Monday, March 4, 2024
Plant Based Lifestyle

Arsenic in Rice. Should I be concern?

Photograph by Andreas Lischka


All I know is that I know nothing

These words spoken thousands of years ago, by one of the greatest Greek philosopher (Socrates) applies 100% to the content of the article that I am going to present to you my dear reader today. In 2013 I took the decision to adopt a plant based lifestyle. The decision was made after researching, searching and experimenting the previous year. The decision was not based on the health benefits of this particular lifestyle simply because I was not aware it had any. No, the reason I adopted a plant based diet was that through various reading and experimenting I did notice that my athletic performance in running was improved. So, you can say that the reason I adopted a plant based regime was pure egotistical and had a practical purpose.

Of course, in the process of this endeavor, I realized that except improved athletic performance plant based lifestyle offered ridiculously beneficial advantages to my health, so many in fact that I would be a fool not to take them into consideration. Thus, in 2014 I continue my plan based lifestyle, and I am still today following it because it is simply healthier than any other currently nutritional lifestyle or diets. One of the first things I learned about adopting a plant based lifestyle is that it’s not limiting as I thought in the first place. On the contrary, I eat more (in quantity) and more (in quality) food now that ever had when I was an omnivore. Being an omnivore with animal products as your main diet choices is very limited and denied me the opportunity to find out and taste the amazing world of plant based food.

The choices are simply endless.

One of the first things I learned and researched well was that anything that is white generally means that it’s heavily processed and refined and devoid of any useful nutritional value. Examples are white salt, white sugar, animal milk, White rice, etc. So, I replaced all the white stuff, with colorful stuff, you can say that my plant based choice added color in my life and in my taste buds. Instead of white salt, I consume pin salt (Himalayan) instead of white sugar, I eat brown sugar, or molasses, or Maple syrup or agave nectar. Did you see that, by eliminating one bad food for you, white sugar, I immediately exposed myself to not one but 4 news voices, 4 new tastes, 4 news healthier alternatives (Molasses, Maple syrup, brown sugar, Agave nectar)

I stop drinking milk since I was 17, so that was not a problem for me but guess what I found out? Calcium in almonds is better absorbed than calcium in cow’s milk. Also with almond milk, I don’t get any antibiotics, pus, cholesterol, saturated fat and a few cows are not traumatized and raped every year because I stop drinking cow’s milk. Plus, the cool thing about almond milk you can do it yourself whenever you want in your own leisure and kitchen.

My Rice Adventure.

I replaced white rice because after a lot of research I found out is not healthy for you and it does contribute to the development of a number of chronic diseases like diabetes II. White rice is basically brown rice where they remove the shell. The reason they do this is because white rice can stay on the shelf for 3 – 4 years while brown rice about 12 to 18 months. Money ladies and gentlemen, money. Food industries around the world care only, for one thing, money and profit margin every 3 months, they care less about your health and the health of your kids. That was one of the first things I realized from my research all the previous years and my search until today. When you realize that then you will get free. Your mindset will change, and you will see the truth. Like Fox Mulder character  used to say in my favorite tv series x-files played by actor David Duchovny, the truth will set you free, and he was right. Speaking about David Duchovny he wrote an interesting book entitled: Holy Cow: A Novel Which I think you should check out.

By knowing this little secret, you will start becoming a more responsible consumer both for yourself and your family. Now I replaced white rice with brown rice because brown is healthier than white. I quote a small passage from one of my little recipe books I have (Rice and Potatoes – Nine Tasty Recipes Included), so you can see what I wrote:

White or Brown?

Recent studies and scientific papers have proven that brown rice is much better than white rice, more nutritional and healthier. White rice contains more starch, less fiber, bioactive components, vitamins and minerals, and has a higher glycemic index (64 ± 7 vs. 55 ± 5) than the brown ones. Also, daily consumption of white rice is linked to metabolic syndrome, with lower intake of potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E and riboflavin.

The recipes that follow you can use either with white or brown rice. When I was growing up, unfortunately, my mother was cooking them with white rice.  Now I manage to convince her to cook with brown rice, or at least when she is cooking and knows I will eat she does it with brown rice. I encourage you to read the literature about why brown rice is better than white rice, and I am sure you will embrace the brown rice in your life like I did, after learning of all its benefits.” Since 2013 I have been consuming brown rice like crazy. There are times that I had brown rice every day.

The DOC.

Now one of the best sources online about nutrition in general and plant based diet, in particular, is Dr. Michael Greger’s web page One of his recent article series he tackles the problem of arsenic in Rice. I watched all of his videos on the matter, and I must say I got concerned.

What is Arsenic.

Arsenic is a chemical that you can find in the environment widely. I don’t know if you remember the old western movies where some cowboys would be riding in the desert and when they found water most of the times was contaminated with arsenic which of course its poison. You can find arsenic in the ground, in the water, both in fresh water and in salt water (oceans). Arsenic Is in plant and animal tissues. Arsenic in low levels is found in many foods, and you cannot avoid it altogether.

