.  Agencies including the U.S. Federal Food and Drug Administration, the UK Food Standards Agency and Consumer Reports have studied arsenic in rice.  Governments are considering setting limits for arsenic in rice and rice products.

Brown rice has up to 80 percent more arsenic than white, due to accumulation in the grain’s outer layers (which are removed in white rice).  Both organically and commercially grown rice have the same amount of arsenic.  White and brown basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan were found to have the lowest level of arsenic among types and regions.

Infants and children are especially vulnerable to arsenic exposure.  CR advises that babies not be fed more than one serving of infant rice cereal per day.  The UK recommends that children under five not be given rice drinks instead of milk.  The FDA recommends that parents consider options other than rice cereal for a child’s first solid food.

The best way to reduce your exposure is to thoroughly rinse rice before you cook it.  While this may remove some nutrients, it will also reduce up to 30 percent of the arsenic.  Another suggestion is to consider alternative grains – including amaranth, buckwheat, millet, bulgur, barley, faro and quinoa – which contain negligible amounts of arsenic.

Agilent’s technologies and instruments can detect arsenic levels in rice and rice products.  An Agilent high-performance LC coupled with an Agilent ICP-MS provides a fully integrated analytical system with extremely high sensitivity.

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