Arsenic in Rice

April 13, 2012

Maybe rice is better for tossing at weddings-not on your plate.

Rice is a staple food for almost half of the world’s population. That’s a large number. Especially when you consider how many countries include rice in their diet, it makes it hard to mull over the fact that traces of arsenic have been found in rice.

Arsenic is an odorless and tasteless metalloid element that is found in natural deposits deep in the earth’s soil and is also used in wood materials, paints, and metals.

Researchers at Dartmouth University have done research on arsenic levels in rice and found that it seems to soak up larger amounts from ground water than other plants. This study also focused on foods that have three or more rice product ingredients in it such as rice milk, rice flour, rice starch, etc. There are two forms of arsenic found in the environment: inorganic and organic, of which inorganic arsenic is the more toxic form.

The University of Albany in New York also did a study on arsenic levels in rice and found that women who had recently consumed rice had somewhat higher levels of inorganic arsenic levels in their urine, as opposed to women who had not eaten rice at all. These researchers also found that women who, on average, ate only a half cup of rice everyday would ingest just as much arsenic as if they were to have drank a liter of tap water.

The research also took into consideration the effects of long-term exposure to arsenic, which could lead to skin, bladder, and lung cancer.

Brown rice has become a popular side-dish option, however, it has been proven to contain higher levels of arsenic in comparison to white rice. This is due to the fact that white rice does not have the fibrous husk around it that brown rice does; this outer layer of brown rice is what soaks up most of the toxin. Organic rice, whether it is brown or white, makes no difference either. There has been nothing proven to show that it is any better than non-organic rice, as far as having lower levels of arsenic.

These studies are not done to sake of scaring people out of eating rice, but to inform others on what they’re actually consuming. Hearing of arsenic in our environment is nothing new. However, it is good to be mindful that are small amounts of in the food eat we eat. Since rice happens to be one of the more popular foods, it can come up as a meal option fairly often. However, where rice is grown, does seem to make a difference. Rice grown in the United States is found to have a higher content of arsenic as opposed to those grown in other countries like Thailand. When you’re grocery shopping, try to buy basmati and jasmine rice, and check the label to see where it is grown. Whether you’re dining out or cooking at home, try to select other foods to replace rice in your meal. Couscous and quinoa are other rice-like options that are a great choice to accompany many dishes.

Here are a couple of recipes for some rice alternatives:

Curried Couscous Salad with Dried Sweet Cranberries

  • 1 (5.8 oz) box instant couscous
  • ¾ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ orange, juiced
  • 2 to 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced on an angle
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¾ cup hcopped walnuts, toasted
  • Freshly ground pepper
  1. Stir the couscous, cranberries, curry powder, salt, and sugar together in a heatproof bowl. Bring water (amount will be listed on the package directions to a boil) and pour it over the couscous. Add the orange juice. Give it a big stir, cover the bowl tightly and let it stand. Stir it once or two times, until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender. This takes about 5 minutes.
  2. Fluff up the couscous with a fork. Add the scallions, olive oil, parsley, walnuts, and lemon juice. Stir the ingredients until everything is distributed evenly in the couscous. Be sure to check the seasonings before you serve; add salt and pepper, to taste.

Note: This can be made up to two hours ahead of time and can be kept at room temperature until you’re ready to serve.

Quinoa with Garlic, Pine Nuts and Raisins

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ c raisins
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  1. Place quinoa in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the grains are toasted (about 2 minutes). Add 1 ¾ cups water (or use low-sodium chicken broth) and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until the quinoa absorbs the liquid (about 10 to 15 minutes). Remove pot from the heat and let it sit, covered, for about 2 minutes.
  2. Toast pine nuts in a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring until they are golden (3 minutes); transfer to a plate. Add the olive oil and garlic to the skillet and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Transfer the garlic slices to a plate and reserve the oil.
  3. Fluff the quinoa with a fork; add the pine nuts, reserved oil, garlic, parsley, raisins, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!