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(Gluten-Free Family Life) Concerned About Arsenic in Rice? Me Too
January 9, 2013
Concerned About Arsenic in Rice? Me Too
How We Limited Our Family's Arsenic Intake from Rice
When I write about gluten-free topics, I like the piece to be fun and uplifting-- because that' s how we always try to approach the diet.
Sometimes, though, a health issue arises and it is best to deal with it directly, even if it is neither fun nor uplifting. As a mother and wife of loved ones with celiac disease, I was worried and dismayed to hear reports are arsenic in rice. I first read about this in a blurb in the Science Section of the New York Times in 2007.
Since that time, I tried, often fruitlessly, to find out exactly what this meant -- how much rice was too much? Certainly, the amount of rice to exceed limits would differ for a child than for an adult, but by how much? Did rice flour also contain arsenic? I consulted with our pediatric gastroenterologist, our pediatrician, and wrote emails to respected editors of gluten-free publications, looking for research and guidance. However, the advice was nonspecific and similar: vary your grains.
Varying your grains is always good advice. But, as a family, we have been blessed by the plethora of ready-to-eat gluten free products that are ever growing in our stores. We love the bread, bagels, pretzels, pasta. But, guess what? They often contain rice flour as their first ingredient. Before we gave up or limited these items which we had just so very recently become excited about, I wanted to know more. (Note: This article is about rice. As a family, we ensure that we eat healthily and include many servings of fruits, vegetables, meats/proteins, and dairy products. But, the focus of this article is rice.)
This past fall Consumer Reports published a study regarding arsenic in rice. This article seemed to get the attention of the gluten-free community. After it was published, several gluten-free publications and blogs wrote follow-up pieces, specifically addressing how arsenic in rice might affect the gluten-free community. It was from these follow up pieces that I was able to find the information I needed to see how much or little rice and rice products our family should eat to limit our exposure to arsenic to safe levels.
With the information from the Consumer Reports piece and the benefit of Tricia Thompson's 2012 article on glutenfreewatchdog.org, I started our personal arsenic analysis this fall. I calculated, based upon my daughter's weight, the maximum micrograms of arsenic she could safely consume each day. This would be our top threshold, knowing that my husband could safely consume more than this. Based upon the formula in Tricia Thompson's blog, we calculated my daughter could consume up to 10 micrograms of arsenic per day safely.
The next step was to determine the amount of arsenic in our water. Yes! Water. This isn't just a rice issue. The municipal water quality report did not report on arsenic; so I called our water department for the information. Though our water meets all federal standards and is very safe, we discovered that 4 liters of water per day would add 5 micrograms of arsenic to the diet. It shocked me that this was half of my daughter's daily maximum intake!
Next, I called the producers of many of our favorite gluten-free products to see if they disclosed the geographic source of their rice flour. I did this because rice from the southern United States typically contains the highest levels of arsenic. Rice from California contains less. And, Asian rice typically contains even less. Unfortunately, not one manufacturer of gluten-free food that I called would disclose the geographic source of their rice. Without this information, I decided to assume, for counting arsenic, that their rice was from the southern United States, even if it was not, just to count cautiously.
The grains in my daughter's and husband's diets typically include a bagel, waffle, or bowl of hot rice for breakfast, a sandwich on gluten-free bread at lunch, and pasta, bread, rolls, or rice at dinner.
A cup of cooked rice from the southern U.S., alone (containing on average about 6 micrograms of arsenic), with her water intake, would put her over the 10 micrograms. I guessed that rice flour in a serving size of the other rice-based products we consumed to be about ¼ to ½ cup per serving. Combined with water, this only allowed my daughter two to four servings of rice-containing gluten-free products per day, if she ate no cooked rice.
It was clear we had to make changes!
The first step we took was to buy Culligan bottled water and a water dispenser. We did a cost analysis of buying the Culligan water, which has almost 0 micrograms of arsenic, compared to installing our own reverse osmosis system in the home. Home systems claim to remove 97-99% of the arsenic, but that number varies greatly based upon water flow pressure. We were talking about such a small amount of arsenic to remove, just 5 micrograms per 4 liters, that I wanted to get as close to zero as possible for the money.
We switched our rice to Indian Basmati rice, which has, on average, about 3 micrograms of arsenic per cup, compared to 6 or more. And, we drastically cut the amount of rice we served as a side dish each week -- from 7 + times per week, to about 2.
As for store-bought gluten-free breads and rolls, we switched to Udi's multigrain for the bread, which I believe contains less rice flour than the regular Udi's sandwich bread, based on its ingredient listing. We also continue to make bread, including the Bread's from Anna mix, which contains no rice flour. For bagels, we switched to Glutino frozen bagels, which contain no rice flour.
I started baking breakfast products in large quantities, using exclusively almond flour, which didn't turn out that well, or a mixture of almond flour and other flours and starches. This is still a work in progress. (Read: Cry for help from gluten-free chefs!). I have been freezing the finished products so I don't have to bake as frequently.
And, pasta! As reported previously in this blog, we switched to Sam Mills Pasta D'Oro, which is a 100% corn pasta. It is delicious!
The Snyders gluten-free pretzels contain no rice flour, compared to some in the Glutino.
There are still some elements of rice and rice flour in our diets, especially in sweets. We feel these changes keep the arsenic in the rice below 10 micrograms per day for all of us, a healthy change!
This whole issue is a negative one, right up there with restaurants who claim to have a gluten-free menu, but, in fact, just list the plain meats and vegetables on their regular menu. But, it can be dealt with nutritiously and happily, just like any other issue.
I conclude with three pleas:
- I ask the national celiac organizations, the major gluten-free publications, and celiac research facilities to please remember children with celiac disease and children's needs on the gluten-free diet. This is a group that is often not spoken for nor represented, but has distinct needs and health issues.
- I ask the world of gluten-free chefs and bakers to please develop recipes that do not rely as heavily on rice flours. Please include almond flour, soy flour, sorghum flour and millet flour in recipes that work and are delicious.
- I ask the national gluten-free food producers to please address the geographic source of rice in your rice flour and to continue to develop products that do not rely as heavily on rice flour. And, please fortify your products with nutrients found in many gluten-containing counterparts. Folic acid and vitamins please.
For further reading:
Science Section, New York Times, 3/13/2007 (scroll down in article):
Tricia Thompson,diet.com, 9/17/2009:
Consumer Reports, Arsenic in Your Food, November, 2012:
Huffington Post Report on Consumer Reports Study, 9/18/2012:
Tricia Thompson, glutenfreewatchdog.org, 9/29/12:
(note, this is the most valuable article available, in my opinion, you must scroll down in blog).
University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center statement on arsenic in rice flour:
(note, this is the answer that scared me to death, we were clearly exceeding this, if counting all rice based products in our diet, and we did not know the source of the rice flour).
Academic study showing differing levels of arsenic in rice based upon global source of rice, 3/8/2008:
Rice industry-sponsored information regarding arsenic in rice:
Lundberg Farms very upfront method of dealing with the issue:
Advocacy regarding arsenic in food: