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

Arsenic in Rice: How Concerned Should You Be?

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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.

309 Comments

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  1. My ex-wife started eating brown rice five years ago.

    Since that time she has grown a second head which, in direct contrast to her original, is quite well spoken and patient.

    Was it the brown rice? Hard to say.

    But I am proud to report that I will be marrying the 2nd head as soon as I can figure out what to do with my ex-wife’s first head.

    ‘buff said..

  2. I wonder what the arsenic levels are of soaked/sprouted organic brown rice? or does it not make a difference

  3. they say that it is ok to eat rice with arsenic in it because its such a small amount but other foods also have arsenic in them too like apple juice so if your getting a small does in your rice and your juice and other foods you eat dont that build up in your system? seems like after awhile that little turns into a lot.

  4. I will continue to eat rice, especially brown rice, which is healthier than white rice due to its richer fiber and vitamin content. Although arsenic is present in rice, the amount is too small to have any practical effect. The lifetime risk of developing cancer from daily consumption of rice is on the order of 1 in 50,000. Compare that to your overall lifetime risk of developing cancer, about 1 in 3. See http://ataridogdaze.com/recipe/arsenic-rice.html

  5. You are misrepresenting the rice arsenic issue. The reason Americans are eating brown rice with elevated arsenic levels is because the tested varieties came from the cesspool of the Mississippi River delta basin. When equal style brown rice was tested from rice fields in California which are not attached to a filthy river, the elevated levels of arsenic disappeared completely. Pretty straight forward reasoning there. But then it has to make you wonder about other things from the Mississippi River region…including the Gulf of Mexico fisheries! White rice is as nutritional as corn. If I don’t eat brown rice, I eat no rice. White rice is not exactly tasty unless drenched in something else to make it palatable. That is not true of brown rice. But it has nevertheless been eliminated as part of my grain free regiment…

    • The problem isn’t just with Mississippi River pollution, but with rice fields that were formerly used for cotton production. Arsenic was used on cotton as a pesticide. The arsenic remained in the soil and the rice plants are taking it up. That’s why Texas rice tends to be more contaminated. Interestingly, rice from India and Thailand tend to have lower levels of arsenic.

      Your main point that the problem is not with rice itself, but with pollution, is an important one to make.

  6. I am 70, When I was 60 I started changing how I eat and drink,kept learning about more and more stuff that is made bad and we are not told. To make a long story short, I also had the privilege to read Kevin Trudeau’s book about ””Natural Cures””’ They don’t want you to know’. Where is he now?Serving time”””””””and WHY, He tried to tell people what he learned. About the rice,probably true and I will research it but I will eat it, sparingly.

    • Articles like these do more harm than good. White and brown rice are wonderful alternatives to those faced with celiac / gluten intolerance.

      Now how many thousands do not eat rice now because of this FALSE information?

    • Trudeau is in jail because he is a pathological liar and a thief. He actually would make a great politician or banker….

  7. Brown rice passes through your system. That’s the whole idea of consuming this high-fiber food. How much arsenic is absorbed while the rice is passing through the digestive tract. More study is necessary before condemning brown rice. Much like when butter was damned over margarine, perhaps brown rice is actually safer than any white rice.

    • I am concerned that with a very large money that is involved will the truth ever be known. How long is congress going to turn a blind eye to our food and water standards. We need tighter controls for all.

  8. I’m not one to jump on any bandwagon. I have to research multiple sources and will sometimes wait years before adopting health and/or nutrition advice. I’ll have to look into the safety-by-region aspect, but everything else in this article is supported by the more recent research.

  9. Hate to tell you all but this guy Chris Kresser is a total joke. Brown rice is fine, White rice is bad.
    Do not listen to a word this guy says.
    Chris probably also thinks an alkaline body is bad when it is good.
    Guys like this should not be posting on the internet.

    • I tend to agree, though I now need to do more research on this. Heavy sigh. But when people start saying that things that humans have eaten for thousands of years as staples of the diet–like rice and bread–are categorically bad, I am very skeptical. GMO anything is bad. White bread and white rice have had all the nutrition stripped out of them, has been my understanding. Whole organic wheat and rice and products of same–there’s going to have to be a lot of convincing info before I buy that they are bad. And this article didn’t say–what is supposed to be the source of the arsenic in rice–is it some new pesticide or GMO thing or is it supposedly inherent to the grain? It’s all so exhausting, some new thing every other day that you have to go research and try to figure out. 🙁

      • It is the water that the rice is grown in that’s the problem. Rice grown overseas or in the south in the US has the highest concentrate of arsenic because the water has so much arsenic there.

