From Asian cuisine to gluten-free and other special diets, rice is a staple food for many people. But is it healthy? Depending on where it’s grown, rice contains one of the world’s most toxic elements: arsenic. It can be passed into the human body, building up in body tissue over time, leading to impairments in the nervous system and brain functioning, birth defects, cancer, and other health problems.
Arsenic is a trace element found naturally in the environment in two forms: (1) Organic, found in plant and animal tissue, and (2) Inorganic, found in rocks, soil, or water. The inorganic form is more toxic. Arsenic also gets into the soil through pollution and runoff from manufacturing.
Because rice is grown under flooded conditions, it easily absorbs arsenic in the soil. This is particularly true of rice grown in South America and Asia, as their drinking water contains arsenic. Also, some regions of the U.S. – most of Texas, the Midwest and parts of the West coast – have high arsenic levels, impacting rice grown in those areas.
Rice and rice products (including milk, cereal, crackers, and rice syrups) contain more arsenic than any other food crop. To reduce your exposure to arsenic in rice, follow these tips:
- Rinse the rice before cooking; this can remove 10-28% of arsenic. When cooking any type of rice, use plenty of water.
- Consider decreasing your rice consumption by introducing other types of grains.
- For rice cakes, purchase wild rice varieties.
- Buy Basmati, Jasmine, or other aromatic varieties. Lundberg is a brand name of rice grown in the U.S. and recent reports show it has lower arsenic levels.
Healthline.com: Arsenic in Rice: Should You be Concerned? https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/arsenic-in-rice
Dartmouth.edu: U.S. Regions with high arsenic levels: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~arsenicandyou/sources/locations.html
“Arsenic Neurotoxicity: A Review.” J Appl Toxicol. (2011 Mar) 31(2):95-107. doi: 10.1002/jat.1649. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18025055
“Arsenic: toxicity, oxidative stress and human disease.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21321970