Arsenic In Your Rice

arsenic in rice

Last week, a Consumer Reports study found “worrisome” levels of arsenic in rice. Consumer Reports studied more than 200 samples of rice and rice-containing products like infant cereals to come to their conclusions. Organic rice baby cereal, brown rice, white rice, rice cereals. There were no exceptions to the rule. Foods containing rice contained unusually high levels of arsenic.

Based on their results, they’re calling on the FDA to set appropriate standards for “safe” levels of arsenic in rice. While I wait for those results with bated breath, I have to wonder what this means for me and my family.

Are we going to stop eating rice? Are we going to eat less rice? Should we even be concerned?

Arsenic in Rice: The Study Results

After the hooplah surrounding the earlier Consumer Reports study about the high levels of arsenic levels in apple juice (and arsenic in supermarket chicken before that), we consumers became veritable experts in “organic” and “inorganic” arsenic.

Organic arsenic is the arsenic that occurs in nature and is naturally present in our food, soil, and water supplies. It may or may not be “safe” for our consumption, although most studies warn about consuming too much of it. Inorganic arsenic is a toxin that most agree is not safe at any level. It is a known carcinogen.

Inorganic arsenic has made its way into our food supply because of its routine inclusion in poultry feed, pesticides, and even fertilizers.

The U.S. is the world’s leading user of arsenic, and since 1910 about 1.6 million tons have been used for agricultural and industrial purposes, about half of it only since the mid-1960s. Residues from the decades of use of lead-arsenate insecticides linger in agricultural soil today, even though their use was banned in the 1980s. Other arsenical ingredients in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth are still permitted. Moreover, fertilizer made from poultry waste can contaminate crops with inorganic arsenic. (source)

Because rice is grown submerged in water, arsenic is more easily absorbed into its root and plant system. This helps explain the higher concentrations of arsenic found in rice compared to other grains.

In general, rice grown in the southern United States has more arsenic than rice grown elsewhere. This is likely due to the long history of the agricultural use of arsenic in the South.

Also, brown rice contains more arsenic than white rice. That’s because the arsenic is mostly concentrated in the bran and hull of the rice, and these parts of the rice are polished off white rice.

Arsenic in Rice: Should You Be Concerned?

Well, if you listen to industry response, the answer is “heck no!”

“These are very, very low levels,” Dr James R. Coughlin, president and founder of Coughlin & Associates, an independent toxicology consulting company for the USA Rice Federation, said. “Rice is a safe and nutritious food and in fact people who consume rice more frequently in their diets are actually healthier than other Americans.” (source)

If you listen to Consumer Reports, the answer is “yes, you should regulate your diet to limit exposure to this toxin.”

They even provided this handy chart with recommendations based on the results of their findings:


Besides limiting exposure to rice, Consumer Reports recommend preparing your rice in a more traditional manner:

You may be able to cut your exposure to inorganic arsenic in rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking and draining the excess water afterward. That is a traditional method of cooking rice in Asia. The modern technique of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains has been promoted because it allows rice to retain more of its vitamins and other nutrients. But even though you may sacrifice some of rice’s nutritional value, research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content. (source)

Arsenic in Rice: My Conclusions

Rice is one of the few grains that my family regularly consumes. If you have no digestive or hormonal issues, grains can be safely consumed if you prepare them in a traditional manner.

Rather than go through the effort of sprouting, soaking, and fermenting all my grains, I opt to limit my grain consumption to the most benign of all grains — rice. Rice is relatively low in phytic acid, the anti-nutrient that blocks mineral absorption in the gut. It’s also gluten-free, so you don’t have any of the digestive issues that eating gluten-containing grains can cause in sensitive people. And, it’s a pleasant way to get resistant starch in the diet, providing a good alternative to sweet potatoes, potatoes, and beans. (Plus you can easily find and buy rice pasta, which I use to make my kiddos macaroni and cheese or quick pasta lunches.)

But now this jewel of my diet is being called toxic.

I’m not quite willing to give it up, but I will take this research to heart and limit our consumption. I’ll also try this “traditional method” of cooking rice in excess water that Consumer Reports recommends.

Giving Up Rice and Other Grains

Because my family has none of these obvious digestive or hormonal disorders, we’ve never completely given up grains. We did it as an experiment for Lent a few years back, but didn’t notice any dramatic health improvements other than a few dropped pounds.

But if you or your loved ones do suffer these grain-aggravated problems, then maybe this latest news about rice is like the straw that broke the camels back. Maybe you’re finally ready to go grain-free and see if it helps.

If that’s you, I highly recommend you check out the Go Grain-Free online course being offered by my friend Jill. She’ll hook you up with more than 150 recipes and over 80 video tutorials to help your family transition to grain-free eating — even including how to make some of your family’s favorite grain-including foods (like muffins and pizza dough) with alternative flours.

Click here to find out more about the Go Grain-Free! E-course.

(photo by stevendepolo)


  1. Probono Eyecandy via Facebook says

    I talked to Mum-mum about it and they swear their Chinese rice doesn’t have that problem but whatever, no more Mum-mums for my kids when the box is gone.

  2. Vicki Vaughn Morrison via Facebook says

    It’s also white rice so there is very little nutritional value left in it. Interesting that what’s left is the arsenic.

    • says

      Yeah, but the arsenic we’re talking about here is a direct result of the US agriculture practice of feeding chickens arsenic to get them to grow bigger faster and resist more diseases and then their poop ends up running off into the rice paddies. The Japanese didn’t (and don’t) do that. You’re not comparing apples to apples.

