Food and Fitness Fundamentals
By now many of you have heard recent discussions and concern regarding inorganic arsenic levels found in rice and rice products. Arsenic is worrisome due to its association with cancer of the skin, lung and bladder, as well as heart disease (learn more). But before you jump to conclusions and stop eating rice, it is important to recognize that the Food and Drug Administration has been monitoring the arsenic levels in rice for over 20 years. It also may be beneficial for you to know where arsenic comes from.
Arsenic is found naturally in the earth’s soil and is a byproduct of volcanoes and mineral deposit erosion. It is also physically present in water and air. Secondly and perhaps more concerning, it has been consciously added to the environment through activities such as mining and burning of coal, oil, gasoline and wood. Arsenic is also used as a wood preservative, as well as for pesticides and herbicides. The recent concerns over arsenic are not thought to be due to changes in arsenic levels per se, but instead by the enhanced technology and methods used in analysis.
Since arsenic levels vary greatly both geographically as well as sample to sample, it is important to wait for more testing to be completed. It is reported that the FDA has currently analyzed approximately 200 samples of rice and rice products, and anticipates another 1,000 samples to be assessed by the end of the year. If warranted at that time, additional recommendations will be made.
In the meantime, it is advised that consumers continue to eat a well balanced diet which includes a wide variety of grains, including quinoa, barley, oats, wheat etc. Diversity in meal selection is important as it helps reduce eating the same foods day after day. Variety not only helps ensure adequate nutrition, but in a situation such as this, it also diffuses the risk of eating significant amounts of a particular food that may have harmful consequences.
Additionally you might consider soaking your rice several minutes prior to cooking, then rinse under cold water through a colander until the liquid runs clear. This method is thought to wash away up to 30% of the arsenic from the grain. Another suggestion is to prepare rice in a pasta cooking method, using more liquid such as a 6:1 ratio, and then draining off excess once cooking is completed. Since white rice is extensively processed and the outer hull removed, current studies suggest refined rice may contain less arsenic than whole grain varieties.
As we wait for more testing to be completed, remember the importance of mixing up your diet. Choosing a wide variety of foods not only gives an exciting change in your daily eating habits, but is extremely nutritionally beneficial as well.
There are over 40,000 different varieties of rice, and in my next blog I will continue to focus on rice, discussing its nutritional benefits, milling process and cooking methods.