Do you remember the news stories about arsenic in our rice a few years ago? Since then, we’ve cut way back on our rice consumption at our house. But we love the stuff! I keep sneaking a little back into our diets here and there. So it’s time to dig a little deeper and learn what the researchers are able to tell us about rice and arsenic today.
The story first surfaced in 2011 or 2012, depending on the source you read. Back in September 2013, ABC News ran this spot about the FDA’s study of thirteen hundred products containing rice or rice derivatives.
Did you hear, near the end, where the pediatrician said he no longer prescribes rice cereal as a first food for infants? Scary stuff, because arsenic is one of those heavy metal elements that builds up in our bodies over our lifetime.
Arsenic exposure in infants and children is a big deal, but we adults need to take care too. How much arsenic is too much? Surprisingly, the FDA can’t tell us yet. Presumably, they’re still working on it. All. These. Years. Later. Arsenic in water? They have that covered. Arsenic in apple juice? That’s covered too. Rice? Zip.
Update: On April 1, 2016, the New York Times reported that the FDA had just released a proposal to limit inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal to 100 parts per billion. In a news release, the FDA said it plans to open a federal registry for comments soon.
Fortunately, Consumer Reports (CR) did some research of its own and provides us with guidelines based on their findings. You will find a link to their article, which includes some handy charts like this one, near the bottom of this page. Click on the chart to see the larger version on Pinterest.
So how do we protect ourselves and eat our rice too? Most experts agree on these four steps.
Four ways to reduce our exposure to arsenic in rice
According to the sources linked near the end of this post, these four steps can reduce the amount of arsenic we take into our bodies.
- Reduce overall rice consumption. Pin the handy CR chart above and refer to it often. It assigns points to various sources and quantities of rice, one set for adults, another for children. The goal is to keep our consumption in any given week under seven points.
- Buy California-grown white rice, brown rice or basmati rice, which researchers found contain low amounts of arsenic. Avoid rice grown in Texas or the southeastern United States, where the arsenic levels test much higher. Or choose Indian-grown basmati rice, also shown to contain lower arsenic levels.
- Before cooking, especially brown rice, rinse the grains, soaking them about five minutes in filtered water, then rinse again. Apparently some of the arsenic is water soluble and will run right down the drain.
- Substitute other grains. According to the CR article, these grains contain almost no inorganic arsenic (the harmful kind):
- Polenta or grits (types of corn meal)
- Bulgur wheat
Have you changed your diet?
Since this news broke several years ago, how has your rice consumption changed? No change? Somewhat? Drastically? What grains would you suggest we try?
Since reducing our rice intake, we’ve discovered the nutty, toothy, satisfying flavor of farro, an ancient type of wheat. It’s now our favorite grain. We love it in salads, like the one you see here, the Recipe of the Day on YayYay’s Kitchen Facebook page. (Thank you Rachel Cooks for a fabulous recipe!)
In fact, as I write this, I’m munching a similar farro, apple and rubbed kale salad. Every time I take a bite, my taste buds yelp, “More! More!”
Another favorite? Bulgar wheat, which is simplicity itself to make. Both bulgar and farro serve equally well as a pilaf with stir fry or a vitamin-packed, protein-adding ingredient in soups and, as you can see, salads.
Post a link to a rice alternative recipe you enjoy
If you have a favorite recipe to share using one of the safer grains, I invite you to tell us about it and post a link in the comments.
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FDA explores impact of arsenic in rice on FDA.gov
How much arsenic is in your rice? on Consumer Reports (CR)
Arsenic In Rice: How Does Toxic Element Get Inside Grain? on HuffPost Science
Five Things You Need To Know About Arsenic In Rice (Before Dinner Time) on webr’s Common Health Reform and Reality