Consumer Reports has issued new guidelines for limits on how much rice you and your children should eat. Consumer Reports analyzed Food and Drug Administration data on more than 600 foods that contain rice and found some with worrisome levels of inorganic arsenic, which is linked to several types of cancer. The Food and Drug Administration recommends parents consider other options rather than rice cereal for their children’s first solid food.
Consumer Reports’ analysis found that hot rice cereal and rice pasta can have much more arsenic than its lab saw in previous tests. So Consumer Reports now recommends that children rarely eat these foods, which means not more than twice a month. And Consumer Reports recommends children under five limit rice drinks, rice cakes and ready-to-eat rice cereals. Levels of arsenic vary. Consumer Reports based its recommendations on the higher levels in each food group to offer consumers the best protection.
As for rice itself, Consumer Reports’ lab tests in 2012 found high levels of inorganic arsenic in white rice and even higher levels in brown rice. Consumer Reports has tested other types of rice and other grains and has found several alternatives with much lower levels of inorganic arsenic. Some good choices — sushi rice from the U.S. and white basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan. On average they had half the amount of arsenic as most other types of rice. And brown basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan has about one third less inorganic arsenic than other brown rice. Other good options — bulgur, barley and faro, as well as gluten-free grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa.
In response to Consumer Reports’ investigation, the USA Rice Federation issued this statement: “Research conducted by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. rice industry shows arsenic levels found in U.S.-grown rice are below safe maximum levels established this year by the World Health Organization. Studies show that including white or brown rice in the diet provides measureable health benefits that outweigh the potential risks associated with exposure to trace levels of arsenic. The U.S. rice industry is committed to growing a safe and healthy product; we continuously test our crop, and research ways of reducing the already low levels of arsenic found in rice even further.
The Food & Drug Administration issued this statement: The FDA’s ongoing assessment of arsenic in rice remains a priority for the agency. Last year, the FDA released what we believe to be the largest set of test results to date on the presence of arsenic in rice and rice products, and we are planning to release a draft assessment of the potential health risks associated with the consumption of arsenic in these same foods.
Until that review is completed, the agency continues to recommend that consumers, including pregnant women, eat a well-balanced diet containing a variety of grains. Parents should feed infants and toddlers a variety of grains as well, and consider options other than rice cereal for a child’s first solid food.
Published studies and ongoing FDA research indicate that cooking rice in excess volumes of water – five to six times that of the rice – and draining the water can reduce the arsenic content, though it may also reduce the nutritional value of the rice.