I don't know about you but we eat a lot of rice and rice-based products. After doing some research, we have decided it is time to add a little more variety to our diet and to start eating less rice.
As I look around at my kitchen, I see the GF flour that's main ingredient is rice, the rice crackers, rice cereal, rice cakes, plain rice that we eat at least once a week, rice milk, the GF cookies whose main ingredient is . . . rice! Rice has to be one of the most commonly used substitutes in a GF diet.
And now multiple reports are saying that rice may be contaminated with arsenic, which is not only a potent human carcinogen but also can set up children for other health problems in later life. I am not a doctor, or a nutritionist, or a naturopath, I am just a Mom trying to figure this all out. And from what I have read and heard, it seems like a good time to add more variety to our diet.
As I understand the issue, there is inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products (in addition to the water we drink everyday). Even though the FDA is not yet regulating the levels of inorganic arsenic in rice, they have released a summary of their findings to date.FDA’s testing of the initial samples found these average levels of inorganic arsenic in micrograms (one millionth of a gram):
- Rice (other than Basmati rice): 6.7 per 1 cup (cooked)
- Rice cakes: 5.4 per 2 cakes
- Rice beverages: 3.8 per 240 ml (some samples not tested for inorganic arsenic)
- Rice cereals: 3.5 per 1 cup
- Basmati rice: 3.5 per 1 cup cooked
Consumer Reports has also tested the amount of inorganic arsenic in several rice products. Follow this link for their tests results. As an example, DeBoles Rice Spiral pasta contained 6.9 to 7.5 micrograms per serving. By the way, brown rice has more inorganic arsenic than white rice.
At this point, there is no federal limit for arsenic in food. However, the EPA has set a Reference Dose which is basically how much inorganic arsenic you can be exposed to on a daily basis "without appreciable risk of deleterious noncancer effects during a lifetime.” They have set this standard for chronic oral exposure to inorganic arsenic at 0.0003 mg per kg of body weight per day.
To figure out how much you can be exposed to on a daily basis, take your body weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2. Then multiply that number by 0.0003 to get your daily limit for inorganic arsenic intake from food and water. (Source: Trica Thompson's article on Arsenic and Rice).
Tricia Thompson did it for her body weight (132 pounds) and determined that her inorganic arsenic intake from food and water should be limited to 0.018 mg (or 18 micrograms) per day.
Bottom line, if you take the EPA Reference Dose and compare it to the amounts listed above for inorganic arsenic in rice, you can see that it does not take much to reach this limit, especially if you factor in that you are already getting a certain amount of inorganic arsenic from the water you drink. This is even more disturbing if you are a child who starts their day with rice cereal and rice milk, eats their sandwich on rice-based bread, has a rice-based cracker for snack and cookies as a treat, along with a side of rice for dinner.
In fact, Consumer Reports ran tests on people who consume rice regularly and found that thos people do have higher arsenic levels. They found that "people who reported eating one rice food item had total urinary arsenic levels 44 percent greater than those who had not, and people who reported consuming two or more rice products had levels 70 percent higher than those who had no rice." Consumer Reports
The FDA "is not recommending that consumers change their consumption of rice and rice products at this time, but that people eat a balanced diet containing a wide variety of grains."
Consumer Reports has recommend limiting your rice intake as follows:
A well-balanced diet will have variety and not be too dependent on any one ingredient, but I think variety is particularly hard when your diet is already restricted. Not to mention, a lot of people get the variety in their diets from eating out and those same options just are not as easy for us.
In spite of the challenges, I believe we all need to be aware of what we eat, and given the current findings, it seems prudent to make sure that we are not eating too much rice or rice-based products.
Here are some non-rice gluten free options:
Tricia Thompson lists some non-rice gluten free alternatives in her article. Here are some other ideas:
- Pasta: Try a non-rice pasta. We have always loved Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta.
- Side Dishes: Eat something other than rice as a side dish. Again, Quinoa is a great alternative to rice. I have not seen any reports about Quinoa having inorganic arsenic yet and since it is grown in the South American Andes, I am guessing it will remain safe. Roasted potatoes are another great side dish that are easy to make and meets those carb cravings. Just make sure and scrub them well.
- Snacks: As an alternative to rice crackers, try Sweet Potato Chips by Food Should Taste Good. Or how about some organic snap peas to go with that humus?
- Breakfast: For breakfast, try Cream of Buckwheat, or Gluten Free Whole Grain, Rolled Oats, For cereal, try Nature's Path Organic Honey'd Corn Flakes Cereal. For something totally different, try a smoothie. My gluten free teen drinks one every morning. Or how about fried egg whites, or yogurt and some Udi granola?
- Drinks: There are plenty of non-rice, non-dairy beverages. Almond Milk is one of our favorites.
- Bread: Is a little harder - it seems like we're only recently seeing good GF bread and now we need to worry about the rice too. I don't know the rice content of these breads, but Udis does offer a Millet Chia bread that may have a little less brown rice. I actually prefer this bread. It is very tasty. I also really like good old fashioned corn tortillas as a bread replacement (and, yes, I realize that many corn products also have GMOs so you will want to check that as well).
Baking: As a sweet treat, try baking with almond flour. We have used almond flour as a gluten free alternative for years, and we love it. Rebecca Reilly has some great recipes in her cookbook, Gluten-Free Baking: More Than 125 Recipes for Delectable Sweet and Savory Baked Goods, Including Cakes, Pies, Quick Breads, Muffins, Cookies, and Other Delights. Or try these absolutely delicious chocolate cookies that have almost no flour in them. We also love both dark and milk chocolate bars. Endangered Species Panther, Extreme Dark Chocolate are certified gluten free and many agree that dark chocolate is actually good for you.
Lastly, many are recommending that you cook rice differently than in the past. Consumer Reports recommends rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice for cooking and draining the excess water afterward. "Research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice's inorganic arsenic content."
For our family, I am not panicking about this issue. There are a lot of "bad food choices" available to the American consumer and our gluten free diet actually insulates us from many of these and I clearly believe we eat healthier than most of America. However, we certainly will be cutting back on the overall amount of rice that we consume.