White Rice
White rice may contain high levels of arsenic. Image: Flickr / JerseyRockStudios / CC-BY

In the United States, the EPA and FDA regulate the level of arsenic in water. Some researchers, however, have found that as little as one cup of cooked rice can expose a person to higher-than-safe levels of arsenic.

Study of arsenic in food

Scientists in the United States were originally hoping to study the exposure to arsenic present in well water. A small group of pregnant women in New Hampshire were asked to record the seafood, rice and water they took in over two days before a urine test. The theory was that the water would lead to very high arsenic levels because well water is not usually tested or regulated by the EPA. The researchers, however, discovered that consuming rice leads to high levels of arsenic.

Arsenic levels in rice

According to the researchers, women who ate half a cup of rice two days in a row showed very high levels of arsenic. Reportedly, these women showed the same levels of inorganic arsenic as women who drank a liter of tap water that has the maximum allowable amount of arsenic. Most arsenic found in nature is in soil and is not taken up by food. Rice, however, is grown in flooded fields, where the water makes the arsenic soluble and is absorbed by the growing rice. The researchers estimated that each gram of rice consumed will raise body levels of arsenic by 1 percent.

The dangers of arsenic

The toxicity of arsenic is both global and cumulative. The risks of consuming arsenic-laced rice are very low for most people. Average rice consumption in the United States is about two to three cups per person, per week. Researchers are using this study not to make dietary restrictions, but do encourage the EPA or FDA to regulate the amount of arsenic in food in general. Only pregnant or nursing women who  consume very high amounts of rice or rice milk should discuss an arsenic test with their doctors.

Sources

Jezebel http://jezebel.com/5865579/add-rice-to-the-list-of-foods-that-will-kill-you
USA Today http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/safety/story/2011-12-05/Researchers-call-for-monitoring-of-arsenic-levels-in-rice/51657062/1
Sun-Times http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/health/9285695-423/scientists-warn-of-arsenic-in-rice.html

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