Watch out for the poisonous arsenic in your rice
August 14, 2017 / Posted by Dr. Virender Sodhi, MD (Ayurveda), ND
Most of us consume rice regularly in our diet. It is a major global staple food crop that is grown under flooded conditions. There is a rise in rice consumption among those who are vegetarians and vegans or are on a low-fat, gluten-free, or lactose-free diets. There is a significant concern about rice containing arsenic. Rice absorbs arsenic faster than many other plants and accumulates a high amount of arsenic of all the grain crops.
Arsenic is naturally found in air, water, soil, heavily used as a pesticide, and is potentially dangerous to human health as well as to the ecosystem. It is a carcinogen, and there is ample evidence that arsenic increases risk of bladder, prostate, skin, and lung cancers (Zavala & Duxbury, 2008). The arsenic found in five servings of rice per week poses a hundred times more risk for cancer than acceptable.
There are two kinds of arsenic: organic (carbon-based) and inorganic. The inorganic arsenic is more hazardous and causes long-term health effects. Rice contains inorganic arsenic. According to the 2016 FDA risk assessment report on arsenic in rice, here are the average concentrations of inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products: 92 parts per billion (ppb) in white rice; 154 ppb in brown rice; 104 ppb in infants’ dry white-rice cereal; 119 ppb in infants’ dry brown-rice cereal (FDA, 2016). Due to high amounts of arsenic content, do not feed children too many rice products, as it can negatively affect their immune system.
A study surveyed arsenic in various rice varieties from different parts of the world to determine the effect of arsenic exposure on rice. The American long grain rice had the greatest arsenic levels. The rice from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh had less arsenic than American rice. The experiment demonstrated that the rice plant nutrient status is impacted by arsenic exposure (Williams, et al., 2005). Let’s look at what the rice industry thinks about that.
There is no federal limit of arsenic in rice in the United States. When the news first came that the US rice had some of the highest arsenic levels in the world and all the headlines broke out, the USA Rice Federation declared, “enough nonsense about arsenic already.” The study in their opinion was not only “inaccurate in the highest degree, but also maliciously untrue.” One of the researchers responded that they are the one ignoring the arsenic problem for decades by not addressing it. The researcher argued that had the problem of planting rice and arsenic pesticide been addressed in the past, the safe soils would have been identified and low grain arsenic rice varieties developed instead of just developing the arsenic resistant varieties, so that the plants can build up excessive levels of arsenic without dying themselves.
After some tests by Consumer Reports, it was confirmed that many rice products contain arsenic at worrisome levels. Hence, many rice producers have been concerned. Some rice companies shared details of how they were taking matters into their own hands. One such company is Lundberg Family Farms in Richvale, California. Lundberg farms started testing over 200 samples of rice and shared its results with the FDA scientists. The CEO of the company, Grant Lundberg said, “We are committed to providing safe foods, to really listening to our consumers, and dealing with this problem very openly.” They carried out the testing, as committed.
It was found that compared to the average brown rice arsenic level of 154ppb, Lundberg does much better. As a matter of fact, their aromatic brown rice, especially, their brown basmati and brown jasmine rice, average less than national white rice levels of arsenic. This is also true of their red and black rice. None of those samples reach the average US brown rice levels of arsenic. Most other brands were quite comparably high, including Uncle Ben’s whole grain brown rice and Great Value Walmart brown rice. Even Whole Foods scored the worst, about a third higher than the others in exceeding the national average (Consumer Reports, 2012).
In a study, various kinds of rice grains were collected and analyzed for heavy metal analysis. 5800 samples of rice were collected from 25 countries, and the highest total arsenic average in rice samples was from the United States. The arsenic in rice samples from the USA averaged overall about double than the arsenic levels in rice from Asia. The scientists concluded that the highest arsenic levels in rice from the USA was due to the heavy use of arsenic-based pesticides (Jallad, 2015).
However, not all of the rice in US are high in arsenic. It is true that the US rice averages twice the arsenic levels in Asian rice. In another investigation, 204 commercial rice samples were tested in upstate New York. The rice imported from India or Pakistan had arsenic levels lower than 95% of the domestically grown rice. There was significantly a higher average of arsenic in rice from southern states such as Texas and Arkansas than rice from California. The rice grown in Texas suggested production in an arsenic contaminated environment. In analyzing the California rice, it was actually within the global normal range (Zavala & Duxbury, 2008). This is the data that lead some consumer reports to suggest that brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan is probably one of the safer rice choices.
What about arsenic from the pesticides in organic rice versus non-organic rice? Although commercial applications of arsenic-based pesticides were banned in the 1980s and 1990s, more than 30,000 tons of arsenic compounds were applied to over 3 million hectares of cotton fields in the southern states. This makes it clear why there are still arsenic residues in the environment even if you don’t add any new pesticides. That is why in the South they specifically select for arsenic-resistant varieties of rice plants. However, humans are not arsenic resistant (Greger, 2017). Therefore, rice grown organically often takes up arsenic too, so do not depend on organic rice to have less arsenic. Although organic rice is still a better choice, because it will have less of other toxic chemicals.
