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Ask the Diet Doctor: Arsenic in a Gluten-Free Diet

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Q: I eat a gluten-free diet. Do I need to be concerned about arsenic toxicity?

A: The amount of arsenic in rice and rice-based gluten-free products has been getting more attention lately due to a recent study published in Food Additives & Contaminants that suggested some of these foods contain a worrisome amount of the toxic substance. But while arsenic can be introduced to our environment via fertilizers and some pesticides, it’s also a naturally occurring mineral in soil. Plants (rice in particular) take up arsenic from the soil. Because rice has an increased capacity for absorbing arsenic—and due to the fact that it’s a major component of gluten-free diet—you may be concerned about your arsenic intake if you’re gluten-free. (Want the full story about the eating gluten-free? Read up on the 6 Common Gluten-Free Myths)

But a gluten-free diet doesn’t automatically put you at higher risk for consuming too much arsenic. In fact, gluten-free alternatives to conventional baked goods shouldn’t be an issue, according to Consumer Reports. (You’d need to eat more than 10 gluten-free cookies a week to begin to put yourself at risk—and at that level of cookie consumption, arsenic isn’t going to be your only concern!) Still, depending on the types (and frequency) of gluten-free grains in your diet, arsenic can be an issue. Here are three ways to minimize your intake.

1. Choose the right rice. Not all rice contains high levels of arsenic. Basmati (specifically from India, California, or Pakistan) and Jasmine rices contain significantly less arsenic than other types of rice.

2. Consider rice alternatives. Rice isn’t your only gluten-free grain option. Buckwheat, corn (corn meal, polenta, and grits), amaranth, quinoa, and millet are all gluten-free grains that contain either very low or negligible levels of arsenic.

3. Rinse your rice. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), by thoroughly rinsing your rice before cooking you can reduce the arsenic content by 30 percent.

4. Don’t fall for organic. Choosing organic over traditional rice doesn’t impact the arsenic levels—remember, arsenic is in the soil.

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