Could Brown Rice Kill You?
Drop that brown rice sushi roll!
I never thought I’d be saying this, but brown rice may actually be detrimental to your health.
Longtime readers know that I would normally be the last person to criticize this popular grain — my blog logo used to be a piece of brown rice sushi for goodness sake — but I’ve recently stumbled upon some extremely disturbing news that has completely changed my outlook on this food that was once so dear to my heart.
Brown rice has the highest arsenic content of any food.
You’ve probably heard of arsenic — the odorless, colorless substance notoriously used as a silent poison. What you may not know is arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in things like soil and water. It’s a known carcinogen and while large amounts will cause acute poisoning, exposure to even very tiny amounts (100 parts per billion in water) has been linked to skin cancer, bladder cancer and a heightened susceptibility to disease.
The FDA limits the amount of arsenic in our drinking water to 10 ppb. However, there is no current limit for the amount of arsenic in food and there is no requirement for companies to label or disclose the arsenic content in their products.
Back to the brown rice…
Last week, my biology professor had us read a very eye-opening article. In 2012, a team of Dartmouth scientists released the results of a shocking study showing the arsenic content in brown rice and products containing brown rice derivatives like brown rice syrup. They found that most of the products had levels of arsenic significantly higher than the allowable 10 ppb for water, with brown rice syrup leading the pack at 400 ppb.
The scariest part was what brown rice syrup was frequently found in: organic baby food.
Arsenic damages chromosomes, causing mutations, which would explain it’s link to cancer. This is particularly dangerous for babies whose bodies and brains are still growing.
So why brown rice you ask?
According to the article, “Rice is particularly prone to accumulating arsenic because it confuses two forms of inorganic arsenic — arsenite and arsenate — with silicon and phosphorous compounds that are essential for the plant’s structural integrity and health.”
The arsenic accumulates in the outer layer of the grain, which is why brown rice has more arsenic than white rice. With white rice, this outer layer is stripped during processing.
After reading this article I was scared — and angry. I’ve been eating a surplus of brown rice products lately as a part of my Elimination Diet and I’ve regarded brown rice as a healthy, superior choice to other varieties for years. Why was I just hearing about this? Why isn’t the government doing anything about?
Apparently it takes a long time to get new regulations approved. Though this information came out in 2012, the FDA is still investigating the topic and reportedly working with scientists to determine possible limits for arsenic content in rice. In 2013, they implemented regulations for apple juice at 10 ppb, the same as for water.
The USA Rice Federation released this statement: “Studies show that including white or brown rice in the diet provides measurable health benefits that outweigh the potential risks associated with exposure to trace levels of arsenic.”
Consumer Reports disagrees. They’ve released a new 7-Point Scale to help people limit their exposure to arsenic.
It ranks products from 1-7 by their arsenic content and encourages people to keep their intake below 7 points a week. Children and adults are assigned different points per product. For a child, one serving of rice pasta would set them above this limit. For an adult, one serving of brown rice would take up half your week’s allotted intake.
So what should you do?
Personally, I’m going to avoid brown rice until I learn more. It’s unfortunate, as I love it, and it has so many other health benefits. However, some people claim these benefits are negated by rice’s content of “anti-nutrients” – but that’s an argument to investigate another day.
A less severe option is to avoid brown rice that is grown in southern states like Alabama, Louisiana and Texas, where arsenic content in the soil is high from years of its use in pesticides. You can also try other rice-like, wheat-free grains like quinoa or buckwheat.
Avoiding brown rice syrup is another good idea. It’s found in many “health foods” like CLIF Bars (which I’ve already told you are full of junk anyway), so be sure to read nutrition labels.
The good news – I no longer have to search out sushi restaurants that serve brown rice. White rice only ranks at 1 1/2 points per week. My friends who found my sushi demands insane will be so pleased.
Weigh In: Have you heard about arsenic in brown rice before? Are you concerned?
Try these rice-free recipes: