Choosing the healthiest carbohydrates for your diet can be a considerable challenge.
Many consider rice to be among the safest and healthiest choices of grains to add to their diet, particularly for those with small children.
Rice pudding and rice custard are popular choices for young children who are still teething.
However, new scientific data suggests that many rice products, particularly whole grain rice, may contain levels of inorganic arsenic that could be hazardous to your health.
Nutritionists often advise against foods categorized as “white” carbs, such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice, as they tend to be mostly devoid of nutrition.
These are often referred to as “empty carbs”.
Nutrition experts often advise instead to consume whole grain variants of these foods such as multi-grain bread and whole grain rice or “brown rice”.
White rice vs brown rice, which have more arsenic?
Concerns have recently arisen that brown rice may contain even higher levels of cancer-causing arsenic than white rice.
Due to the methods by which rice crops are cultivated, it often absorbs far higher concentrations of arsenic than other grains.
Rice plants must be completely immersed in water for optimized growth, which exposes them to exceptionally high levels of arsenic, as naturally occurring arsenic permeates through the soil and into the groundwater, which is then absorbed into the rice crop as it grows.
Brown rice absorbs up to 80 percent more inorganic arsenic than white rice of the same variety.
This is due to the fact that the intact outer layer in the rice grain that makes up brown rice tends to absorb the highest quantities of arsenic, while in white rice this outermost layer is removed from the final product.
What is arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is often found in weathered minerals and ores, as well as in mineralized groundwater.
Elevated levels of arsenic in the human body have been known for many years to cause severe health complications, and even death.(1)
High doses of arsenic can cause headaches, confusion, diarrhea and drowsiness, while acute arsenic poisoning can result in vomiting, convulsions, muscle cramps, and blood in the urine.
Arsenic consumption has also been associated with a wide variety of different cancers.(2,3) It has been linked to liver, lung, kidney, bladder, and skin cancers.
Medical experts have strongly cautioned to keep concentrations of arsenic in food and water as low as possible.
Healthy rice alternatives
There are a number of healthy options to rice products that will enable you to limit your arsenic consumption, while still getting your daily dose of whole grain nutrition.
Quinoa is an especially low-arsenic grain that is very high in protein and dietary fiber.
In fact, quinoa is often regarded as a quintessential super food, possessing powerful antioxidant properties.
Quinoa possesses considerable nutritional benefits, including a long list of minerals, vitamins and proteins.
It also has the added benefit of being gluten free, making it a favorite among those who struggle with certain gastrointestinal conditions.
Read more: Is quinoa acidic?
Buckwheat is another great, gluten free option for those concerned with limiting their arsenic intake.
Much like quinoa, buckwheat is often considered a super food, as it is loaded with a wide variety of antioxidants, including rutin, tannin and catechin.(4)
Buckwheat is also brimming with protein and dietary fiber.
Despite being laden with vitamins and minerals, buckwheat has almost no calories, and virtually no fat.
Japanese chefs have long understood the vast nutritional benefits of buckwheat, as it is used frequently in the making of soba noodles, a common element of the modern Japanese diet.
Soba noodles are a great source of iron, manganese, thiamine, and other proteins.
Buckwheat is actually an ancient cereal, having been a staple grain throughout the world for many centuries.
Another essential health food to replace rice products is millet.
Millet is an incredible source of fiber and protein. It has potent cancer-fighting properties, as well as helping to prevent type-2 diabetes and lowering bad cholesterol levels.(5,6)
Millet can also help to eliminate digestive problems, such as bloating, cramping and constipation, making it an ideal choose for developing children.
When it comes to maintaining a high level of digestive health, it doesn’t get much better than millet.
For those who are worried about the relatively high concentrations of harmful arsenic in rice products, there is a veritable cornucopia of healthy, filling (and not to mention delicious!) choices that will pack a tasty nutritional punch, and provide you with high energy throughout the day.
The USA Rice Federation claims that the nutrition benefits of regular rice intake offsets the potential health costs of consuming higher than average arsenic levels.
However, in April of 2016, the FDA proposed new guidelines which include limiting the concentrations of arsenic in food products to just 100 parts per billion (ppb), which is considerably lower than the amounts found in many American rice products.
As such, Americans would be prudent to monitor the levels of arsenic in their diet and make proper adjustments wherever possible.
Read more: Is white rice good for acid reflux?
1.Tchounwou PB, Yedjou CG, Patlolla AK, Sutton DJ. Heavy Metals Toxicity and the Environment. EXS. 2012;101:133-164. doi:10.1007/978-3-7643-8340-4_6.
2.Smith AH, Hopenhayn-Rich C, Bates MN, et al. Cancer risks from arsenic in drinking water. Environmental Health Perspectives. 1992;97:259-267.
3.Hong Y-S, Song K-H, Chung J-Y. Health Effects of Chronic Arsenic Exposure. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. 2014;47(5):245-252. doi:10.3961/jpmph.14.035.
4.Buckwheat as a Functional Food and Its Effects on Health Juan Antonio Giménez-Bastida and Henryk Zieliński Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2015 63 (36), 7896-7913 DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.5b02498 Sun Hee Lee, Ill-Min Chung, Youn-Soo Cha, Yongsoon Park,
5.Millet consumption decreased serum concentration of triglyceride and C-reactive protein but not oxidative status in hyperlipidemic rats, Nutrition Research, Volume 30, Issue 4,2010,Pages 290-296,ISSN 0271-5317, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2010.04.007.
6.Shuhua Shan, Zongwei Li, Ian P. Newton, Chao Zhao, Zhuoyu Li, Maolin Guo, A novel protein extracted from foxtail millet bran displays anti-carcinogenic effects in human colon cancer cells,Toxicology Letters,Volume 227, Issue 2,2014,Pages 129-138,ISSN 0378-4274, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxlet.2014.03.008.