For the next few weeks, I want to talk about rice, specifically arsenic in rice and how you can minimize your risk. As a cereal grain, rice is an important part of our diet. In some countries rice is the main source of calories. Rice can cook up soft and sticky, firm or delicate. There are many varieties with different qualities which make them useful for some purposes (like risotto or sushi) but not for others. (Wiki)
This photo will give you an idea of the varieties of rice available in Spain. In this one section you’ll find basmati, brown rice, bomba rice (which is preferred for paellas), long grain rice and quick cooking varieties. When I was growing up, all our rice came from Uncle Ben. I was unaware of other varieties of rice until my first visit to an Indian restaurant sometime in the 1980s.
You’ve probably already heard about elevated levels of arsenic in rice. Since it grows in water, rice more readily absorbs arsenic from the environment; this includes organically grown rice, too. According to the FDA, it’s not considered a problem in diverse diets, but many people with food allergies use rice flour and rice milk in their diet. Rice cereals and snacks are enjoyed by many people including infants and children. In addition, brown rice syrup is often used as an alternative sweetener. Should we eat rice and rice products at all? As with so many things food related; read labels, research and make the best decision for your family.
Consumer Reports recommends rinsing and cooking rice in copious amounts of water, say a 6 to 1 ratio instead of the traditional 2 to 1. You can always drain off any excess water. This is a common practice in many parts of the world. Consumer Reports also noted rice varieties grown in former cotton producing states like Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas have the highest levels; with brown rice higher than white. White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan had lower levels of arsenic. Individual brands are addressing these concerns on their websites as well. Do give them a look if you feel any alarm.
Here are some other things you can do:
- Eat rice in moderation. A serving is a quarter cup of uncooked rice. This equates to about a half cup after cooking; a little more if loaded with other ingredients. See this post for more information on serving sizes.
- Check into grainless, low carb eating styles to add even more variety to your diet.
- If you have young children, or are pregnant, find alternatives for snacks made with rice, like treats and cakes. Avoid rice milk and gluten free products containing rice if possible. Talk to your pediatrician about alternatives for rice cereal and formula.
- Read the labels and check sources, research a product on the internet whenever possible. When you eat rice as a side, consider using white basmati sourced from California or Pakistan and save other varieties for specific recipes.
- No matter which variety of rice you choose, always rinse it well and cook it in copious amounts of water unless the recipe calls for a specific cooking method.
- Learn to cook your favorite rice dishes at home where you have control over the source, cooking method and serving size. Teach your children how to prepare them, too.
The FDA is dithering still determining appropriate limits for arsenic levels in rice. Arsenic persists in the environment for decades, so even though governments around the world are banning the use of arsenic containing fertilizers, pesticides and feed additives we will still be dealing with the health risks for many years to come. In the meantime, Consumer Reports has developed a point system which recommends 3 cups of white basmati rice or 1 cup of other types per week. That’s probably more than we already consume in our household. I’m going to continue to eat rice as well as other grains like barley and quinoa. We also frequently use lentils, bean sprouts, leeks, veggie noodles and greens as rice (and pasta) substitutes. I would be more concerned if we had young children to feed or if we needed to use rice products because of food allergies.
What, if anything have you done to minimize arsenic in rice at your house? Is it a major concern for you?