Rice is an increasingly popular meal choice and for those avoiding dairy or gluten, rice provides a viable alternative, especially as it is a much lower allergenic choice than soy and nut dairy alternatives. However individuals consuming rice and rice based products need to be mindful of how much they consume and this is due to the levels of arsenic found in rice.
Rice contains much higher levels of arsenic than other grains and this is because it is grown in water. All grains contain some arsenic, which they absorb through the soil but because arsenic is water soluble and rice grows in water, it soaks up a much higher level of arsenic. Whilst arsenic is a mineral naturally found in soil, the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has given rise to much higher levels.
Whilst the various food regulatory bodies around the world, like the FSA in the UK and FDA in the USA, have set limits for the amount of arsenic which should be found in foods, it is the quantity of rice or rice based products being consumed by some individuals that could lead to potential health issues.
Additional sources of rice, especially for those following a dairy and wheat free diet, include:
- Rice milk
- Cereal bars including rice or brown rice syrup
- Brown rice syrup as an ingredient
- Pasta made from rice flour
- Bread made with rice
- Rice based cereals
- Rice cakes or crackers containing rice
- Brown rice in comparison to processed rice
Consuming too much arsenic could lead to various health problems such as headaches, stomach aches and confusion and drowsiness or more severely, neurological problems, dementia, diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
These risks are exacerbated in young children and infants and as a result the FSA do not recommend giving rice milk to children under 4 years old and pregnant women must be careful of arsenic transferring to their unborn child.
Fortunately we can go someway to reducing the level of arsenic by following these steps
- Using non rice products as an alternative
- Checking the ingredients on pre packaged foods
- Select rice grown outside of America,
- Soaking the rice overnight
- Rinse the rice prior to cooking, until the water runs clear
- Cook rice in plenty of water, up to 6 times more water than rice
- Re rinse the rice once cooked in hot water