When it Comes to Rice, Bland Doesn’t Mean Benign

6:30 pm in Children's Health, Food by Mary Brune

Image: vitasamb2001 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I was never much of a rice-eater as a kid. Unless, of course, that rice had gobs of butter melted on it. And it wasn’t until moving to California in the mid-1990s that I developed an appetite for cuisines in which rice is a featured ingredient. Our two kids even like it when it’s wrapped up in a tortilla, or adorned with a heaping pile of black beans. In fact, that’s what we had for dinner just last night.

Fast forward to this morning and imagine my freak-out when I read the latest research out of Dartmouth College that found bland, unassuming rice is a major exposure source for toxic arsenic. According to one statistic, over 3 billion people eat rice every day. That’s a lot of people potentially being exposed to a lot of arsenic.

According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), chronic exposure to  low doses of arsenic can cause a range of serious health problems, including skin lesions, fatal skin cancer, gangrene, and a range of fatal organ cancers including those initiated in liver, kidney and lungs.

This latest report is actually the second such findings regarding arsenic in rice. The first, released in December 2011 which studied the arsenic levels in the urine of pregnant women, went unnoticed by me much like the rice products present in many processed foods today. That study concluded that rice consumption during pregnancy could expose the fetus to potentially harmful levels of arsenic.

This latest study takes that one step further. Chances are, if you’ve ever looked at the ingredient list on the side of a cereal bar wrapper, you’ve probably seen “brown rice syrup” listed there. Turns out that’s at the heart of the latest concern. The newest study found that baby formula and cereal bars that contained brown rice syrup had higher levels of arsenic. One of the formulas tested had arsenic concentrations up to six times the federal safe drinking water limit.

Last night’s burrito wasn’t my only concern. After reading the study found arsenic in cereal bars, I ran a Google search to find out whether my kids’ favorite snack bars, the Z-bar (made by Clif Bar) contained organic brown rice syrup. Although it wasn’t the first ingredient listed, it was the fourth. Not sure whether that was cause for concern or not, I wrote to Clif Bar to ask whether they had heard about the study and whether they were making plans to eliminate brown rice syrup from their bars.I’ll keep you posted.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. I’m just a mom, not a scientist. That doesn’t make me any less awed by and grateful to those big-brain scientists who uncovered this latest ugly hiding under the rock. Sure, life might be more blissful if I were able to remain ignorant of the hazards out there. But at least now I have the information—and the power—to use it to protect the health of my family.