When it comes to food controversy, we love to eat it up—even if we don't know the full story. Proof of our hunger to quickly blame the hidden dangers on our dinner plate lies in recent international headline news: A fledging study revealed that Americans may be consuming more lead in rice than safely permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Researchers from New Jersey's Monmouth University shared their alarming findings at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, where they suggested that imported rice from some countries in Asia and Europe—which makes up about 7 percent of the U.S. market—may contain more than 12 times the amount of allowed lead levels, possibly due to untreated waste water used in irrigation. This is the first study of its kind to speculate that the metal found in the fluffy white stuff that makes sushi so good may lead to chronic conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis, nerve damage, and developmental and brain problems in children.
Sounds scary, especially if you follow a Latin or Asian diet in which rice is the backbone of most meals. But before you take the bait and toss out your favorite grains, check this out: Attempts to replicate these study results have found levels far below those initially reported.
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“When this study first came out, world-wide media jumped on it and said, 'Rice will kill you, don't eat rice,'” says Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., a research associate at New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center. “But when multiple subsequent studies quickly discovered that the vast majority of lead levels were well within acceptable limits, it seemed the initial study authors made a huge embarrassing mistake."
The real concern is arsenic in processed rice, Ochner says. While he isn't one to be an alarmist, he is genuinely concerned about our exposure to large amounts of this toxin, which is a carcinogen. He's not the only one warning his patients: Consumer Reports reported eating rice once a day can shoot arsenic levels up to 44 percent in humans.
Unfortunately this isn't one of those things you can boil or strain out of your food. What's worse is that the almighty brown rice may actually carry more of this poison than the white stuff. Your move: Try to limit your rice intake to once a week (that's Ochner's personal plan) and when possible aim to purchase rice grown in California, which is believed to contain less arsenic.