Every so often, we hear about hidden health hazards in various foods. There could be listeria bacteria in hot dogs, E.Coli in bagged spinach and we know that there’s mercury in canned tuna. Now it has come to our attention that there may be high levels of arsenic in something that many of us feed our families several times per week: Rice. Arsenic is a naturally-occurring toxin that can cause various forms of cancer at high levels of exposure. The toxin can contaminate water or soil, and rice seems particularly susceptible to absorbing it. (Other types of fruits and veggies can contain arsenic as well, including apples and grapes.) While this sounds serious, and it is, it’s not something that should induce panic. Here are some tips on how to keep your family safer:
- Limit your family’s consumption of rice and rice products. In general, it’s best to limit your kids’ rice servings to one or two per week, and yours to two or three. This includes white and brown rice, rice infant cereal, Rice Krispies and their generic equivalents, rice cakes, rice pasta and rice milk. Your baby can safely eat about a quarter cup of infant rice cereal per day, but you can also alternate with barley or other grains. If your child or family is gluten-free and relies on rice often, talk to your doctor to find out how you can follow your diet while not exposing yourself unnecessarily.
- Cook your rice more safely. First, rinse your rice before cooking. Then, instead of using two cups of water per cup of rice, use four or six cups, and then just drain it like you would pasta.
- Consider buying white rice over brown. While brown rice is usually considered healthier, there’s some evidence that it also absorbs more arsenic than the white variety. Also, organic rice can have just as much arsenic as non-organic, so don’t count on this as being a safeguard.
- Switch up your side dishes. Some days, you can serve pasta or potatoes instead of rice. If you want a grain, consider using quinoa, barley or millet. Wheat and oats can also contain arsenic, but not as much as rice.
- Talk to your child’s doctor if you have concerns. Also, stay tuned for possible updates; at this time, no particular brands or types of rice have been cleared as safe, but as more research is done, this might change in the future.
In general, the best things to do right now are to follow the procedures for preparing your rice more safely and to limit consumption where you can. But at the same time, don’t panic: Even drinking water has some arsenic in it. Federal limits for bottled drinking water are 5 or 10 parts per billion, depending on what state you live in. So remember that while you should definitely limit your arsenic exposure, this is not an emergency situation.
What are some ways that you prepare other grains that could substitute for rice?