Now that millions of Americans are avoiding gluten in wheat products, they’re increasingly turning to rice products, which are free of the protein that causes digestive stress in some people.
What they may not know is that rice contains shocking amounts of one of the world’s most insidious toxins: arsenic.
Arsenic is found naturally in soil and water. Most food crops don’t readily absorb much of it. But rice is an exception. It has a natural tendency to take in and concentrate environmental arsenic.
Arsenic is a lethal poison, and even a miniscule amount can have dire consequences. “It is concerning for long-term health effects,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center.
“There’s strong evidence that arsenic causes lung and bladder cancer,” Dr. Crupain tells Newsmax Health. “It’s also implicated in causing other cancers such as skin cancer.”
Dr. Crupain and his colleagues did comprehensive tests of arsenic in rice and compiled previous findings. They found wide variations in arsenic content, and concluded that these differences largely depend on the type of rice and where it is grown.
Here are six things you need to know about arsenic in rice:
1. White basmati and sushi rice contain the least arsenic.
White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan — and sushi rice from any country — are the healthiest choices.
They contain only about half as much arsenic per serving as most other types of rice. If these were the only rice products consumed in a household, an adult could safely eat up to 4½ servings (¼ cup uncooked) per week while a child could safely eat up to 2¾ servings per week, according to Consumer Reports.
2. Beware of basmati rice from the U.S. that is not from California.
“When we looked at basmati rice that comes from the south central U.S., which is sometimes called Texmati rice, we didn’t see that it had the same statistically significant lower levels of inorganic arsenic,” says Dr. Crupain.
White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan contains about 50 percent less arsenic as white basmati rice from Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
Overall, any type of white rice from California contains about 38 percent less arsenic than any other white rice.
3. Brown rice contains the most arsenic.
On average, brown rice contains 80 percent more arsenic than does white rice of the same type.
That’s because arsenic accumulates in the grain’s brown outer layer, which is removed to make white rice. Because brown rice contains more nutrients than white rice, however, experts don’t recommend completely avoiding it.
Brown basmati rice from California, India, or Pakistan is your best brown rice bet.
4. Some rice products are awash in arsenic.
One serving of hot rice cereal (¼ cup uncooked) and one serving of rice pasta (2 ounces uncooked) are loaded with arsenic.
Just a single serving of either food accounts for about half of the recommended weekly maximum amount of rice for adults.
5. Other grains contain only minimal amounts of arsenic.
Compared to rice, other gluten-free grains such as amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and polenta (or grits) contain lower levels of arsenic. So do gluten-containing grains such as bulgur, barley, and farro.
6. Cook rice like pasta to reduce arsenic.
Studies suggest that you can remove 30–50 percent of the arsenic in rice by cooking it like pasta. Thoroughly rinse raw rice before cooking, boil it in a mixture of six cups of water to every one cup of rice, and then drain the excess water.
In general, brown rice holds up to this traditionally Asian cooking method better than white rice. But you still may be able to remove a significant amount of arsenic from white rice if you carefully rinse it before cooking it in the traditional American manner.
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