Tuesday, April 5, 2016

FDA Advises Its Time to Take Arsenic in Baby Cereal Serious - What About Other Rice Products (Including Gluten Free Products)?

This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  published a new scientific assessment on arsenic in rice, providing advice for pregnant women and infants

   The agency found exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice products could potentially be dangerous for infants, pregnant woman and young children and thus it would be "prudent" to seek out alternatives.  They found:

  • Infants and Children: excess arsenic from rice products (including rice cereal)  can neurologically affect young children,  " resulting in children’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning.”
  • Pregnant women:   Pregnant women were advised  to avoid a diet high in rice products, again because of arsenic exposure, citing a “growing body of scientific studies linking adverse pregnancy outcomes to intake of relatively high levels of inorganic arsenic during pregnancy.”
This is not the first time arsenic in rice has been found to be potentially problematic.  In 2012, Consumer Reports,  published an expose of arsenic in rice products.  As we mentioned in our September 2012 blog post, they found that :
  • Arsenic was found in virtually all of the more than 60 different rice products tested.
  • On average, white rice was found to have lower levels of inorganic (the more toxic type) arsenic than brown rice
  • White rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas, which accounts for 76 percent of rice sold in the US, was found to -on average- have higher levels of total arsenic than rice samples from elsewhere (the reason for this is explained in our New Study Focuses On Arsenic in Rice blog post).
  • Some infant rice cereals had levels of inorganic arsenic at least five times higher than has been found in alternatives such as oatmeal
  • People who ate rice-rich diets had arsenic levels that were 44 percent greater than those who did not.   Hispanics and Asians had the highest levels  ( both groups tend to consume rice often with meals).


What has changed since the 2012 Consumer Reports study? Today, more in known about how inorganic arsenic can cross the placenta to the fetus and affect a baby's neurological development... making this week's warning even more pressing for parents everywhere.

Additionally, arsenic is a carcinogen.  Arsenic consumed through rice could potentially account for an additional four cases of lung and bladder cancer over the lifetime for every 100,000 people in the United States.  
FDA is issuing a limit of 100 parts per billion for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.  They found that most infant cereals on the market are either already bellow or pretty close this new limit (Consumer Reports had suggested limiting arsenic to 90parts per billion back in 2012).
Basically, limit your rice (and rice product ) intake.
  • Infants:   There is no need to use rice cereal as a first food.  Try other grain cereals like oats and barley. 
  • Children and Adults:  Reduce consumption of rice.  Instead, opt for other grains like quinoa, farro, barley.. Be wary of gluten free foods (read below) 
Many nationalities depend on rice as a staple in their everyday diet.   For many, thus, it is really hard to imagine a life without rice.   If you have to eat rice, try cooking rice in excess water (from six to 10 parts water to one part rice), and draining the excess water.   Some studies have found that this can reduce from 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content.   
 Whether you are gluten free by choice or due to health issues, it is interesting to note that rice and rice flour are among the most common ingredients in gluten-free products.    
Keep in mind that one serving of rice pasta or two cups of a rice drink can put a child over its recommended weekly maximum consumption of arsenic
If you are concerned about whether you or your child is consuming a high level of arsenic, talk to your doctor.  There are gluten free options with lower arsenic levels, and there are blood and urine tests that your doctor can run to find out.... the easiest and most efficient 'treatment' however is simply eating less rice products.

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