Many people tossed their apple juice a few months back when the arsenic scare happened, but health nuts already knew whole apples are better anyway. Now, however, brown rice—a food we all consider healthy since it’s a whole grain—may be under the same scrutiny.
This week Consumer Reports released news that arsenic was found in brown rice, white rice, rice breakfast cereals, organic rice baby cereal, and other rice products—“many at worrisome levels”—in tests they performed.
It’s not clear how high the levels are or what is a safe level to ingest yet. In response to the report, the Food and Drug Administration is doing its own testing, and their initial results show that the levels in rice are below those deemed safe to drink in water, but the FDA has no recommendation for safe arsenic levels in food products.
The Environmental Protection Agency, however, classifies inorganic arsenic as a carcinogen, and it may also cause diabetes and heart disease. It’s even more dangerous for newborns and babies, as it can affect brain development.
What’s it doing in our rice? Organic arsenic is naturally present in soil, but studies show that a century ago, states along the Gulf used pesticides on their cotton crops that contained high levels of inorganic arsenic—the dangerous kind. Rice is now grown on those farms and absorbs what’s left in the soil.
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Doctors are warning pregnant women and new moms to stay clear of white rice. But brown rice is even worse because the hulls—which are removed to make white rice—hold concentrated arsenic, Philip Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc., Mt. Sinai School of Medicine professor and chair of preventive medicine, told CBS This Morning.
Dr. Langrican recommends substituting barley and oatmeal when possible and never giving rice products to kids under the age of five. If you eat brown rice or drink rice milk, don’t cut it out entirely, he says, but limit it until the FDA completes their research, and consider buying rice from California or Asia. (Don’t just for the organic kind because the FDA says both organic and conventional rice absorb arsenic from the soil.)