Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Rice

Rice.  It has a dark side.

And we’re not talking black or red varieties.  All rice–even that paragon of virtue, brown, has a skeleton in it’s closet.

It’s the carcinogen, arsenic.  Rice is especially good at absorbing arsenic from the soil and the water it’s grown in.  In tests by Consumer Reports, many common rice products contain concerning levels of arsenic including:  rice baby cereal, rice crackers, pasta, cereal and drinks.

Here I’ve been encouraging everyone to eat brown rice as opposed to white.  Well, turns out that  brown rice has higher levels of arsenic than white–even with all of its other nutritional advantages.  Arsenic tends to concentrate in the outer layers of the grain–much of which gets “polished” away when producing white rice.

And what about our kids?  Should you be concerned?

I would.

According to Consumer Reports, if a baby eats rice cereal twice a day, which is very common, her risk of cancer doubles. Kids should have no more than about one serving of rice or rice pasta a week–and the serving size is pretty small.  Given that we have lots of grain alternatives this seems easy enough to do. Check with your pediatrician if you’re not sure.

These are the things that I plan on doing:

1.     Move over rice and make room for other tasty, delicious grains.  We’ve been experimenting with other types of grains for a while now.  Farro, millet, quinoa, barley and bulgur all make regular appearances at our table.  They’ve made credible understudies for rice, but now we can give them a starring role.  Try them and see what you think.

2.     Consume less rice and fewer rice products.  Especially if you eat more than two or three servings of rice each week  These include rice drinks, rice cakes (I have to admit I keep a bag of these in the car at all times for impromptu snacks) and rice cereals.  And, of course, rice itself–especially brown!

3.     Reduce arsenic content by cooking rice differently.  Consumer Reports recommends rinsing rice thoroughly before cooking.  Also, use a 6 to 1 ratio of water to rice and drain excess water after cooking.  You can rinse away up to 30% of the arsenic in this way.

Lots of other things have arsenic too–like fruits and vegetables and even our drinking water.  We can’t stop eating and drinking everything.  But we can and should be cautious.   Consumer Reports is a well-respected source, and I will definitely be making some changes in my family’s rice consumption.

To learn more about arsenic and how you can decrease your child’s exposure, check out the website of the Environmental Working Group.

Ease up on the rice cakes, Robin.