If you knew there was arsenic in your food would you feed it to your family? Probably not because arsenic is a toxic heavy metal. If there was an easy way to reduce arsenic levels would you do it? I think so. It's what I've done for years and thought I would share with you. Here's how to reduce arsenic in rice through cooking, so rice can still be part of a healthy diet.
There's Arsenic in Rice?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in soil and water. While it's natural it's not safe. In fact arsenic is a notorious toxin. While rice grows in water flooded paddy's, it absorbs arsenic from the ground and water.
Different kinds of rice and areas of the world produce rice with varying levels of arsenic. While arsenic is in the earth's crust, banned farming practices and industrial usage are more to blame for the contamination.
Because arsenic is a confirmed carcinogen, it's best to reduce exposure whenever possible. It's not just in rice, but in rice products and foods such as:
- Rice cereal
- Rice milk
- Brown rice syrup
- Rice-based baby formula
- Rice pasta (gluten free)
- Rice protein powder and blends with rice
- Packaged foods containing rice
If you want to read more, check out the links at the end of this post. So how do you cook rice to reduce arsenic levels? It's really very simple: cook it like pasta.
How to Reduce Arsenic
While many people forgo eating rice for a low-carb or grain-free diet, rice is one of the world's most widely consumed and important grains. With high arsenic levels and rice consumption what it is, this is a world-wide concern.
- Cook it like pasta in a lot of water (see below).
- For the lowest levels, choose basmati rice from either California, India, or Pakistan or sushi rice from the U.S.
- If you love brown rice and not so much white, try mixing them half and half after cooking.
Because I've had heavy metals toxicity with unsafe levels of mercury, cadmium, lead and arsenic in my system, my concern climbed when I read reports about high arsenic in rice. It can also be a source of lead and chromium.
I didn't want to give up rice, so I started cooking it like pasta.
Cooking Rice Like Pasta
Cooking rice like pasta reduces arsenic as it releases into the cooking water and drains off after cooking because arsenic is water soluble. If you cook rice the traditional way with approximately a 2:1 ratio of water to rice, the arsenic stays in the rice. It's actually easier because there is no measuring and the rice comes out perfectly. Remember, this is more important for brown rice than white.
Rinse or Not?
To rinse or not to rinse? Yes. It's a good idea to rinse your rice well in cold water before cooking. If you have a sprayer attachment, that's is what I do. If you buy from bulk bins rinsing removes possible dust, unwanted material, and some of the starch.
Some articles mention soaking it over night, but I don't. If you do soak it might reduce the amount of time you cook the rice. Test and see for yourself.
Unfortunately rinsing does not have much of an effect on arsenic levels. It's how you cook it, and neither does whether it is organic or not.
Bring a large pot (7-8 quarts) of water to a boil. Add a little salt and pour in a 1 pound bag of rice. A pound of rice yields about 10 standard servings (not crazy restaurant sized).
Cook rice for the time recommended on the package and then drain off the water. Optionally, place the rice back into the pot on top of the warm stove and allow to steam dry for a few minutes.
Cool and Freeze
Either eat rice hot or spread the drained rice flat on a rimmed half sheet pan and cool, then portion and freeze (a great prep ahead step). I freeze it in 1 cup portions for two servings. I always cook both brown rice this way.
As white rice is naturally lower in arsenic due to the polishing off of the outer surface at processing (but lower in fiber and nutrients), I usually cook white rice the standard way on the package, but use the pasta method as well.
What I Buy
Rice grown in the Southern USA reported higher arsenic levels, probably because many of the fields were once used to grow cotton with arsenic pesticide use. Rice grown in California has lower levels, so I always buy California grown rice. Lundberg Farms is my favorite.
Brown Rice vs. White Rice
Arsenic concentrates in the outer part of the grain called the bran. The bran is why brown rice is brown and more nutritious. The bran (fiber) and germ (nutrients) are polished off to produce white rice leaving nothing but the starchy endosperm.
Without the bran and germ, white rice has lower levels of arsenic. It cooks faster and is easier to digest than brown rice, but it also has a higher glycemic index and load.
If you suffer with histamine intolerance (HIT), rice is generally considered a safe food.
- The Consumer Reports report on Arsenic in Your Food (original) and followup a few years later
- The World Health Report on Arsenic
- Arsenic in Food FAQ by WebMD
- Here's another method to reduce arsenic
- 2020 info on brands with lowest levels
- Dartmouth College article
How to Reduce Arsenic in Rice (through cooking)
- 1 pound rice well rinsed
- enough water to fill a large pot
- Wash the rice well in cold water through a sieve. Fill a large pot, 7-8 quarts, ¾ full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add a sprinkle of salt and carefully add the rice. Turn the heat down to a low boil and cook rice according to the time on the package. When rice is done, strain off water through a fine sieve or colander.
- If eating right away, add a little butter, ghee, olive or coconut oil as preferred plus salt. If meal prepping ahead, spread the rice on a rimmed half sheet baking pan and allow to cool. Once cool, portion and freeze. Rice will keep in the refrigerator up to 5 days.