In April, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a recommendation for parents to limit the exposure of their babies to rice, rice cereals, rice pasta, rice milk and other rice containing foods due to very high levels of arsenic found in rice.

 

What is Arsenic?

 

Arsenic is a heavy metal found in the environment (water, soil, air) which readily dissolves in water. It occurs in two forms — organic (such as in seafood) and inorganic (often from water). The inorganic type is much more harmful, although in high doses the organic arsenic can also cause harm. Prolonged exposure to high levels of arsenic has been connected to the development of certain cancers (skin, bladder, kidney, lung), brain development disorders, infertility, miscarriages, diabetes and heart disease. Arsenic is also found in cigarette smoke.

 

Why Rice?

 

Rice absorbs high levels of arsenic from water and soil because of the unique way rice is cultivated in water flooded paddies. Arsenic is also found in high levels in pesticides, animal feeds and fertilizers, which increases soil contamination of arsenic on which rice is grown.

 

Many types of fruits and vegetables also contain arsenic but at lower levels. Fruit juices (especially apple and grape juices) were found to contain higher levels of arsenic. Brown rice has much higher levels of arsenic than white rice. There was no significant difference between organic rice and non-organic rice.

 

Why Children?

 

Children absorb higher levels or rice because their body size is much smaller, which puts them at higher risk from prolonged exposure.

 

What is a Safe Level?

 

There is no safe level. The FDA recommends limiting the amount of arsenic in babies’ rice products (rice cereals, rice pasta and cookies, rice milk) to less than 100ppm (parts per million). But most of the rice grains that were tested had much higher levels and most of the rice products for babies had levels up to 1.5 to six times higher (brown rice products higher than white).

 

How Much Rice Can Babies Take?

 

This is a very difficult question to answer in a country like Vietnam where rice is the staple food. Small babies, children and pregnant women are at higher risk and should be more careful to limit the amount of rice they eat.

 

Here are a few FDA recommendations that will help limit your child exposure to arsenic:

 

— Avoid giving rice milk to your child. There are many other alternatives, if you choose not to give regular milk or if your child is allergic to cow’s milk

— Avoid rice cookies, pasta and foods containing brown rice syrup.

— Avoid brown rice.

— Infants should consume only one serving of rice cereals a day. (One serving = 1.5 cups of prepared cereals).

— Children should eat up to 1.5 servings of rice a week. (1 serving = half a cup of cooked rice)

— Choose basmati or jasmine rice. (they contain less arsenic than other rice types)

— Use other grains such as oatmeal, barley, bulgur wheat, buckwheat and quinoa.

— Avoid fruit juice (especially apple and grape). Give your child whole fruit to eat and water.

— Wash vegetables and fruit thoroughly. It will reduce arsenic residue (and other toxic chemicals).

 

Dr. Jonathan Halevy is a senior pediatrician at the Family Medical Practice in Ho Chi Minh City. For more info click on vietnammedicalpractice.com

1 comment

  • Comment Link Brik Brik Nov 18, 2017

    I eat the Royal brand of brown Jasmine rice. Strangely though, none of the recent reports giving results of the analysis for arsenic even list rice from Vietnam. Most samples are from Thailand, India, the USA, China. However one research paper indicated that Vietnam exports 20% of the world's rice trade: "The largest exporter of rice in 2009 was Thailand (29% of the world’s rice export) followed by Vietnam (20%), USA and Pakistan (10% each), India (8%), and the rest of countries (23%) (FAO, 2010). http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187853521400032X#b0025
    " Isn't it strange that no analyses were done of samples from vietnamese rice? I'm concerned that with no information on it it could be very high. Vietnam is tapping into an aquifer contaminated with Arsenic for use in irrigation which makes me wonder about the levels in rice if they are using this water for irrigation which I have no doubt they are.
    https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo1540
    https://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/august/arsenic-water-vietnam-080913.html
    Why has no testing and reporting been done on this rice??? I feel compelled to stop eating with this strange lack of information and transparency because of the serious health risks that are possible, i.e, cancers, cardiovascular disease. Can anyone shed light on this? Is the rice being exported tested first by the government agencies?

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