      • The whole thing has become popular recently because of the internet. It is true that that inorganic arsenic is a poison. It also true that it is a trace mineral in its organic form.

        “Like lead, mercury and other metals, arsenic is toxic when it comes from an inorganic source. However, from an organic source it is an essential micro-mineral needed by the body in minute quantities (The Nutrition Bible, Joan Anderson and Barbara Deskins, 1995). In a recent study where organic arsenic was given to 12 patients with leukemia, 11 went into remission. The treatment apparently stops cancer cells from reproducing and then they self-destruct (New England Journal of Medicine, November 1998).” http://www.supremefulvic.com/documents/html/organic-inorganic.html

        • “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/

          • I am not surprised to read this. If rice was so full of arsenic, how have the people of the far east managed to stay alive for millenia? To them, rice is almost like a holy food; they cannot imagine a diet without it.

      • Rice itself doesn’t contain arsenic. Its absorbed through the soil. Which means that vegetables and other grains are also absorbing arsenic. Potatoes also contains arsenic. It also depends on other factors such as place and type of soil.
        I also wonder about another factor.
        Talking about rice, It says here that its uncooked. Usually rice should be washed and then cooked. Some arsenic is most likely washed away and diluted during the cooking process.

    • I am a diabetic and have been for 15 yrs. My Dr. Who specializes in diabetes,said never eat anything white ,so I only eat brown rice,and my blood sugars and A1C levels are always normal sugars 75 to 140 A1C is.6.5 no white bread or white potatoes.

  10. well this is just a huge bummer. I feed my kids brown rice pasta (organic ground turkey spaghetti) pretty often. I am hoping that by boiling the noodles, this helps? or should i cut this out of their diets?

    • It should be very helpful to boil the product as arsenic is a heavy metal and will sink to the bottom. Just make sure to rinse it well before serving.

  11. When it comes to food the truth of the matter is that all we consume, one way of another, is not 100% safe. All we can do is to educate ourselves to minimize our risk and that of our families. Unfortunately there is no guarantees in life with anything and food it is no exception, but you can’t stop eating out of fear.

    • Just wonder about rice grown in California….hmmmm, sounds like marketing going on here. Could this be another scare tactic to further decimate third economies, many of whom grow and export rice. After all, they did it to coconuts and bananas from the Caribbean back in the 70’s when their science told us that coconut oil should, under no circumstances should be consumed. It is now found that coconut oil is among the healthiest on the planet. They also relegated breast milk from mothers to the side lines as hey successfully promoted formula feeds for baby around the same time.

      Rices have been consumed by for thousands of years without any adverse effects evident and here comes our clever scientist from the west trying to undo nature.

      I don’t believe this report. Something, as always is up.

      • It has made me nuts after seeing 2 Naturopaths that have said no rice, no nuts, ai should eat meat and more. If I follow what they say there is little to eat (not ready to eat red meat or chicken. Some fish is ok. So much misinformation hard to know what to believe.

        • Agree, it is enough to drive one insane. Gonna have to do a lot more research before I buy into this one. And I really don’t buy into the whole paleo thing. And NUTS? Hadn’t heard that one, why are they supposed to be bad? Everything I’ve read says that they are a good source of very healthy fats and part of a healthy diet, eaten in moderation. I’m leary of any system/ diet that eliminates entire categories of food–unless that category is GMO or pesticide poisoned food. But grains in general? Honestly, I think that’s BS.

      • Great question about CA rice, but if what I have read is true any brown rice is hard to digest. I have only been eating it for 43 years.

      • I agree with you totally. It sounds made up and not enough information. Another way to scare and control the masses.

      • He is actually correct on higher Arsenic in brown rice research it yourself. Southwest where cotton was once grown on the land has the highest % Arsenic rice.

  12. I am Gluton intolerant and have been eating a dessert spoon of Rice Bran every morning for the past 5 years, I am very worried now as the Rice Bran has been withdrawn from the shelves and is no longer available, so have I damaged myself by eating something that is dangerous when I thought it was a health food. I have emailed the company to find out what is going on, as I think we as consumers have a right to know.

  13. Chris – I would like to know why Consumer Reports is just NOW telling us this?? Rice has been around forever and they NEVER tested it till now?? Surely they have tested it before, or was it fine all these years and for some reason this year it has arsenic in it?? This is serious as I have an autistic 5 year old grandson that gluten affects and he has been eating rice products for a couple of years now.

  14. I can’t help to be aware of: Chinese,Philipino,Laotians,Asians of many nations ,Spanish,Indian (India),Latin-Americans ALL have eaten rice at least once daily!-often twice per day,and a good serving at that! I just don’t know what to say when I consider this-could it be that other components of rice in interaction with the human system alter it’s danger or toxicity?-otherwise,this makes NO SENSE. …?

