Is the recent arsenic scare justified?

Most parents were startled by the headlines warning about arsenic-laced rice. The grain has long been a first solid food for babies and it’s a nourishing staple in many households. And rice-in the form of pasta, bread, cereals and pizza crust-is increasingly used by those eating a gluten-free diet.

What did the headlines not reveal? While rice contributes 17 percent of dietary exposure to inorganic arsenic, fruits and fruit juices contribute 18 percent, with vegetables at 24 percent.

Consumer Reports, which released the results of independent lab tests showing inorganic and organic arsenic in a variety of rice products, wants the Food and Drug Administration to set limits for arsenic in most foods. Currently, there isn’t one.

The standard for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 23 ppb in fruit juice. According to the USA Rice Federation, one ppb is equal to a single drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Should you be concerned?

The fact that rice contains arsenic is old news. In the opinion of many health professionals, Consumer Reports did a disservice by publishing analytical data showing that rice contains arsenic without answering the question of what is known about the effects of very low doses.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says additional research is needed before it makes recommendation on the possible risks. It says “offering children a variety of foods, including products made from oats and wheat, will decrease children’s exposure to arsenic derived from rice.”

Cooking tips

  • Rinse your rice. The FDA cites several studies that show thoroughly rinsing rice until the water is clear (four to six changes of water) reduces arsenic content by about 25-30 percent.
  • Cook and drain like pasta. Use about six parts water to one part rice, cook the rice, then drain off the water. Studies suggest cooking in excess water can reduce total arsenic levels by 50 to 60 percent.

What is arsenic?

Arsenic is a chemical element found in water, food, air
and soil. It can be either organic or inorganic. If plants are
grown in areas with arsenic in the soil or water, some of that
arsenic can find its way into those plants.

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