Now there are two kinds of arsenic, organic and inorganic. The natural form is harmful but not as dangerous as the inorganic form which studies shown that can cause cancer!. Now, rice worldwide, compared with other grains was found to have higher levels of inorganic arsenic because the rice plants it’s very efficient at absorbing arsenic from the ground and from the irrigation water. Now for me, this information is unsettling because I like eat rice a lot and especially brown rice. One of the reasons brown rice consumption went up the last years is because health conscious people like me started to prefer it instead or white rice.

Ironic doesn’t really cut it.

It is ironic that people that are health conscious about their health now find out that are getting poisoned by arsenic! Other lifestyles also contributed to the increased consumption of brown rice. Low-fat, plant based dietary diets, vegan diets and the desire for gluten-free and lactose-free products are on demand contributed to the increased consumption of rice and both white and brown.

Personally, I do not have any wheat sensitivities or gluten issues or have celiac disease. But these people found in rice a good alternative for their diet. Now they are informed that they are putting in their body arsenic which is not good at all even if you are not suffering from any of the situations above. Vegan and Macrobiotic diets are heavily depended on rice consumption, especially macro biotic diets include a lot of brown rice and rice products like rice noodles and bread and they advocate for 2-3 meals per day! Also, other products with rice based situation are (miso, mirin and rice wine).

Recommended servings to avoid Arsenic Accumulation.

Studies have shown that the best tactic to avoid over exposure of arsenic that it’s in the rice to eat one or two servings a week. Now for me, that’s something that I have started doing. I need to go from eating brown rice every day to 2 – 3 servings of rice a week.

Now accept the fact that arsenic is a chemical that is found naturally on our planet the fact that rice (white and brown) is contaminated with the chemical form of Arsenic is another story.

Business as Usual and Health is Thrown out of the Window.

As I described in my first Book Thirsty for Health. Poultry Industries cuts cost by growing chicken and other two legged animals in CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). A small team of farmers can raise up to 200000 birds under one roof in three months. The floor of these buildings is typically covered with feces, wood shavings, feather, and soybean, peanut and rice hulls. Arsenic containing drugs are fed to chickens, the arsenic finds its way into the chicken feathers, tissues (meat) and eggs. When people eat chicken breasts for example and enjoy their scrambled eggs, the arsenic ends up in their tissues.  That explains why studies after studies report that Chicken Consumption was linked with increased toral urine arsenic and DMA in NHANES 2003-2010, reflecting arsenic exposure.

Why does the poultry industry feeds chicken with drugs that contain arsenic?

While raising birds nearby decrease the associated maintenance costs, this practice also increases the risk of disease and infection. Organoarsenicals and others antimicrobials are regularly added to the feeds to counter the potential for widespread illness and disease (Chapman and Johnson, 2002). Now I as a plant based eater the arsenic in chicken is not really a concern for me. That’s what I thought until quite recently I made the connection. The feces of the chicken are dumped on the ground. Arsenic from the feces finds its way in the air we breathe the water we drink and the fruits and vegetables we eat.

But how much arsenic do we really get from air and plant based food?

Well let’s see an example, in 2010 in the USA alone, 9 billion chickens were raised for human consumption!!! , 88% of them received roxarsone (arsenic). That translates to a 250000 kg of arsenic littering our environment!!! Every year much of it into our crops. Up to 90% of the poultry litter in the US is disposed of in agricultural lands as fertilizer. Arsenic may be taken up by plants grown in arsenic-amended fields. Poultry litter has been fed to beef cattle as an economical source of proteins, minerals, and energy!!! Of the total arsenic in the chicken waste, 70-90% is water-soluble which raise concerns of how arsenic free is our drinking, washing and agriculture water is.

Therefore, using underground water from areas where roxarsone containing manure is used as fertilizer might be a health risk. Studies dating back as the seventies have identified, except fish as chicken and rice as the highest levels found of 0.08 ppm in chicken and 0.16 in rice. Now that’s only in USA I can’t even imagine what is going on worldwide.

The evil circle goes something like this.

Arsenic containing drugs are fed to chicken. People eat chicken getting arsenic into their body with all the deleterious effects. The feces of chicken end up in the soil contaminating it with arsenic. Rice grown in arsenic contaminated soil are also containing arsenic, people eat rice, and we are back where we were. Rice now is the primary source of Arsenic exposure in a no seafood diet. (Meharg et al. 2009; Schoof et all, 1999)

Which Rice has the Least Arsenic?

Now learning about all these I continued watching dr. Greger videos and reading articles from the web written by official agencies and researchers. I was determine to find out which Rice has the least arsenic, This is what I found out.

My Findings.

In many areas of the world where the consumption of rice is high in all ages. Authorities and government agencies should be prompted to declare which of the rice cultivars have the lowest content in arsenic. Thus the least dangerous for use during infancy and childhood. Studies about the concentration of inorganic Arsenic in Rice Grain showed that While long grain, regular (102.0) has higher ppb level than White Medium grain, regular(81.5) and White short grain, daily.(78.9) This though could have a logical explanation because most of the Medium grain is produced in California where the arsenic is less in the soil than other states like Texas and Arkansas where arsenic is higher, and most of the Long grain is produced.

