Arsenic Content in Rice and How to Reduce It
Breaking News: I first heard about the higher-than-normal arsenic levels in brown rice shortly after Dr. Oz aired an episode discussing this issue alongside his call for changes in apple juice production (also an arsenic issue). I heard this from my mother because I don’t particularly care for Dr. Oz or his snake oil salesman tactics that had several experts moving for his dismissal as a faculty member at Columbia University. Over the years I’ve done quite a bit of research on weight loss and supplements (including protein powder) and wasn’t the least bit surprised that there are traces of all sorts of elements in our foods, having first learned of this when researching protein powders: Long story short, there are traces of all sorts of elements in our food and water that the average person wouldn’t expect, like uranium. Of course, this doesn’t mean we ought to be loading up on arsenic, an extremely toxic substance that Queen’s University researchers are trying to address, specifically regarding how to prepare the most popular grain on Earth, rice, and ideally lessening the arsenic load by 85%.
Their idea is fairly simple, “instead of boiling rice in a pan, people are being told to prepare it in a percolator.” Furthermore:
…doing so can reduce harmful amounts of arsenic which can cause bladder and lung cancer as well as damage to the nervous system. This is particularly an issue with babies and small children, whose exposure is greater. “Rice is by far our dominant source of inorganic arsenic,” says Andy Meharg, professor of plant and soil sciences at Queen’s. Half of Europeans’ exposure to it comes from rice and the figures are even higher in countries like Bangladesh and China, according to a 2009 report.
Note that the percolator would need to be a drip brewer, which would slowly cook the rice and separate the arsenic-laden water from the rice, resulting in, again, approximately 85% less arsenic. “The researches found it took 20 minutes to prepare white rice in this way and 40 minutes for brown rice.” To assist with this separation Queen’s “is developing a rice cooker based on percolation. It could safely re-circulate the water by evaporation…”
Before you quit eating rice entirely, these finding aren’t without controversy, nor are they the first batch of tests run with this issue in mind and most of the findings have concluded that regular consumption of rice doesn’t explicitly indicate long-term health effects (that said, eating rice two or three times a day may be an entirely different story), and that the arsenic levels vary by region. The FDA actually has a page dedicated to arsenic in rice, and have stated the following:
FDA’s analysis of its approximately 1,300 samples found average levels of inorganic arsenic for the various rice and rice products of 0.1 to 7.2 micrograms of inorganic arsenic per serving. Serving sizes varied depending on the rice product. For example, one serving of non-Basmati rice is equal to one cup cooked, whereas one serving of a rice-based snack bar may contain only ¼ cup of rice…the approximately 1,300 analytical results do not tell us what long-term health effect, if any, these levels may have, nor do they tell us what can be done to reduce these levels. The data collection and analysis is the first step in a major effort to understand the overall safety of consumption of rice and rice products in the United States.
One must understand that this is an enormous staple of the average human diet throughout the world and is big business. It’s highly unlikely it would be shut down in the event of long-term, difficult-to-observe, side effects, though government guidelines on both production and preparation may openly change as more data becomes available. No, I’m not taking out my tinfoil hat quite yet, mostly because most of my friends in sports (specifically combat sports and bodybuilding) have been eating large quantities of brown rice for most of their lives and aren’t sick/getting sick/they’re pretty healthy overall. I understand this isn’t hard evidence, I’m simply noting that, much like the state of the egg and chocolate as friend/foes of the human body, the world of nutrition is laden with hyperbole and further investigation is certainly welcome prior to taking up advice based on inconclusive results.
Let’s wrap up with the final quote from the FDA’s article:
The FDA recommends that consumers eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of grains for good nutrition and to minimize potential adverse consequences from consuming an excess of any one particular food. Published studies and ongoing FDA research indicate that cooking rice in excess volumes of water, five to six times that of the rice, and draining the excess water, can reduce up to roughly half of the arsenic content. The FDA recognizes that consumers do not typically prepare rice in this manner, similar to preparing pasta, and some may not wish to do so. Further, such preparation may well lower the nutritional value of the rice (i.e., the folic acid content of fortified rice and some B vitamins). The agency is not aware of any studies that have determined the net benefit of reducing the arsenic at the expense of the nutrients also removed.
Original article & image source: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33638321