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Arsenic In Rice

Did you know that dangerous levels of arsenic are present in some rice grown in the United States? Nearly half of domestic-grown rice — 49%, to be exact — is grown in the south-central part of the country. This is where the problem starts...

The old cotton fields in the upper and deep South have been turned into rice paddies. Unfortunately, when cotton was grown, there was a problem with the boll weevil beetle, which ravaged the plants. When chemical sprays started becoming available in the 1930s, crops were sprayed with arsenical pesticides. This continued, including a major increase starting in the 1960s, until arsenic was finally outlawed in the 1980s.

Sadly, these pesticides remain in the soil, and will for some time: it takes 9,000 years for arsenic to biodegrade completely. When the rice paddies are flooded, latent arsenic is absorbed by the rice. To make matters worse, according to the FDA, it doesn't matter if the rice is labeled “organic” or not (I sure don't understand that one!). 

For this reason, seek to avoid rice grown in the Midwest or South. The exception would be a popular item these days, organic wild rice grown in Minnesota. It contains no arsenic.

IS THERE A SAFE RICE?

The short answer? Yes. The rice containing the least amount of arsenic is Organic Basmati, which is grown in California, India or Pakistan. Also, as mentioned above, wild rice grown in Minnesota is also safe and highly nutritious.

As far as rice color, here's a list that rates arsenic content from least (safest) to most (dangerous):

Wild rice (depends where it's grown)

White rice

Black rice

Brown rice

 WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT:

If you do use rice grown in the mid- and southern U.S., you can eliminate a lot of the latent arsenic with a couple different cooking methods. Rinsing the rice will remove a lot of the arsenic, but it also removes 50% to 70% of the nutrients. Here are a couple of other ways to remove most of the arsenic while leaving the nutrients: 

Method 1: 

1) Add water only to a pot: 4 parts water to 1 part rice.

2) Let the water boil

3) Add rice and boil for another 5 minutes

4) Discard water

5) Add fresh water (2:1)

6) Cook until water is absorbed

Method 2:

1) Cook rice in excess water 6-10 parts to 1 part rice

2) Drain excess liquid

 

THE DANGERS OF ARSENIC

There are 2 types of arsenic:

1) Organic arsenic, a natural substance in soil. It’s not good for us, but it’s generally not the problem. It leaves the body fairly quickly.

2) Inorganic arsenic is one of the most toxic poisons on Earth. For nearly sixty years, from 1930 to the end of the 1980s, it was included in fertilizers and pesticides.      It tends to build up in the body, especially if consumed frequently.

 

Short term exposure: 

  • stomach aches
  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • abdominal pain & diarrhea
  • confusion

Long term exposure:

  • skin pigmentation & lesions
  • dementia
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure 
  • heart disease
  • neurological problems
  • other ailments

On top of that, arsenic is a known carcinogen linked to skin, bladder, liver, lung and kidney cancers; with lung cancer being the most prominent.

Pregnant women who are exposed to arsenic may put their unborn child’s health in danger by compromising the baby’s immune system early in life. It has also been associated with lowered developmental test results in children. Another huge problem comes from rice cereals often fed to babies. These are exceptionally high in arsenic and should be avoided.

Here's the cherry on top, for those who don’t eat entirely plant-based diets: chicken also has arsenic. Chickens are fed drugs containing arsenic to help them grow faster. Organic chicken might be safe, since it’s not supposed to be fed any drugs.

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