Arsenic Found in Almost Every Rice-containing Food

In September 2012, Consumer Reports magazine found “troubling” levels of inorganic arsenic in almost every rice-containing food it tested.

Arsenic is found in a wide range of foods, including fruits and vegetables, chicken, and grains. Rice takes up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains do.

In the Consumer Reports tests, a quarter cup of uncooked white rice ranged from roughly 1 microgram to 7 micrograms of inorganic arsenic, while brown rice ranged from 4 micrograms to 10 micrograms. (Brown rice tends to have more arsenic than white rice because the metal concentrates in the bran.) Rice cakes ranged from 2 micrograms to 8 micrograms per serving, while hot and ready-to-eat rice cereals ranged from 2 micrograms to 7 micrograms.

Arsenic is a known human carcinogen.

“Ingestion of inorganic arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer of the skin, bladder, lung, liver, and kidney,” says Allan Smith, director of the Arsenic Health Effects Research Program at the University of California, Berkeley.

That’s based on studies in people who were exposed to large amounts of arsenic for many years. In Bangladesh, people who drank tap water that contained 50 to 149 micrograms of arsenic per liter for 20 to 30 years, for example, were 44 percent more likely to die of cancer than those who drank water with less arsenic.

Americans are exposed to much lower levels. How concerned should we be? There isn’t enough data to set a limit on inorganic arsenic in food, says the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits the total amount of arsenic in drinking water to 10 micrograms per liter. (A liter is roughly a quart.) But some 2 percent of U.S. drinking water has more than twice that much. (Check with your water utility for arsenic levels in your community’s drinking water. To get rid of arsenic at home, you’ll need an under-the-sink reverse osmosis filter. A pitcher or faucet filter won’t do.)

Bottom Line: Consumer Reports recommends that adults eat no more than 1½ to 2 cups of cooked (brown or white) rice a week. (For arsenic levels by brand, see consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2012/11/arsenic-in-your-food/index.htm.)

You can remove about half the arsenic in your rice by rinsing it, cooking it in six parts water to one part rice until it reaches eating texture, then pouring off the extra water.

Sources: Epidemiology 20: 824, 2009; J. Environ. Monitor. 11: 41, 2009.

25 Replies to “Arsenic Found in Almost Every Rice-containing Food”

  1. This is bad news for me. I can’t tolerate gluten, and rice based foods are one of my staples. Do Asian people eat more rice than Westerners? Is there evidence that they suffer higher cancer rates as a result of eating more rice?

  2. This is a very informative article. So informative, in fact, that I think I’ll substitute quinoa from now on. Thank you, Nutrition Action, for accurately reporting what we need to know!!

  3. Interesting recommendations. If followed the rinsing and cooking instructions, most of the vitamins added for fortification will be removed.

    1. Louise,

      Yes, according to the study we cited (J. Environ. Monitor. 11: 41, 2009) the more you rinse the rice, the more arsenic is removed.

    1. Barbara,

      Consumer Reports tested rice products from different regions and all were found to have significant levels of arsenic. Rice samples from Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas did generally have higher levels of arsenic than rice from other regions. These regions account for 76 percent of the domestic rice supply. Hope this information helps!

  4. I eat Organic Brown Rice by Arrowhead Mills I hope it has less arsenic than nonorganic. My point is I wish articles would start to mension brands good and bad in their studya(articles). Why is the group called “Science in The Public Intrest” based out of Wash, DC, I believe, not pushing for food labels that tell the consumer the content of arsenic, PBC’s, mercury, lead at a minimum, moreover the labels fo chips and crackers are a joke. They dont tell us what type of fat hydrogenated or not and how much trans fat in a serving.The FDA has way to much power. I think there should be a new agency in US Gov made up of people( lay people, farmers, physicians, organic groc. store owners, etc.) that believe in organic methods and thinking to compete with the almighty FDA that thinks lay people are not smart. There thing is to get all the money for the Physicians and Drug comp. and the no they are a monoply in our gov. I will not by a bag of chips mostly filled with air or any product that does not tell me what type of fat it has. I will not buy chips anyway for the outrages price they have not for air. And I am telling all of my friends not to buy them too because what will happen much sooner in life to them with Bad Fats in there life. And They Do Listen! From: Tim C.

  5. I wonder if brown rice, like the kind I buy in Trader Joe’s from India or Thailand, has less arsenic than the brown rice from this country?

    Sarah

  6. You don’t mention organic white or brown rice – is arsenic found in those, as well, and what are the levels?

  7. I have read that if that the rice of concern is that grown in rice paddies that were formely cotton fields. Recommended sources woudl be rice grown in Califirnia or outside the US,. Has anyone else read soemnething similar?

  8. Where are consumer reports answers for all the questions asked in the above replies? I would like to know the answers.

  9. Ny apologies, I meant to say where are the Nutrition Action answers to all the questions asked in the above replies. Still want to know the answers.

  10. The bigger problem these days is how much food people actually eat. People are killing themselves with their dietary choices.

  11. I eat brown rice just about every day. I buy the Minsley organic cooked brown rice bowls which I get from Costco. The products are “manufactured” in Ontario, CA and I have read the rice from California has the lowest amounts of arsenic. I have an email into the company to inquiring as to which US states their rice is grown in.

  12. I remember years ago reading that apple cores contained arsenic. Later, my mother-in-law and I took a road trip and were snacking on apples. She was driving and I watched in horror as he consumed the WHOLE APPLE CORE. When I asked her about it, she quipped, “I’ve eaten the cores all my life–why waste a good apple.” I noted she didn’t die right there on the spot…The direct effects of everything we do is not as simple as we’d like it to be.

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