Arsenic in rice is in the news again. Alarmingly high levels of arsenic in US grown rice, particularly varieties coming out the Southern states where fields that once grew cotton with heavy pesticide use are now rice fields. You may remember the uproar made over arsenic in apple juice & rice from earlier this year, brought to our attention by the Dr. Oz Show. The differences in toxicity between inorganic and organic arsenic levels were debated by scientists and again, nothing was done. It’s the inorganic arsenic we need to worry more about leeching into our foods.
Thanks to our short attention span and the FDA’s typical lack of proactive action we fade back to living blissfully in denial about arsenic’s possible health consequences. Well, not any more. It’s now time to take a serious look at our levels of consumption as well as a closer look at arsenic containing rice varieties. Thanks to the investigators over at Consumer Reports the FDA is now being forced to step-up their own research and set some kind of safety standard.
To catch you up, if you’ve been ignoring the news, I recommend you read this article by Deborah Blum in Wired Science. You will find two important links, a PDF of the original article in Consumer Reports and a link to the FDA’s research on over 200 rice products. You might want to print off a copy of both reports as reference to those brands in your pantry right now. Consumer Reports has a very nice breakout of brands and arsenic in micrograms per serving.
Now here’s the good news. Many of you, who are familiar with the FDA’s snail’s pace on setting the Gluten-Free labeling standard, may be pleasantly surprised to know as of today, a new bill is set to be introduced in Congress: Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Set Arsenic Limits for Rice Products
In response to a recent Consumer Reports investigation on arsenic in rice, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduced legislation that would to limit the amount of arsenic permitted in rice and rice-based products.
Our Love Affair with Rice
I don’t know about your family but we tend to eat more rice than the average family because: 1) We live a gluten-free lifestyle 2) I like to cook many Mexican dishes which includes Spanish rice. 3) I tend to cook a lot of Asian dishes, and 4) We LOVE rice!
I’ve had long conversations with my clients over the years about the different varieties of rice, which rices are better for a particular recipe, why the wide range of calories between each rice varieties. So yes, I know a lot about rice. But dear readers, what I (we) don’t know is, how much rice is okay to eat when faced with other health problems such as an autoimmune disease, liver or kidney disease. How much rice is now okay for children or pregnant women? Theoretically, there is no safe level for children or pregnant women when it comes to arsenic and that leaves the question- What do we recommend?
For now, until we know more, here’s what I will be thinking about and recommending to my clients. When purchasing rice look for those varieties we know have lower levels of arsenic and avoid the rest. You’re going to have to read the label more thoroughly for country of origin and brands grown in California. You might want to take a quick look at The California Rice website, here’s the link to suppliers and brands. You may want to think about switching from your regular rice crackers to organic corn or nut crackers. Chances are we’ll see rice cracker manufactures sourcing and testing safer rice with new package claims.
Origins of rice known to contain very low levels of arsenic:
- California grown rice
- Northern Wild rice grown in Minnesota, Canada
- Rice from India test lower
- Rice from Thailand also test lower
My other recommendation, find other foods that are a good substitute in place of rice until we have a better handle on where the arsenic safety levels will be set. Note: Gluten intolerant people tend to consume much higher levels of rice as a replacement for wheat in crackers, cereal, breads, cakes, cookies, noodles, wraps, chips and just plain ol rice pilaf. Rice milk is also used as a replacement for dairy but not recommended for children.
For now I will be recommending my clients with any kind of autoimmune disease or health issue, to consume no more than a 1/2 cup serving of rice from low arsenic sources or the serving size on the nutrition facts label 4-5 times a week. This recommendation will be subject to change once we have a safety standard. You can also check the Consumer Reports recommendations as well, they are more generous with rice servings for the general public.
Good substitutes for Rice are:
- Potatoes, red, gold or russets
- Sweet potatoes or yams
- Lentils (dal)
- Beans, all varieties
- Buckwheat, noodles, cereals, flour
- Organic Corn & grits (avoid GMO corn, just buy organic)
- Organic corn flours, chips
- Amaranth (cereal, flour)
- Quinoa (cereal, flour, whole seed)
- Cassava root (tapioca)
- Sorghum (flour)
- Teff (flours) tortillas
- Almond (flours) crackers
- Other exotic tubers:
- And always in style- leafy greens and vegetables.
Did I miss something? If you have other ideas please feel free to share. I will be adding more side dishes too for suggestions.