Arsenic in Rice: How Concerned Should You Be? | Chris Kresser
HCTP Banner

Arsenic in Rice: How Concerned Should You Be?

by

Last updated on

iStock.com/Kameel

If you knew there was arsenic in your food, would you eat it? More importantly, would you serve it to your children?

Recently, Consumer Reports Magazine released their analysis of arsenic levels in rice products, and the results were concerning. Popular rice products including white rice, brown rice, organic rice baby cereal, and rice breakfast cereals, were all found to contain arsenic, a potent carcinogen that can also be harmful to a child’s developing brain.

In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.

The study not only found a significant amount of arsenic in many rice products on the market, but also that arsenic levels in the blood directly increase with greater rice consumption.(1) Several products tested had more arsenic in each serving than the 5 parts per billion (ppb) limit for adults set by the EPA as safe. (2)

What’s worse, many of these arsenic-containing rice products are marketed to children and infants as “health foods”, and children are far more susceptible to the dangerous impacts of arsenic exposure. (345) Research suggests that high levels of arsenic exposure during childhood are associated with neurobehavioral problems as well as cancer and lung disease later in life. (6) This means parents must be especially careful to avoid serving their children food with significant levels of arsenic.

While many of my readers follow a strict Paleo diet and couldn’t care less about arsenic in rice, there are many more who are more liberal in their diet and consume white rice as a “safe” starch. In fact, rice is often recommended by well-educated bloggers such as Paul Jaminet as a component of a perfectly healthy and enjoyable diet. I personally eat white rice on occasion and feel it is a safe starch for those who tolerate it. But now that there is a new issue with rice consumption, one that has nothing to do with carbohydrates, does that mean we should avoid it entirely?

White rice can be a “safe” starch

I don’t think it’s necessary to completely eliminate rice from the diet. The EPA’s 5 ppb per day limit on arsenic is probably what we should shoot for in our diets, in light of current evidence.

Many of the white rice products tested had fairly low levels of arsenic, and in the context of a few servings a week for an adult, it’s probably not an issue. As for very young children and infants, I don’t recommend serving them rice products in general, so they shouldn’t be exposed to arsenic from rice anyway. Pregnant women may want to be cautious about their rice intake, and minimize their exposure to arsenic to protect their developing fetus; finding another safe starch to replace rice during pregnancy would be wise.

So if you choose to purchase white rice, buy a brand made in California like Lundberg; their California White Basmati Rice has only 1.3 to 1.6 ppb arsenic per serving (1/4 cup uncooked), well below the safe limit. In addition, rinsing the rice before cooking and boiling it in a high water-to-rice ratio can help reduce the arsenic content significantly. (7) So if you want to keep white rice as a part of your diet, I recommend looking for a safe brand like Lundberg and rinsing the rice thoroughly before cooking in a large quantity of water; this should be adequate to make rice a safe food to eat in moderation.

Brown rice: Not a health food!

Brown rice, on the other hand, has significantly more arsenic than white rice and should be avoided or consumed rarely. Some of the brown rice brands tested contained at least 50% more than the safe limit per serving, and a few even had nearly double the safe limit. (PDF with complete details of test results) Note that some of the worst offenders for arsenic are made from brown rice: processed rice products like brown rice syrup, brown rice pasta, rice cakes and brown rice crisps. These processed products are commonly consumed by those following a “healthy” whole grain rich or gluten-free diet, but they clearly pose a significant risk of arsenic overexposure, especially if a person eats more than one serving per day. Obviously, brown rice is not a food that should be a dietary staple, or even eaten on a regular basis.

#Arsenic: another reason to prefer white rice over brown? Tweet This

Aside from having a higher arsenic content, there are other reasons to avoid brown rice: it’s harder to digest and nutrient absorption is likely inferior to white rice because of phytates in the rice bran. (8) Despite a higher nutrient content of brown rice compared to white rice, the anti-nutrients present in brown rice reduce the bioavailability of any vitamins and minerals present. (9) Plus, brown rice also reduces dietary protein and fat digestibility compared to white rice. (10)

In short, brown rice is not a health food for a variety of reasons, and a higher arsenic content is simply another reason to avoid eating it.

