Rice And Arsenic. Is It Overhyped?


In case you didn’t know, a lot of foods and drinks that we consume contain arsenic – a compound that can be potentially toxic and damaging. While this is the case, the United States government does not seem to have regulations on Arsenic levels. Why is this the case?

Well, the simple answer is that unlike other compounds such as mercury, not all arsenic compounds are equally harmful. One example that is often cited is seafood, which is known to have one of the highest concentrations of arsenic in food. However, it is delivered in the form of arsenobetaine, a compound which has no effect on humans.

Despite the dangers, or rather the lack thereof, our knowledge about arsenic in our diets is still in its early days, with scientists still actively collecting data on this. To date, the only widely consumed food that has the potential for long-term health problems resulting from increased arsenic intake is rice, as well as rice-related products.

Regardless of its origins, most rice strains contain at least four compounds with arsenic in them, and all of them are released during the cooking process. Two of them are known to be cancer-causing in high doses, while the other two has potential, according to the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer).


If we are serious about wanting to put a set of regulatory rules on arsenic, the first thing we would need to do is specify which arsenic compounds have to be regulated. In this specific example of rice and rice products, the risks to us will, unsurprisingly, be dependent upon how often and how much rice we consume.

Some researchers have said that in order to limit arsenic intake to an acceptable level, one should eat no more than 50 parts per billion of arsenic, which is equivalent to only a quarter cup of uncooked rice per day. Of course, children should consume even less because of their body weight. It must be a tough life being a researcher, especially when all this knowledge kicks in and lead to paranoia.

Unsurprisingly, reports by both Consumer Reports and the US Food and Drug Administration showed that a large number of rice and rice products tested contained high concentrations of arsenic, and in many cases it even exceeded the proposed 50 parts per billion limit. And the bad news is that brown rice contains even more arsenic than white rice.

Now, the reason why there is so much arsenic in rice is because they tend to be grown in fields that were formerly used for cotton production, at least in the United States. Cotton production involved arsenic compounds which were used to kill weevils as well as dessicate them prior to harvesting. To make matters worse, rice is shown to absorb arsenic more than other crops such as wheat and barley.

Despite all of these, and the heavy lobbying by certain groups to regulate arsenic, I still feel that all of this is just hype. There is no evidence either way to support the claims of such groups. However, if you have a balanced diet after learning principles from the Strategic Nutrition Guide, you will probably not overdose on rice anyway.


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