FDA: Rice is safe, despite small levels of arsenic

September 6, 2013 2:47:42 PM PDT
After testing 1300 samples of rice and rice-based products, the Food and Drug Administration says the amount of arsenic is too low for immediate concern.

The agency will not release brand information, but says it tested various types of rice, rice based infant and toddler cereal, snacks, even beer.

The levels varied brown rice and rice pasta containing the highest amounts of arsenic, but overall the agency says levels are still too low to cause any short term health effects.

Family practioner and nutrition specialist Dr. Jeffrey Morrison says the concerns have to be taken in context

"No one is getting arsenic toxicity from these foods. They are still healthful and should be part of the diet but in moderation," he said.

In large quantities, arsenic is known to cause cancer. For decades arsenic was used in pesticide making its way into the soil, water and rice, in particular brown rice which still has the outer layers. Even if levels are low, the long term risks are not known and rice is a staple in many diets.

Avoiding rice is not easy. It's found in products and a sweetener that may surprise you.

Organic brown rice syrup is in many organic foods. Recent studies from Consumer Reports and Dartmouth University researchers found significant arsenic levels in some toddler formulas, cereal bars and other products containing brown rice syrup.

Many gluten-free products contain rice flour instead, but as owner of G-Free NYC, Lynn Shuter says that's changing.

"This is corn. This is a mixture of different grains - quinoi, amaranth and brown rice," she said.

A variety of grains is what everyone should be eating. Health officials recommend a balanced diet to minimize the potential negative effects of consuming too much of any one food.

The FDA says it will continue to look at the long term effects of low aresenic levels. The bottom line for now is not to avoid rice, but to limit the amount of rice.

Same message for parents - don't feed your toddler a rice-based cereal every day. Try to vary the types of grains.