What can you do to lower the consumption of arsenic? If you want to eat rice, you can prepare your rice in a special way. You can rinse your rice, and boil your rice in a 6:1 water-to-rice ratio. Then you can drain the excess water once it is cooked, which gets rid of up to 60% of arsenic levels in rice. Avoid processed rice products such as CHEX cereals, rice cakes, Rice Krispies, and more. Buy rice from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh which are low in arsenic and Lundberg Farms brand, which are regularly tested for arsenic. You must also diversify your diet. You can consume other grains which are low in arsenic than rice: amaranth, millet, buckwheat, bulgur, barley, and quinoa. Eat rice in moderation to avoid the toxic effects of arsenic found in rice.
How to get rid of heavy metals
Heavy metals are a greater concern, and they find their way into our foods from natural sources like soil, contamination, air and water through waste water irrigation systems, solid waste disposal, mining, smelters, sludge application, vehicular exhaust, fertilizers, fungicides, and industrial wastes. A study done in 2013 showed that we are constantly being exposed to heavy metals because of the heavy use of chemicals and fertilizers.
Also, high mercury-contained fish, the lumber which is treated, and conventional meats in polluted areas, should be avoided. Stop smoking, as it is the biggest source of heavy metals, especially cadmium. Drink the water which is safe. If you eat meat, eat organic grass-fed animal protein and wild caught fish.
Recently, we had an interesting experience. We buy organic eggs. During one weekend, we traveled into country-side towards Monroe, and there were fresh eggs from the roaming hens. We picked up a couple dozen of them. When we brought them home, we realized that there was a huge difference between organic eggs from Costco and these eggs. The yolk was so yellow. I was getting some reactions from the organic eggs from Costco, whereas in the eggs from roaming hens, I found no reaction. I think there is something we are missing in the whole picture here.
How do you flush the toxins?
Drink plenty of water, which is a wonderful way of getting flushed. Eat a lot of foods which are rich in antioxidants, especially Vitamin C. For instance, eat yellow bell peppers and berries. All fruits and vegetables have a good amount of Vitamin C. They also have fiber, which helps to flush out toxins and does not allow them to bind in your intestines. Eat foods which have enough glutathione in it. Again, it comes back to the vegetables and fruits, especially asparagus, broccoli, avocadoes, squash, and spinach, which have lots of glutathione. You can also take supplements like N-acetyl cysteine (in short, NAC) and alpha-lipoic acid.
I also encourage people to take liver herbs like Ayush Herbs Livit-2 or RUVED’s Livtone. Often, there are many heavy metals in Ayurvedic products from India. I am happy to say that Ayush has the highest quality products free of heavy metals.
Selenium is really good. You can get natural selenium from Brazil nuts. If you eat five brazil nuts a day, you get enough selenium for your body. I am more of a natural guy, so I like the brazil nuts. You can also take a selenium supplement, 200mcg a day.
Eat fermented foods like sour curd, yogurt, and sour cream. These are very helpful. Also, the fats are a natural way of getting rid of the heavy metals, because our body has a lot of fat and a lot of cholesterol. Many of these toxins get stuck in that fat. Therefore, you must take a good amount of fat. I always encourage my patients to eat a variety of fat from the ghee, butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, and other oils in your diet. Consume 2 to 3 teaspoons of oil every day. This helps to flush out the toxic load.
Keep your liver healthy. Don’t drink alcohol. Do not take Tylenol and Ibuprofen, which can make your liver very toxic and expose it to the chemicals. Eat the natural plants like garlic, onion, beet root, and artichokes, which are all liver healthy foods. Take minerals like zinc, iron, calcium, and selenium, which helps to cut down the absorption of heavy metals. Follow these simple tips, and your exposure will be less to heavy metals.
- Consumer Reports. (2012, November). Results of our tests of rice and rice products. Retrieved from Consumer Reports
- FDA. (2016, March). Arsenic in Rice and Rice Products Risk Assessment Report. Retrieved from FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
- Greger, M. (2017, July 28). Which Brands & Sources of Rice Have the Least Arsenic? Retrieved from NutritionFacts.org
- Jallad, K. (2015, October). Heavy metal exposure from ingesting rice and its related potential hazardous health risks to humans. Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, 15449-15458.
- Williams, P., Price, A., Raab, A., Hossain, S., Feldmann, J., & Meharg, A. (2005, August). Variation in arsenic speciation and concentration in paddy rice related to dietary exposure. Environmental Science & Technology, 39(15), 5531-5540.
- Zavala, Y. J., & Duxbury, J. M. (2008). Arsenic in Rice: I. Estimating Normal Levels of Total Arsenic in Rice Grain. Environmental Science & Technology, 42, 3856-3860.