Do you eat brown rice? Or white rice? Or really any type of food product with rice in the ingredients (cereal, baby food, etc.)?
If so, and you haven’t been living under a rock, you may have noticed the big fuss taking place recently thanks to a report from Consumer Reports showing that all rice products contain “substantial” and “worrisome” levels of arsenic.
Yes, the same toxic arsenic considered to be a group 1 carcinogen and capable of causing various health issues (e.g. cancer).
Holy Crap, Is This For Real?
Yup. We’ve actually known long before this report came out that all forms of rice contain higher amounts of arsenic than other foods. That’s right, MANY other common foods (fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.) also contain some amount of arsenic, as does water. It’s just that rice contains a whole lot more of it.
What this report did is basically confirm this and, through pretty comprehensive testing, give us more details and specifics than we’ve ever had before.
Not to be left out, the FDA then did their own batch of testing using 200 different rice products, and their results were “consistent” with what Consumer Reports found. So long story short, these high levels of arsenic appear to be fully confirmed and legit.
So What Now?
Well, that depends who you listen to. If you’ve been watching the various news reports and daytime talk shows, you’ve probably seen all sorts of “experts” come on and tell you to start greatly limiting your rice intake or possibly just eliminate it from your diet completely.
They’re likely even more adamant about those recommendations when it comes to feeding rice products to your kids.
Considering how cheap and easily available rice is, how ideal it is for those with wheat and/or gluten issues, how tasty it is, and how it’s a staple in most of the population’s diet… this is easier said than done.
If you listen to the FDA however, they actually say not to worry too much about any of this… or at least don’t worry enough to start eating any differently. Here’s a direct quote:
Based on the available data and scientific literature the FDA is not recommending changes by consumers regarding their consumption of rice and rice products. Our advice for consumers is to eat a balanced diet including a wide variety of grains, not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.
It’s probably also worth mentioning that the FDA’s track record with diet and nutrition recommendations over the years sometimes ranges from “seriously dude?” to “total horseshit,” so they may not be the best source to listen to.
Then again, the same could often be said for those aforementioned “experts” on your daytime talk shows.
As for the rice industry, it fully agrees with what the FDA says. Surprising, right? After all, their business (and really, their lives) are built around the fact that people are buying and eating rice. It would be pretty strange if they came out and suggested we cut down on the amount of rice we consume.
I’m not saying they’re being evil and trying to kill you… I’m just pointing out the obvious.
So I guess the real question is, who are you supposed to listen to and trust? Just what the hell are you supposed to do here?
My Advice About Rice
My suggestion is to review all of the information out there for yourself and then make your own informed decisions rather than just blindly listening to any one source. That’s actually what I’d recommend when it comes to any aspect of your diet (or workout).
Of course, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’d probably still like to hear my take on it anyway. Fair enough. Here goes…
The long term health effects of consuming the specific amount and form of arsenic found in rice isn’t something we know all that much about. That makes knowing anything “for sure” virtually impossible at this point. However, I’m the kind of person who’d rather be safe than sorry. This is especially true when it comes to food and supplements. I guess I’m just a little cautious about what I’m putting into my body.
And in my opinion, if you are eating significant amounts of rice on a fairly regular basis, I’d recommend changing that in some way.
What way exactly? Well…
How To Reduce The Amount Of Arsenic In Your Rice
- Choose White Rice Instead Of Brown
While all types of rice were tested and shown to contain high amounts of arsenic, one clear observation can be made: brown rice contains much more arsenic than white. Literally all of the products that came back with the highest levels were brown rice products. And every time they tested a brown and white rice from the same brand, the brown version always had a lot more than the white. Why is this? Well, you know that outer layer brown rice has that contains all of that extra nutritional value that supposedly makes it better than white rice (which is a fun topic I cover here: Brown Rice vs White Rice)? It turns out this outer layer also allows it to retain more arsenic. In this regard, white rice seems to be a much better choice.
- Choose Rice Grown In California, India and Thailand
Studies consistently show that rice grown in certain parts of the world are higher in arsenic than others. The main reason for this appears to be the fact that pesticides containing arsenic were commonly used in cotton fields back in the day, and that very same arsenic is still in the soil of those same fields. And, wouldn’t ya know, it turns out that’s where much of our rice is now grown. For this reason, it would be a good idea to avoid rice grown in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Missouri. Instead, look for rice from California, India and Thailand.
- Rinse Rice Thoroughly Before Cooking and Cook It With More Water
Studies show that rinsing your rice well before you cook it and using more water during cooking can reduce arsenic levels by 30%. Specifically, use 6 cups of water for every 1 cup of rice and then dump the leftover water afterwards like you would when cooking pasta.
- Eat Less Of It/Eat It Less Often
Now for the most obvious “tip” so far. Again, we just don’t know enough to say with 100% certainty that eating X amount of X type of rice X times per week is or isn’t safe. The only real assumption we can make in an attempt to consume less arsenic is that eating less rice less often can only help. I wish I could get more specific than that, but I can’t. Consumer Reports tries (e.g. a maximum of 2 servings of rice per week for adults), but this isn’t anything more than a guess right now.
- Stop Eating Rice Altogether
And finally, if you are concerned about the arsenic in rice AND incorporating all of the above tips still doesn’t feel like enough for you, then the final option is to just stop eating rice, period. Whether that’s going overboard is mostly a matter of opinion at this stage, and I honestly can’t tell you if that’s the right or wrong decision for you.
Here’s What I Plan To Do…
As for me personally, I won’t be eliminating rice from my diet. I may however limit how often I eat it and opt for more white potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams, quinoa and fresh fruit in its place.
Coincidentally, due to my never ending love for all forms of white potatoes (roasted especially), this is something that has been naturally happening in my diet for quite some time already.
As for the rice I continue to eat, I think I’ll officially stop eating brown. Yup, just like that. I’ve always eaten both white and brown rice, but at this point sticking entirely with white and/or white basmati (which is probably my favorite of them all) feels right to me.
I’ll also follow the tips outlined above. I’ll rinse it first, maybe see what happens if I cook it with extra water, and I’ll avoid rice grown in the southern states mentioned earlier in favor of California grown products.
But again, that’s just me. How about you?