Now, what about white versus Brown?

Studies have shown that Brown long/medium/short grain, regular(156.5 ppb) has higher levels than a white rice grain. Other rice grains like red and black have less than rice. A red rice grain from Sri Lanka had less arsenic than white rice, but it had a high concentration of cadmium. That’s because the fertilizers used in Sri Lanka have a high concentration of Cadmium (Cd) and other toxic metals. While some red and black rice from the USA had less arsenic than white rice, red rice from the European Union had more arsenic(162.4)  than brown rice from the USA

We found that average concentrations of inorganic arsenic – the more toxic form of arsenic – were as follows:

92 ppb in white rice

154 ppb in brown rice

104 ppb in infants’ dry white-rice cereal

119 ppb in children dry brown-rice cereal

Total and inorganic Arsenic in three white rice samples polished by removing 10% of bran by weight was reduced to 61-66% and 51-70% of those in brown rice. Like Dr. Michael Klaper says is not what you eat is what you absorb. The average percentage of extractable arsenic can be ranked from high to low as follows: extra long grain(97%). Long grain (91%), long grain parboiled (81%). And brown rice (71%) The extractable arsenic of six of the seven brown rice samples was less than 75%, suggesting that the texture of brown rice, which is unmilled or partly milled with only the husk removed, may affect the release of arsenic from the grain. Bran might have some chelating property so that arsenic within the gastrointestinal tract will not be absorbed and pass through with the feces.

Now the bioavailability that is mentioned above was tested in vitro dishes and not with human trials.

Study on Humans.

A study was done on humans. They tested white and brown eaters in the USA. Evidence suggests that brown rice may contain more arsenic than white rice. In this research, we aimed to examine brown and white rice consumption about urinary excretion among US adults. With this study, you can actually measure how much arsenic your body absorbed. The levels of arsenic in both the white rice eaters and brown eaters were the same. This might be explained because the serving of the rice was not being controlled. It was a populational study. Another explanation might be the white rice eater might eat more than the brown rice eaters. It turns out brown rice has more arsenic than white rice. Also, it seems that rice grown in California, India, and Pakistan have less arsenic comparing with other states of the USA like Texas and Arkansas and also other countries around the world.

Cooking Rice – How to lower Arsenic Levels.

Eating brown rice is better than eating white rice that is proven in lots of studies. The problem with rice (brown) is that it has too way much arsenic contamination. So if you can’t live without brown rice, like I me,  studies have shown that you can cook rice like you cook pasta.

Boil in water.

10 cups water for one cup of brown rice or white rice. After you boil it  it discard the water solution. This removes about 40% from long grain polished, 60%  from the parboiled and 50% from the brown rice (Gray et al.,. 2015)of the poisonous arsenic without significant loss of other nutrients like B vitamins and iron. White rice  on the other hand losts much more nutrients when you rinsed and also boil it. That happens because the vitamins and minerals were added after while the brown rice has them naturally in its shell.

The safest Option.

Stop Eating Rice altogether. There are many other grains that you can replace rice with like red and white quinoa, Amaranth, Buckwheat, oatmeal. All these other grains have a much lower concertation of inorganic arsenic.

My Method.

I will continue eating  Brown over White even is it’s more contaminated with inorganic arsenic. The health benefits of Brown vs White are a risk that I can live with.I buy Brown Rice from India now. India and Pakistan have the lowest inorganic arsenic contamination. If  I was in The States I would probably buy brown rice from California. I eat rice 1 to 2 times a week now. I cook them with the 10 to 1 analogy of water as I described earlier. Also I added in my diet, red quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, tell and oatmeal.

Once again by reducing something that is not good for me (Arsenic contaminated Brown Rice)  I open my self to new alternative healthier choices. Also I will search for brown rice varieties that have very low arsenic contamination. I am sure I will share my findings in another article when I have something tangible.

Extra action you can take.

Read your rice package and see if there is a webpage or other contact information and find more about the rice you are eating. There are companies out there that saw that the truth is in their best interest. There are companies that every year share the tests they do as arsenic contamination is concern with the public. It’s like a tobacco warning message written on the pack of cigs. They tell you how much arsenic is on their products. It is up to you if you are going to buy it or not.

One company is Lundberg Family Farms. There are others I am sure. Another thing you can do is call your government representative. Find out  where your rice is grown and if the soil is contaminated with arsenic or not. Another thing you can do is buy arsenic detecting kits that you can use home.

You can search online the various Government agencies that are responsible for your country health.

“Ashes to ashes”

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou took: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

In a nutshell, what we eat is soil, water and sunlight. If these three are polluted we are going to get sick, if they are not then we will be fine. Also living my life by the wise words of Socrates (All I know is that I know nothing) I have the ability to search all the time. Not taking anything for granted.  Question everything and reevaluate often what you think you know. If I rest on my laurel that brown rice is better than white, then I would never have learned about the arsenic situation.


Andreas Michaelides

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