There’s what in my rice?! Unfortunately, you didn’t read that wrong; rice contains arsenic. Fortunately, there’s a way to fix it! Lactation Consultant & Pediatric Nutritionist, Hala Sahili, will guide you through the home-friendly method of cleaning and rinsing your rice to get rid of arsenic while safeguarding all the important nutrients. Before we get to that, let us talk about arsenic in rice, its origins, and the best ways to limit your - or your kids’ - exposure to it.
What is arsenic?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) classifies arsenic as a natural component of the earth’s crust and is widely distributed throughout the environment in the air, water, and land. It is highly toxic in its inorganic form. People are exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water, using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food, and smoking tobacco.
Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly through drinking water and food, can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. Arsenic affects almost every organ in the body and can cause skin lesions, cancer, diabetes, and lung diseases.
Where does arsenic in rice come from?
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified arsenic as a Group 1 carcinogen. Arsenic is water-soluble, so it accumulates in rice more than other cereals because rice is grown in flooded fields.
Rice is known to accumulate around ten times as much arsenic as other cereals. In rice grains, arsenic is concentrated in the outer bran layer surrounding the endosperm. This means that brown rice (unmilled or unpolished rice that retains its bran) contains more arsenic than white rice. This milling process removes arsenic from white rice but also removes 75-90% of its nutrients.
Why is organic rice more safe to eat than nonorganic rice?
There is not much difference in arsenic levels between organic rice and inorganic or conventional rice. However, the cultivation and production differ greatly between the two. Conventional rice production relies heavily upon pesticides, using over 40 different pesticides to control weeds and insects—pesticides that contain such toxic chemicals as piperonyl butoxide, malathion, and carbaryl.
Organic rice production focuses on environmentally friendly soil amendments like compost, which improve soil health and reduce nutrient run-off. Finally, among other regulations, organic growers are prohibited from using arsenic-based drugs and pesticides in production, reducing the number of ways arsenic can enter our food supply and environment.
How to reduce arsenic levels in rice?
The FDA cites several studies indicating that thoroughly rinsing the rice until the water is clear reduced the total arsenic content by up to ~25-30%. The method below of rinsing and cooking the rice in excess water will reduce total arsenic levels by 50-60% while keeping its nutritious values intact.
Experts say this cooking method is a simple way to limit exposure to arsenic, which may be especially dangerous for pregnant women, children, and anyone who eats a lot of rice.
So here’s how you do it.
Rinse the rice until the water is clear. You may need to change the water four to six times.
You can also soak the rice overnight to open up the grain’s structure, allowing for the arsenic to seep into the water. Then you rinse it several times to make sure almost all traces of arsenic are gone.
Cook 1 cup of rice in 5-6 cups of water like you do with pasta and drain the water at the end.
This technique is important because, in traditional ways of cooking rice, the arsenic escapes into the water, but when the water evaporates, the arsenic is absorbed into the grains again.
You can check the video above for more help!
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.