Rice Risks

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Brown rice is healthier than white rice, right? It contains 67% more vitamin B3,80% more vitamin B1, and 90% more vitamin B6 and 60% more iron before it is milled and polished into white rice. It’s clearly a superior food.

Until now.

In 2012, Consumer Reports tested 60 different types of rice, and found traces of arsenic in all of them. Recently, the publication tested 128 additional samples of rice and rice related products, as well as 114 grains, and found that brown rice contains about 80% more inorganic arsenic than it’s white counterpart.

The tests were run in conjunction with the Food Safety and Sustainability Center and were supplemented by FDA data.

Arsenic is introduced into the soil through the use of pesticides and fertilizers, as well as from natural sources such in the Earth’s crust . The chemical seeps into the outer layers of the grains. Since brown rice retains it’s outer layers, which are stripped away during the refining of white rice, it tends to have a much higher level of arsenic. Surprisingly, organic rices were found to have a similar amount of arsenic as conventional varieties. Brown basmati rice was found to have 1/3 less arsenic than other types.

Good news for the health conscious, especially vegetarians and vegans who count on brown rice as a meal staple: There are many other nutritious grains that are safer.

Amaranth, millet, cornmeal ( grits or polenta ) and buckwheat were found to be almost completely free of arsenic. Trace amounts were found in barley, bulgur and faro.

Some experts advise limiting brown rice consumption to 2 servings (1/4 cup uncooked) per month to avoid toxic levels. The FDA suggests cooking rice in 5 times more water than customary ( the way we cook pasta) which will eliminate some of the arsenic in the cooking process.

We need the FDA to step up and ban farming techniques that expose deadly additives to our healthy foods. In the meantime, it is best to explore other grains and keep rice consumption to a minimum.

photo: glasshouse images

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