Recently, Consumer Reports released their findings of arsenic in rice and rice-containing foods that are commonly eaten, including infant rice cereal, rice cakes, white rice, brown rice, organic rice, rice pasta, and more. When I heard about this on the news, I thought about three sectors of the population I work with who would be affected based on their dietary intake of rice: infants who eat rice cereal as a staple in their diet; kids on gluten-free diets who eat rice products as an alternative grain; and ethnic groups who traditionally eat rice daily.
What did the study find?
–Click here to see Consumer Reports‘ results table with all the foods tested, including brands, and the level of arsenic found per serving. There are two types of arsenic: inorganic arsenic which is known to cause cancer, and organic arsenic which is also considered toxic. Both types were found in all of the rice products in the study. The question is what level of arsenic in foods is safe? There are no federal standards set at this point for acceptable levels of arsenic in foods; however, there are arsenic regulations for drinking water. New Jersey has the most conservative allowed amount of arsenic in water which is 5 ppb. In the table of results, Consumer Reports used 5 ppb as a standard of comparison, and found that many rice foods had levels >5 ppb of inorganic arsenic per serving and many foods having total arsenic levels in the hundreds ppb. Brown rice was found to have more arsenic than white rice, which is because white rice has had the outer layers stripped in processing, thus stripping some of the absorbed arsenic.
What does this mean for your family?
It is important to consider how much rice you or your child is eating. If it’s daily, you should consider decreasing that intake to weekly instead, until the FDA responds with regulations for arsenic in foods. In the case of infant rice cereal, switch to baby oatmeal cereal or make your own infant cereal by grinding whole, dry quinoa, millet or amaranth in a coffee grinder, then cook with water per the directions. Once cooled, stir in breastmilk or formula to desired consistency. Talk to your pediatrician or registered dietitian about more sources of iron in your child’s diet if taking out iron-fortified rice cereal is a concern. On another note, although brown rice was found to have higher arsenic levels than white rice, brown rice is better nutritionally than white rice because it has more fiber, naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, and small amounts of healthy fats.
How does this affect children?
As I mentioned, inorganic arsenic is a known carcinogen. Children and especially infants have immature organs and detoxification processes compared to adults, so exposure to toxins like arsenic can be more harmful for the very young. At any age, eating a variety of grains is healthy and based on the study results, decreasing rice intake and replacing with other grains would be advisable.
Here is a list of different types of grains that could substitute for rice:
- corn or grits
This study demonstrates the need for regulations on allowable levels of these kinds of toxins in our food supply. This would need to include regulations on arsenic and other potentially harmful toxins in pesticides, fertilizers, as well as drugs and feed given to animals. To find out more about what is being done and how you can get involved, go to ConsumersUnion.org/arsenic. We all need to have a better awareness of what is in the foods we eat and feed to our kids, even beyond the major nutrients and ingredients. For nutrition counseling to evaluate and improve your family’s diet, contact North Shore Pediatric Therapy for an appointment with one of our registered dietitians.