No food is completely safe or without some level of contamination risk: vegetables make up 24 percent of our arsenic exposure and tap water can legally contain 10 ppb arsenic per liter (some systems even exceed the legal limit.) (11) So while rice may contribute an unsafe level of arsenic, it’s certainly not the only source in our diet, and we need to be cautious about demonizing an entire class of food based on a soundbite from a news story. While I don’t think rice is a necessary component of a healthy diet, I do think it can be incorporated safely as a source of starch: just be sure to pay attention to the brand you’re buying, as well as your method of preparation.

Is rice a major staple in your diet? Will you continue eating it, or is this arsenic report enough to put you off rice altogether? Share your opinion in the comments below!

309 Comments

Join the conversation

  1. If you look on the list of 90 essential nutrients the body needs by Dr. Joel Wallach
    Guess what arsenic will be in there, Dr Joel says he can sure a lot of illnesses by making sure they get the full compliment of the 90 essential nutrients, so my guess on this one he does not recommend a spoonful of arsenic you can get it from food that picks it up from soil as it is growing as they say “just because half a dozen is good for you, does not mean a dozen is twice as good” lots of nutrients goes toxic when moderation is forgotten

    • oops my finger slipped, on the following
      Dr Joel says he can sure a lot of illnesses by …
      Dr Joel says he can cure a lot of illnesses by …
      (strange as it might seem)

      By the way now I read more posting White rise is more acidic so you can move closer and quicker to higher blood pressure, get cancer, (just to name 2)
      And it seems more people from Sri Lanka are more prone to diabetics when they eat to much rice (it appears to be in their Sri Lankan DNA)

  2. “No food is completely safe or without some level of contamination risk”

    There you go. So why would you avoid a food just because it has toxins in it, if EVERY food has toxins in it? You either eat food with arsenic in it, or you starve to death. That’s the reality of it. It bothers me, because I am scared of toxic chemicals. But I had to accept it and everyone else does, too.

  3. Has there been any change on the stance of brown rice? I’ve noticed babies who are allowed to begin consuming solids, brown rice prepared as a ground cereal is recommended as a starter food by many websites.

    That seems to conflict with the research and data on brown rice.

  4. I would recommend that people do more research on the subject, because what I originally learned is that the rice with high heavy metals is from China specifically. Texas and California rice seems to have the lowest amounts.

    The idea that Chinese rice is highly contaminated and absorbed by the rice plants makes a lot of sense because it’s a country that is highly industrial and arsenic is the unfortunate bi-product of making “stuff”. Here’s a good site: natrualnews.com. This website is also abundant with other useful info on this and other health issues.

  5. Thank you for sharing the info about arsenic. White rice is garbage. God makes brown rice. In reality, all real rice is “brown”, having the nutrient rich husk on it. “White” rice is a manmade product that loses most of its nutrients, and is essentially sugar. To imply in this misleading article that white rice is good and brown rice bad due to arsenic levels is dubious, and toxic. The issue is reducing arsenic. This sounds like saying drink Gatorade because tap water was found to have chlorine in it. Drink clean spring water. Eat clean brown rice.

    • My thoughts exactly! How silly to argue that brown rice is worse for you than white. White is rubbish, empty calories.
      Cheers to eating clean brown rice.

      • And just where do you find this ‘clean brown rice’ Maggie?

        Give us some brand names while you’re at it.

    • White rice is not man made,…..it is man made machine removing the outer husk…
      I for one like white rice this is good news!
      Rice is after all only a one ingredient food.

  6. We are a family of 7 and on average we eat about 25lbs of white rice every month and a half. We either get our rice from the Asian market or from Costco. Is there other brands I could look for that comes in 25lb bags, that would be safe for my family to enjoy?

