In my last blog, I discussed arsenic exposure and the largely unknown issue of arsenic in rice. Fortunately for rice eaters, which probably includes most of us, you can reduce your arsenic exposure without having to abandon your favorite rice dishes! That being said, if rice makes up the majority of your diet, it certainly isn’t a bad idea to mix in some alternative dishes (e.g. pasta, other grains). So what is the key to removing arsenic from your rice? Only a very simple adjustment of your cooking and food prep.
Steps to Lower Arsenic
First, rinse your rice prior to cooking. Rinsing rice in water at a 2.5:1 water/rice ratio prior to cooking can reduce total arsenic levels by 10%. Second, and even more important than rinsing, cook your rice in excess water. You are probably used to cooking rice until all of the water boils off, at which point the rice begins to steam. This cooking method unfortunately retains all of the arsenic, which is not what we want. Instead, cook your rice with an extra cup or so of water and then pour off the excess water once the rice is cooked. This can reduce your arsenic exposure by a whopping 40%! With this method, much of the arsenic accumulates in the excess water, which is then disposed of down the kitchen drain.
What if you prefer the steam process from the original cooking method? Well you don’t have to pour ALL of the water out. Simply pour out most of the excess right before the rice is done, then you can proceed to let the rice steam in whatever remaining water you left in the pot. This will do about the same for reducing your arsenic exposure.
Keep in mind that cooking rice with excess water is inherently more wasteful of water and energy, as well as takes longer, compared to the normal method. So be sure not to overdo it with the excess water. If you’re cooking one cup of rice in about three cups of water, then just adding an extra cup of water should be fine.
Through this blog I don’t mean to downplay the role of groundwater in arsenic exposure, particularly if you live in states such as New Hampshire which have high bedrock arsenic. In such areas, it is important to keep in mind that the Safe Drinking Water Act only regulates drinking water municipalities serving greater than 25 homes. So if you drink water from a small or private well, it is worth getting your water tested. For everyone else, the most likely source of your arsenic exposure is probably through eating rice.
Finally, it is worth noting that brown rice reportedly has higher arsenic levels than white rice. Given the nutritional benefits of brown rice compared to white, however, I wouldn’t recommend abandoning brown rice in the name of arsenic. Rather, I would recommend employing the above cooking techniques, where you achieve the best of both worlds.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, there is plenty of peer reviewed literature out there. I recently attended a lecture at Harvard by Dr. Margaret Karagas, who chairs the Department of Epidemiology at Dartmouth’s medical school. She is a leading expert on arsenic exposure and has conducted a lot of great research on the topic of arsenic in food.
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-Shahir Masri, M.S.