  3. Allison Joi Burgueno via Facebook says

    I’m sorry but this is not entirely true for all rice. I’m getting getting very concerned with all of the sensationalist posts. Just make sure your olive oil is olive oil and that you eat reputable brown rice, if you eat rice. What was the other one?

  4. says

    I have a hard time eating anything with rice in it since I found out much of it is genetically modified with human DNA even here in the US they have been growing it in Kansas… a little too soylent green for me!!!” RICE IS PEOPLE” LOLOLOL JK sorry had to see the movie…

  5. Laura Hartman via Facebook says

    Yes, I would concentrate on Californian rice. I know the Lundberg Farms are going to be one this like while on rice. Just another think to thank CAFO poultry operations for!

  6. Loren Drebin via Facebook says

    The articles I’ve read so far on this primarily target rice from the southern US, albeit where most of it is grown. Califiornia rice tested much cleaner.

  7. Allison Joi Burgueno via Facebook says

    love living here…for all of its expense, traffic, etc…the year round growing season and ability to have rice fields makes it a wonderful place.

  8. Sandra Johnson via Facebook says

    arsenic I’ve read recently it actually has some good properties. I think above all, a diverse diet is the key, both in genres of food but also in brands if possible. If one has a diverse diet, hardly will eat rice twice a day 7 days a week.

  9. says

    Read the whole report:
    There’s tips on how to cook rice to lessen arsenic content and a great luit of rice and rice products showing the arsenic content.

    It seems the main concern is that babies and small children are getting too much arsenic since mainstream encourages rice cereal as the first food. Also, lots of vegetarian/vegan parents give their children rice milk in place of cows milk. The report eludes to arsenic possibly being in soy also, so soy milk would be a bad choice also.

    • KristenM says

      Hi Winona,

      If you follow the link to the Consumer Reports article, you can find the PDF of their full report. That breaks down all the different kinds and varieties of rice foods, their origins, and the results.

  10. says

    great to know. I guess I’ll just stop eating…then I know I’m safe. Seriously, I’ll keep eating rice. I’m guessing there are worse things out there to worry about. It’s good to be informed, eat a healthy diverse diet of unprocessed foods, exercise…but what fun is life when the sky is falling all the time? In many cultures, without rice or other grains ( oh no, Gluten!) they would simply starve to death. It’s all great while living a hipster urban lifestyle, without a family to feed…but for some people, it gets a bit unrealistic to keep cutting out all this food from our diets. I have a garden, but that can’t feed us all year.

  11. Kati Stiles Carter via Facebook says

    We are just now starting to deal with a gluten intolerance. The best bread we have found is made with rice flour. Could you post recipes for bread that use buckwheat, quinoa, or coconut flour? We also have a nut allergy, and nightshade allergy, so no potato starch or almond flour.

  12. says

    I started a petition asking the FDA for regulation of arsenic in rice and by-products in 2/12 after the Dartmouth study came out when I realized that there has been multiple studies since 2007 talking about arsenic and rice. 5 years! Please spread the word about my petition and sign it as well. Thanks for writing about rice and arsenic. The more educated people are the better.

  13. Loren Drebin via Facebook says

    Did yall read the article? Rice doesn’t inherently contain arsenic. Its residue from longterm pesticide usage, and its primarily in the southern US. The article doesn’t talk about other countries much, so whether imported rice is tainted is for another article. And it doesn’t matter if its white or brown or organic, if its from an area that used arsenic in the past, its in the rice. Arsenic was used heavily in cotton fields, and alot of those fields have been converted over to rice. Arsenic was also, and still is, used for food crops, and part of the point of this whole thing is to call on the government to put an end to it. As far as minimizing exposure, as has been noted in various posts here, it can be done by cooking methods – boiling the rice in extra water and draining it when cooked – and by avoiding southern-grown rice.

  14. Jim Macey says

    Just a little fun with an erratic phrase in the 2nd paragraph: it should be “bated breath”. Bate is a version of ‘abate’ – so you’re holding back. I had a picture of worms on your tongue to give you “baited breath”…

  15. says

    I was just talking with my SIL today after she had a thorough workup done at the doctor’s one of her results showed a high level of arsenic. Now we’re all wondering if it’s the rice. She, like us is gluten free and has been relying on rice quite a bit.

  16. Jenny says

    Drink more coffee. 😉 Seriously, it’s great for heavy metal detox. So are salt baths. Sea Salt is great, but cheaper water softener or road salt(NaCl)works too.

  17. Bliss Doubt says

    Choosing foods, while agribiz is out there poisoning the planet, is like playing whack-a-mole. No more corn and soy. Nothing with HFCS, and then sugar gets genetically mutilated. I had to get used to brown rice vs. white, and I came to love the nutty flavor. I was eating a lot of it. Now rice is out. Quinoa next, but for how long?

  18. says

    Gosh darn it, I just moved to Miami Beach and was SO excited that I could find *locally grown* (sort-of….from central FL) rice at the farmer’s markets. I’m going to contact the farm I buy from to see if they know anything about the soil where they grow the rice, and if they have any comments about arsenic.

  19. says

    Ugh this is unfortunate because I love rice and used to enjoy it the few times a year I did have it. I just think they need to label everything. Why can’t these manufacturers just be honest with the public and stop withholding information that will keep us out of the doctors office. That would be a start in the right direction. Thank goodness for prop 37 in california hopefully it passes.

  20. Sara L. says

    I hate to bring it up, but some vegetables also have extremely high levels of arsenic. Brussels sprouts are one of the worst :( There was a study at Dartmouth last spring (2014) about this if you want to look it up….

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