Arsenic Levels Rising in Rice

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Content below By Atli Arnarson, PhD | 30,337 views on
Arsenic is one of the world’s most toxic elements.
Throughout history, it has been infiltrating the food chain and finding its way into our foods.
However, this problem is now getting worse.
Widespread pollution is raising the levels of arsenic in foods, posing a serious health risk.
Recently, studies have detected high levels of arsenic in rice.
This is a major concern, since rice is a staple food for a large part of the world’s population.
Should you be worried? Let’s have a look.

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is a toxic trace element, denoted by the symbol As.
It is not usually found on its own. Rather, it is bound with other elements in chemical compounds.
These compounds can be divided into two broad categories (1):

  1. Organic arsenic: mainly found in plant and animal tissues.
  2. Inorganic arsenic: found in rocks and soil or dissolved in water. This is the more toxic form.

Both forms are naturally present in the environment, but their levels have been increasing due to pollution.
For a number of reasons, rice may accumulate a significant amount of inorganic arsenic (the more toxic form) from the environment.

Bottom Line: Rice efficiently absorbs arsenic from irrigation water, soil and even cooking water. Some of that arsenic is of natural origin, but pollution is often responsible for higher levels.

Is Arsenic in Rice a Concern?

Yes. There is no doubt about it, arsenic in rice is a problem.
This may pose a health risk to those who eat rice every day in considerable amounts.
This mainly applies to people in Asia or people with Asian-based diets.
Other groups who may eat a lot of rice products include young children and those on a milk-free or gluten-free diet. Rice-based infant formulas, rice crackers, pudding and rice milk sometimes make up a large portion of these diets.
Young children are especially vulnerable because of their small body size. Therefore, feeding them rice cereals every day may not be such a good idea (14, 15).
Of additional concern is brown rice syrup, a rice-derived sweetener that may be high in arsenic. It is often used in baby formulas (16, 44).
Of course, not all rice contains high arsenic levels, but determining the arsenic content of a particular rice product may be difficult (or impossible) without actually measuring it in a lab.

Bottom Line: Arsenic contamination is a serious concern for the millions of people who rely on rice as their staple food. Young children are also at risk if rice-based products make up a large part of their diet.

Take Home Message

Arsenic in rice is a serious concern for many people.
A huge percentage of the world’s population relies on rice as a main food source, and millions of people may be at risk of developing arsenic-related health problems.
That being said, if you eat rice in moderation as a part of a varied diet, you should be totally fine.
However, if rice happens to be a large part of your diet, make sure that it was grown in a non-polluted area.
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