    • The e-mail on the above “reply ” by”Frankt…etc” is not correct-..Ill give you the correct one if you ask-I made a TYPO ERROR! .sorry about that wrong e-mail address.

    • My understanding is that the Asian physiology is slightly different (or was), from those in the west, and is better able to cope with rice. I can’t remember the details.

    • they all primarily eat white (jasmine, basmati, long grain) and black rice, which all have lower levels of arsenic (as this article states)…it’s the BROWN rice that is the worry

  15. I would like to know if I should be concerned about (Quaker) warm and crunchy Granola. I have it twice a week with a quarter cup of milk heated up for 25 seconds?

  16. I have recently been diagnosed with pre-diabetes so I took a friends advise who successfully treated hers with whole grains, nuts, veggies, etc. instead of white carbs. I bought a lot of breads and crackers at the Health Food store – pretty expensive. After reading all these comments I looked at the ingredients in all of the different crackers and found that they all contained brown rice flour and brown rice syrup – I have been eating these several times a day with my between-meal snacks. Now I am getting a little worried. Any alternatives anyone could suggest? THANKS!

    • the rice grown in china is regulated. The rice from china is the safest to eat. india is safer than some but china the best. the arsenic comes from the water use to grow it. Rice grows in water. White rice is much lower because the asrsenic concentrates in the bran.

      • Oh really? China has one if the highest soil,water and air pollution and vastly all over,farmlands have been polluted in many ways and rice over there is pretty highly contaminated by any standard. Not talking just arsenic here,but,lead,mercury and cadmium rice as fondly it is called in the market. Indian basmati rice and others actually have been tested and has the lowest amount of inorganic arsenic in it so far and it stands in the same category with Californian grown basmati rice. There are many articles from credible research and sources putting out the fact hands down about polluted toxic metals and poisons in Chiba grown rice online. Read this one…
        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2817542/More-half-rice-products-exceed-new-EU-limits-ARSENIC.html.
        Get educated first and then spread awareness,otherwise you will be doing more harm than good…!!!

      • Arsenic in rice is drawn from the soil in which it is grown. Fields which have been used to cotton in the past are typically high in arsenic soil content – so southern US states (except maybe California) grow rice high in arsenic

      • do you really believe the ground water in china is clean enough to produce arsenic free rice considering the industrial revolution that has occurred there? Add to that factories that dump waste into the rivers due to a lack of enforcement. i would not trust any agricultural product from china to be free of harmful chemicals and heavy metals.

      • Jeany,

        Sorry to say, your facts are wrong. Arsenic is taken up from the soil. Also, China has some of the most worrisome air, soil, and water contamination issues in the world!

        • there is no such thing as any safe food from china. the soil, water and air is contaminated . there is no such thing as organic there either. 100% impossible. the country puts lead paint on children’s toys. they are now making rice out of edible , toxic plastic. the garlic is completely toxic. i feel very terrible for the people. their gov’t is corrupt . also because north america sends everything over there to be built to keep the pollution over there and as far away from here as possible. they are now buying air from calgary canada. it is devastating. also read the fine print. it is disgusting.

    • You have to consider where the rice was grown. As the news article says, California rice has less arsenic than that grown in Texas, La. Maybe rice from Asian countries do not have the arsenic levels.

  17. I would buy rice then from other countries. Because when I lived in Japan they ate tons of rice and they have low cancer patients. The rice from California is one I will look for in the stores from now on. I love rice and I would think a steamer would be a great idea for those that like white rice as I do.

    • gotta think, just goes to show, “yeah arsenic in rice is something to be aware of” but the “american diet” deserves way more scrutiny. maybe that can answer why cancer rates are way higher in america. my opinion its the way of life, combined with type of food, excess process and fast food ect…
      not to mention products with ingredients strait from a chem lab
      there are a lot more pressing matters. ill end here, im kind of a health nut didn’t mean to rant. (the key is moderation i guess) too much of any thing is bad

      • I hope people realize that we have more to be concerned about as Americans with our epidemic of obesity and diabetes. I’m adamantly convinced as a Chef and arm-chair nutritionist, that growth hormones, pesticides, insecticides, artificial additives, and toxic chemicals are far more ominous and nefarious trace amounts of arsenic in rice. The media propagates the negative; school shootings, race baiting, Dr.Oz quackery which one day is policy and the next day is violation. Eat healthy just vary your diet between tuna “worries” and
        rice hysteria !!!