5/13/15

Arsenic in Rice – Tips to Lower Levels

     

           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.

7 comments:

  1. Wow! I'm sure hardly anybody knows this information! I'm definitely going to cook my rice differently and I hope people will spread the word to others who have not read your blog, or urge their friends to read this! it's kind of scary, given the ubiquitous cancer rates we have today!

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  2. Wonderful post professor!!!! Rice is a staple food in my Nigerian culture and I will indeed share this information. I always wash rice prior to cooking to remove any dirt, unaware that arsenic is found in rice. I will definitely follow your instructions when cooking rice.

    1. It was interesting and frightening to learn arsenic remains in rice after the presumed method of cooking and brown rice has more arsenic levels than white rice. It is great to be aware that applying your recommended tips to lower arsenic levels will alleviate the problem.
    2. Do you think it is possible to completely remove 100% of arsenic in rice? What advice would you give developing countries that have low rates of improved drinking water source and sanitation facility access about tips to reduce arsenic levels in rice?

    Thanks

    Chioma Nnolim

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    1. Hi Chioma,
      I have done a little research on your questions. It seems with all the research that has been done on the levels of arsenic in rice, there is really no way currently to eliminate 100% of arsenic in the rice. All the research shows that the most arsenic that can be eliminated is 40%. As for the developing countries I would suggest maybe trying to see if there are some other choices than rice with less arsenic content such as barley, faro, couscous, and bulgur. Hope this sheds some light on your questions.

      Leslie Carter

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  3. There are a few questions that I have after reading this posting. I consume rice on almost a daily basis all different types as well, from brown to sticky white.

    1. First, these steps in washing my rice is a great resource as is this blogging website. I had never realized how serious this is, during my religious times which I am a Shik we serve hundreds of thousands of people in the world. One of the stables in white rice which I will begin to change the way that we prepare food for groups as well.

    2. I would like advice, not so much a question but a recommendation. What can individuals like myself do, who are in a drought stricken area? I stay in Fresno, CA and we have a huge HUGE water issues. Is there alternatives to people in this case?

    Thanks, also this blog will be very beneficial.

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    Replies
    1. So I also live in California and we have started the water restrictions as well. We have different ways that we try and save water, the most that we are able to save and that you could utilize to help with washing your rice (we use it to water the plumeria) is when waiting for the water to heat up in the shower we save the water in a bucket and use it. This can be done for a lot of different things like washing off the cars, watering other plants, etc...

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  4. Shahir,

    This was a very interesting post. The steps to cooking rice is a great resource. My husband has always washed rice after cooking it to remove the starch film from it and I also thought it was a crazy ideal. Now I am wondering if his process what removing arsenic from the rice?

    Also another question that I have is does the rice that is consumed in Asian cultures have arsenic in it as well and are these steps to clean the rice more common in those cultures?

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  5. Professor Masri,

    Growing up we had always washed the rice beforehand, but I had thought at the time that that was just a cultural thing from my parents, like never picking the first item in a row at the grocery store because other people have probably touched it (only picking the ones two or three back). I had no idea that washing it beforehand would remove that much arsenic or that was even a necessary precaution for the product. My question is, my family cooks rice in a rice cooker, and the adjustments that you suggested to add more water, will they have the same effect in a rice cooker since the water doesn't run off?

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