A few years ago, I read an article discussing the high arsenic levels in rice. As an Asian family, we eat rice at least 1, 2, maybe 10 meals a day. Naturally, I was concerned. If you remember Walter White’s chemistry lesson from Breaking Bad, Arsenic is toxic – causes cancer and even kills you at high dosages.
Long-term exposure to arsenic is associated with numerous health issues: dementia, type2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurological problems, skin pigmentation and lesions. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified arsenic as a category 1 carcinogen.
Arsenic is used heavily in pesticides and herbicides. Rice is grown under flooded conditions (rice paddies). After the application of all these chemicals, the irrigation water (which is never drained) is continually contaminated with arsenic. Rice therefore absorbs higher levels of arsenic compared to other crops. High levels of arsenic is even found in all rice to varying degrees: non-organic, organic, brown, wild, etc. How do we avoid this arsenic poisoning? Should we stop eating rice?
I could not. The good news is, depending on the region where the rice is grown, you can find varieties with much lower levels of arsenic, and with proper cooking methods, remove up to an additional 80% of the arsenic. Since even my baby loves eating rice, I make sure to follow all the necessary steps to cook my rice properly.
It’s simple. Cook the rice like you would cook pasta. Arsenic is water soluble, so boiling the rice and draining the water is very effective. Some say it will wash off other beneficial nutrients like folate, iron, niacin and thiamin, but I’d rather get those nutrients elsewhere than possibly poisoning myself with arsenic. I repeat this process of boil, drain, rinse, and refill with clean water at least twice. You have to be careful not to overcook the rice because in excess water, your rice might turn out mushy like porridge.
- Avoid rice grown in the South, which includes Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri.
- The safest regions are California, India, and Pakistan. (Most Asian grown rice have lower levels of arsenic.)
- Choose alternatives: Oats, Quinoa, Millet, Barley, Amaranth, Buckwheat. These are all nutritious and delicious options
- I usually mix in some of these alternatives (usually quinoa and amaranth) in my rice to get extra nutrients. You can rinse them separately and add them after you are done with the boil/drain/rinse/refill steps.
- Avoid rice or brown rice food for babies such as cereal or crackers. Babies have small body weight. The small amount of arsenic could be much more impactful.