New research by the nonprofit Consumers Union (CU), which publishes Consumer Reports, may cause us to reconsider what we place in our steamer or cookpot. Rice—a staple of many diets, vegetarian or not—is frequently contaminated with arsenic, a known carcinogen that is also believed to interfere with fetal development.
Rice contains more arsenic than grains like oats or wheat because it is grown in water-flooded conditions, and so more readily absorbs the heavy metal from soil or water than most plants. Even most U.S.-grown rice comes from the south-central region, where crops such as cotton were heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades. Thus, some organically grown rice in the region is impacted, as well.
CU analysis of more than 200 samples of both organic and conventionally grown rice and rice products on U.S. grocery shelves found that nearly all contained some level of arsenic; many with alarmingly high amounts. There is no federal standard for arsenic in food, but there is a limit of 10 parts per billion in drinking water, and CU researchers found that one serving of contaminated rice may have as much arsenic as an entire day’s worth of water.
To reduce the risk of exposure, rinse rice grains thoroughly before cooking and follow the Asian practice of preparing it with extra water to absorb arsenic and/or pesticide residues; and then drain the excess water before serving.