If you eat rice, you likely are ingesting arsenic, a known carcinogen that impacts virtually every organ in the body. Arsenic exposure has been linked to:
- Bladder, lung and skin cancer
- Heart disease
- Lung diseases
- Skin lesions
- In utero impacts on a developing immune system
Because arsenic is water-soluble, it accumulates naturally in rice grown in flooded fields. But a recent study has found that cooking rice in a specific way removes up to 50% of the naturally occurring arsenic in brown rice, and 74% in white rice, while retaining most of the grain’s nutrients.
The trick is to cook the rice using a method known as “parboiling with absorption,” say researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield in England. This involves a few steps:
- Add water to a pot — using 4 cups of water for every cup of dry rice that you plan to cook — and bring the water to a boil.
- Add the rice to the boiling water and let the rice boil for five minutes.
- Drain and refresh the water, this time using 2 cups of water per cup of dry rice.
- Cook the rice on low to medium heat until all the water is absorbed.
For years, experts have been concerned about the level of arsenic found in rice.
A 2012 Consumer Reports study discovered measurable levels of arsenic in nearly all of 60 rice varieties and rice products the publication tested. Follow-up research was even more troubling. According to CR:
“We found that rice cereal and rice pasta can have much more inorganic arsenic — a carcinogen — than our 2012 data showed. According to the results of our new tests, one serving of either could put kids over the maximum amount of rice we recommend they should have in a week.”
So, aside from cooking the rice the right way, which rice should you buy?
Brown rice — which is unmilled or unpolished and retains its bran — contains more arsenic than white rice. Unfortunately, though, the same milling process that removes arsenic from white rice also eliminates 75% to 90% of the rice’s nutrients, according to the University of Sheffield researchers.
Consumer Reports says that as a general rule, white basmati rice from California, India and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S., have half as much inorganic arsenic as most other types of rice, on average.
Meanwhile, brown basmati rice from California, India or Pakistan has about one-third less inorganic arsenic than other types of brown rice, CR says.
CR also suggests steering clear of rice from three U.S. states in particular:
“All types of rice (except sushi and quick cooking) with a label indicating that it’s from Arkansas, Louisiana, or Texas or just from the U.S. had the highest levels of inorganic arsenic in our tests. For instance, white rices from California have 38 percent less inorganic arsenic than white rices from other parts of the country.”