Is “Healthy” Rice Killing You?

arsenic in rice

Eaters of white and brown rice have healthier diets— they take in more fruits and vegetables and less saturated fat and added sugar, a Baylor College of Medicine study of more than 14,000 adults showed. But all’s not well in Riceville. It turns out, the grain is often tainted with carcinogenic metals, especially when crops are grown in once industrial areas. In China, the concern is cadmium, a metallic compound that may cause cancer and kidney disease. In fact, a Greenpeace East Asia test found unsafe levels of cadmium in 12 of 13 rice crops sampled. Stateside, arsenic is the enemy, though the FDA has so far deemed levels too low to cause immediate adverse health effects.

Still, fear is growing that tainted rice poses major health risks: “Arsenic is a carcinogen, as is cadmium,” says Arsenic & Rice author Andy Meharg, Ph.D. “Small amounts over a long time will increase cancer risks.” Thankfully, you don’t need to ban rice from your diet. Here are six waysto ensure that your favorite carb source is the healthiest it can be.

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1. Look for Rice from Africa

“The best rice is from Africa—Egypt, Ghana, and Tanzania are the lowest,” says Meharg, “but it’s not widely available in the U.S.” Instead, look for basmati from India, Pakistan, or Nepal, like Target’s Archer Farms Basmati or Trader Joe’s Organic White Basmati.

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2. Which kind is best?

Pick white rice over brown. Arsenic concentrates in the outer grain—the hull germ, and bran—which are all removed from white rice, leaving it less toxic.

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3. Instantly Better

For white rice, instant is better than parboiled— which, like brown rice, comes with its bran intact.

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4. Stick With the West Coast

For U.S. brands, stick with California-grown. Rice planted where arsenic- based pesticides were once used on cotton crops (think Arkansas and Louisiana) is more likely to contain the metal.


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5. Don’t Simmer

Rice is typically simmered in water that’s completely absorbed during cooking. Instead, to extract metals, cook rice like pasta: Boil one part rice to six parts water for 30 minutes, drain excess water, then let sit, covered, for 10 minutes.

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6. Change it up

Vary your grains. For the best choices, try these four new grains you haven’t heard of.

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