• Anita Hollerer-Squire

How to reduce arsenic in rice


Rice is a staple food in most households. Not only do many of us eat rice on a regular basis - but snack food like rice cakes, rice crackers, rice cereals, rice puddings etc. are flooding the market.

Most people are unaware that rise contains arsenic - which is toxic. The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) has classified it as a category 1 carcinogen, which means it can cause cancer. Regular exposure to small amounts of arsenic can increase your risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancer, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Arsenic is a natural element that can be found in air, soil and water. It occurs naturally in the environment and also because of industrial impacts and the use of pesticides and fertilizers. There are two different sorts of arsenic - organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic is less toxic than inorganic arsenic.

Professor Andy Meharg from Queen’s University in Belfast regularly tests rice and rice products and in general he has seen the following:

  • Basmati rice contains lower levels of arsenic than other rice

  • Brown rice usually contains more arsenic than white rice (because of the husk)

  • Growing rice organically doesn’t make a difference to levels

  • Rice cakes and crackers can contain levels higher than in cooked rice.

  • The levels of arsenic found in rice milk far exceed the amounts that would be allowed in drinking water

"The only thing I can really equate it to is smoking," says Prof Andy Meharg. "If you smoke one or two cigarettes per day, your risks are going to be a lot less than if you're smoking 30 or 40 cigarettes a day. It's dose-dependent - the more rice you eat, the higher your risk is."

How to reduce arsenic in rice:

No need to panic - there is a way to decrease the amount of arsenic you consume. During the cooking process, the arsenic leaves the rice and enters the cooking water.

If you cook your rice the absorption way (1 part rice to 2 parts water) the arsenic is simply absorbed back into the rice. However, if you use more water, so that it is not all absorbed, the arsenic remains in the liquid instead.

If you use 5 times as much water as rice when cooking, only 43% of the arsenic remains in the rice.

If you soak the rice overnight before cooking, only 18% of the arsenic remained in the rice.

How to cook rice with the least arsenic residues:

  1. Soak your rice overnight – this opens up the grain and allows the arsenic to escape

  2. Drain the rice and rinse thoroughly with fresh water

  3. For every part rice add at least five parts water and cook until the rice is tender – do not allow it to boil dry.

  4. Drain the rice and rinse again with hot water to get rid of the last of the cooking water.

Arsenic in rice:

Rice with lower levels of inorganic arsenic:

Consumer Reports tested 697 different rice samples to determine if some types are lower in arsenic than others. Their latest tests determined that the inorganic arsenic content of rice varies greatly depending on the type of rice and where it was grown.

They found that the following rice contained the least amount of arsenic:

  • Basmati rice from India, Pakistan, California

  • Sushi rice from the U.S.

  • Brown basmati rice from India, Pakistan, California

Rice from other parts of the US (Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas) had the highest levels of arsenic.

Conclusion:

As with most things in life, moderation is key. You can still eat rice - just cook it the way outlined above. Reduce consumption of rice milk, rice cakes, rice crackers and rice cereals - especially for children. Rice cakes supply close to a child's weekly limit in one serving. Rice drinks can also be high in arsenic, and children younger than 5 shouldn’t drink them.

Consider other options instead of rice - for example gluten-free grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, polenta and quinoa. Bulgur, barley, and farro, which contain gluten, also have very little arsenic.

References:

Ministry of Primary Industries NZ: https://www.mpi.govt.nz/food-safety/whats-in-our-food/chemicals-and-food/arsenic/

World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/arsenic

BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2F1MDzyW55pg97Tdpp7gqLN/should-i-be-concerned-about-arsenic-in-my-rice

US FDA: https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm319948.htm

Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm

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