    • We get Lundgren organic basmati white rice from azurestandard.com in a 25lb bag. It does come in smaller packages. We go through a lot of rice and enjoy the savings of buying in bulk. Azure delivers in many stats via truck. Hopefully there is a drop-site near you!

    • My local Costco store had 25-pound bags of Lundberg brand short grain brown rice grown in California — very good rice.

      Brown rice has a little more arsenic than white rice, but maybe that extra arsenic is embedded in the fiber that passes through the body undigested. If that’s the case, the extra arsenic might be excreted in the stool rather than absorbed into the body. Because brown rice is much more nutritious, I’m sticking with it.

      http://ataridogdaze.com/recipe/arsenic-rice.html

        • There is much info available on how to prepare brown rice so that it is not only highly digestible but retains all nutrients. (Unlike white rice.) It has to do with a method of soaking where you save the soaking water, then dilute and re use over and over to the point where the necessary enzymes are developed that will make brown rice nutritious after all.

      • Well that was a bizarre link (ataridogdaze).

        No mention of how arsenic can cause neuropathy, disrupt mitochondrial function, etc., along with unfounded warnings about sodium and heart disease…

    • Friends, white rice is poison. Food is for nutrients. White rice is real rice stripped of most of those natural nutrients.

    • Careful with rice bought from China, there are companies in china that use plastic rice, highly toxic. If there is plastic in your rice, it will be hard.

  7. Unit mentioned is wrong. It should be microgram rather than ppb. The ppb unit is concentration and does not tell you anything about the amount per day. Please correct.

    • Thank you!
      This confused me from its first mention and still isn’t answered…are the values correct and the units just need to be changed?

  8. Yes.. If you’re silly enough to eat non-organic rice.. which is all gmo. If you eat organic, short grain brown rice, it is one of the healthiest things you can do.

      • Ever hear of Golden rice? It is GMO. Ask Bill Gates who is trying to push it on Africa…

        • Golden Rice as a crop has been a total failure – You wont find much of it in Asian countries or in Africa. Crops are not big and the uptake/acceptance of golden rice is very poor… not much of an issue.

  9. I don’t eat a lot of white rice and if I do, it is usually in sushi. I do, however, feed it to my dog when she ate something that upsets her stomach and has gooey poo. Since dogs are a lot lighter than people, their “safe” limits may be considerably less than people. I read this more out of curiousity and Dr. Kresser has posted some real numbers about the concentration of arsenic. I will use those to assess the dangers that white rice poses to my dog.

  10. “Rice (Oryza sativa) is a staple crop for half of the world’s population, but it can accumulate high levels of arsenic. When consumed over time, arsenic can lead to cancer and skin lesions. But the plant has its own mechanisms for fighting arsenic accumulation, according to a paper published today (October 20) in PNAS. Researchers based in Korea and Japan have shown that a rice transporter protein called OsABCC1 prevents arsenic from damaging plant tissues by sequestering the element in vacuoles. Because of this, potentially harmful arsenic remains in these cellular waste containers rather than building up in rice grains.”

    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/41257/title/How-Rice-Overcomes-Arsenic/

  11. I avoided grains for four years and it amplified the major depressive disorder I’ve had for 30 years. I am now off antidepressants by eating whole grains at every meal. I have an autoimmune disease and I am dairy and gluten intolerant. I eat brown rice every day. I have messed up my health and had a much lower quality of life by jumping on the paleo bandwagon. Until there is conclusive evidence linking brown rice with adverse health, I will keep doing what is finally working for me.

    • 1) Paul Bragg the author of the book ‘The Miracle of Fasting’ used to put his clients on a three day then ten day fast.

      2) I started added green to my diet.

      You should watch “Green Smoothie Power with Sergei Boutenko” on YouTube https://youtu.be/cqHRxr4a2-o

      3) I’m using Pines Wheat Grass Powder. Comes in a jar. Powerful stuff.

      4) Had white rice last night. :-). Spiced it with turmeric, cayenne, and Wheatgrass powder and a cap full of flaxseed. Sounds terrible at first. Taste great. Looks like some exotic Asian dish.