Recent reports have heightened concerns about arsenic levels in rice products here in the US. This has left many parents wondering if we should be serving rice to babies and children. The video summarizes my current recommendations.

Read the report from the Pediatric Health Environmental Specialty Unit mentioned in the video. References on authors and sources are at the end of the report. This report is calm, informative, and backed by experts—there appear to be no false claims.

Remember, arsenic is a naturally occurring element on earth. However, natural doesn’t necessarily mean “good for you.” There are two types of arsenic–organic and inorganic. In general, it’s the inorganic arsenic that we worry about. The big picture goal for all of us is to eat a diverse diet full of a variety of foods thus protecting us by decreasing exposures to any one thing.

Arsenic is large quantities has been found to pose health risks. So taking steps to minimize consumption of foods high in arsenic may be beneficial. Before you bail on rice althogether, know that not every group is ready to tell you to rid your pantry of rice. Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics says currently (fall 2012).

5 Tips To Reduce Arsenic Consumption For Your Family:

  1. Have your water checked for arsenic if you have well water or a private water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates arsenic levels in public water. But if you have any questions or concerns about public water, call your water company and ask about report data.
  2. Consider minimizing rice in your diet. But know, it’s not just rice that provides arsenic exposure in our lives. Fruits, veggies, and juices have inorganic arsenic contamination as well, but the Consumer Reports data compared people who ate rice to those who didn’t partially because previous studies (in Europe) have found that 1/2 of inorganic arsenic we consume may come from the rice in cereals we eat. Consumer Reports found significant differences–those who ate rice in the 24 hours prior to testing had 44% more arsenic than those who didn’t. Because rice is often grown in fields with a history of pesticide use, it may carry higher levels of arsenic than other foods due to its absorption of the water during its growing cycle. Some tests have found that brown rice has more arsenic than white rice, too (arsenic may concentrate in the outer brown hull). Further, although some summaries I’ve read tell consumers to check where rice is grown but I’ve had a really difficult time figuring out the source for rice in products we buy in our own house. Source may matter though: 76% of domestic rice is grown in just 4 US states and those four states reportedly produced rice with higher levels of arsenic. For now, if you can’t determine where the rice was grown don’t fret but instead minimize potential contamination: when serving and eating rice, rinse it with water first before cooking.
  3. Rice doesn’t need to be baby’s first food! Significant levels of arsenic were found in infant rice cereal, even when organic. Start with fruit or veggies as baby’s first food. Cereal is not a “must eat” food. If you’re concerned about iron needs in your baby after 4-6 months of age, talk with your pediatrician, family practitioner, or ARNP about options for optimizing iron in your baby’s diet.
  4. Read the labels of food you eat. Minimize foods with brown rice syrup and rice when you can. Here is Consumer Reports’ recommendations for rice consumption.
  5. Don’t choose rice milk for children under age 5 years of age. Here’s a nice pediatrician-authored blog post about cow’s milk alternatives.