How can I avoid arsenic in food?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
You’ve probably heard by now that rice has a talent for pulling arsenic from soil and water wherever it grows. The toxin accumulates in the grain’s bran and germ -- the most nutritious parts of the grain! But it's the rice-intensive processed foods, including those that contain organic brown rice syrup (OBRS), that may be the bigger worry. Follow these tips to keep your arsenic levels low:
  • Diversify. A serving of rice a couple of times a month is probably a-okay. The rest of the time, try new whole grains. Amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, teff, and wild rice (it's not actually a grain) are great alternatives. If no one in your household has gluten intolerance, add palate-pleasing barley, rye, triticale, or oats to your meal rotation.
  • Swap OBRS for fruit. OBRS has been a darling of the organic food industry and is often touted as a "better" alternative to high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar. Nonsense! A sweetener is a sweetener is a sweetener. Ditch those cereal bars (and energy shots that weekend warriors rely on for a burst of steam) for fresh fruit, such as a handful of strawberries, a juicy clementine, or a fill-you-up banana.
  • Substitute rice milk and OBRS-based toddler formulas. Try calcium-fortified soy milk, almond milk, a rice-free infant formula, or breast milk, instead. Britain's Food Standards Agency recommended that toddlers and young children (ages 1 to 4 1/2 years) shouldn't be given rice milk as a replacement for formula, cow's milk, or mother's milk because low levels of arsenic in rice drinks can add up to a big dose for tykes who drink a lot of milk every day.
  • Think twice about rice bran. The fiber-packed outer layer of rice seems like a healthy, natural ingredient. That's why you'll find it in a slew of high-fiber breakfast cereals and tucked into all sorts of baked goods. You may want to consider breakfast cereals and other products made with other grains: Rice bran, it turns out, may have 10 to 20 times more arsenic for the same weight as brown rice, and brown rice more than twice as much as plain white rice.
  • Get smart about arsenic in juice and water, too. High levels of inorganic arsenic have also been found in some brands of apple juice and grape juice. Sidestep arsenic in juice by having fresh fruit instead. An estimated 56 million North Americans may also be drinking tap water containing higher-than-healthy levels of arsenic. Find out with a well test or info from your local water supplier.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.