Brown rice healthier than white? Not when it comes to arsenic levels.
On July 18, 2014 The Codex Alimentarius Commission (in charge of all the alimentary canals in the world I guess) issued a statement that it has set a max level of 0.2 mg of arsenic/kilo of consumption quality rice. (I don’t think this limit applies to animal feed…which raises other questions. So glad I don’t eat animal products.) I’m not sure who will be checking this level and what will be done if the level is exceeded.
Arsenic is found in water and soil naturally but it is also contiained in high quantities in pesticides. Even if pesticides are not used on the rice food, if the rice is growing in a place that was heavily sprayed in the past, the arsenic will show up in the rice food grown there. Because of the way rice is grown, in shallow rice patties filled with settled water in low ground, the arsenic has no choice but to settle into the rice plants so the rice grain soaks up more arsenic than foods grown in a usual farm field would.
There are two forms of arsenic: inorganic and organic. Inorganic arsenic is toxic and causes cancer and usually comes from pesticides. Organic arsenic comes from the earth naturally and is not “as toxic” because the atom contains carbon and it doesn’t react the same way in our body. (The word organic used here has nothing to do with organic farming as both organic and conventionally grown foods can contain arsenic.) Total arsenic is the level of the two forms added together.
But let’s be clear here: there is no safe level of arsenic.
Brown rice is more affected than white because the “bran” is where a lot of the arsenic is absorbed. White rice has the bran stripped away. For most people in the USA, rice is not a daily staple, but for Asians and those in other Middle Eastern countries, consumption is high. It’s especially dangerous for any children who are drinking rice milk or rice formula. And don’t forget about puffed rice, rice cakes, rice crisps, rice energy bars, brown rice syrup, and everything else made with rice including sushi.
While you certainly won’t die from eating rice, you may want to revisit your dietary intake if you consume a lot of rice products unless you like the idea of consuming arsenic.
Please don’t count on the US FDA to say anything about this. Less than a year ago they said all is well. The EPA current “safe” limit for arsenic in water is 10 ppb which is a great reason to consider drinking distilled water as the distilling process removes all substances including arsenic. If you are trying to eat healthier to avoid cancer and other illnesses, you may want to cut down on your rice consumption and look into replacing it with other forms of grain.
Interesting fact: Pfeizer, one of the pharma giants and unethical corporations developed chicken feed called Roxarsone which was made from arsenic, but they never got the OK for production.