Which Rice Has Less Arsenic: Black, Brown, Red, White, or Wild?

Which Rice Has Less Arsenic: Black, Brown, Red, White, or Wild?
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Brown rice contains more arsenic than white rice, but the arsenic in brown rice is less absorbable, so how does it wash out when you compare the urine arsenic levels of white-rice eaters to brown-rice eaters?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Arsenic in rice is “a cause for concern,” according to a consensus statement of the “European and North American [Societies] for Pediatric…Nutrition.” In the very least, wherever people eat a lot of rice, “authorities should be prompted to declare which of the rice [types] have the lowest arsenic content and are, therefore, the least harmful for use during infancy and childhood.”

Extensive recent testing by the FDA found that long-grain white rice, which is what most people eat, appears to have more arsenic than medium- or short-grain rice. But this may just be because most of the shorter grains are produced in California, which has significantly less contaminated rice paddies than those in the south, like Texas or Arkansas, where most of the long-grain rice is grown. So, it’s less long versus short, than white versus brown.

What about some of the naturally pigmented varieties, like red rice or black rice, which may be even healthier than brown? They may have even less than white! That’s exciting. One sample of black rice from China, purchased in Kuwait, had higher levels. But that’s for total arsenic; so, the toxic inorganic portion may only be half that, putting it on par with U.S. brown rice, which makes how low this red rice sample from Sri Lanka even more extraordinary. But, it had a ridiculous amount of cadmium, attributed to the cadmium content of widely used Sri Lankan fertilizers, evidently.

Though colored rice samples purchased mostly in the U.S. were better than brown or white, a dozen samples of red rice purchased in Europe were as bad as brown, or worse. I was hoping that wild rice would have little or none, since it’s a totally different plant, but an average of eight samples put it nearly comparable to white, though containing only about half as much toxic arsenic as brown.

Yes, the arsenic found in a daily serving of white rice carries a hundred times the acceptable cancer risk—136 times to be exact. But brown rice is even riskier. Brown rice averages two-thirds more toxic arsenic than white rice. But is that just because brown rice tends to be a different strain, or grown in different places? No. If you take the exact same batch of brown rice, and measure the arsenic levels before and after polishing it to white, you do get a significant drop in arsenic content.

But it’s not what you eat; it’s what you absorb. And the arsenic in brown rice appears less bioavailable than the arsenic in white rice. Maybe because the texture of brown rice cuts down on the release of arsenic from the grain? Or, maybe because the bran in brown rice helps bind it up? Regardless, instead of this—taking bioavailability into account—the difference may be more like this: a third more, rather than 70% more. But this was based on an “in vitro gastrointestinal fluid system,” where they just strung together beakers and tubes to mimic our gut: like one flask with stomach acid, then another with intestinal juices. See, the problem is that it’s never been tested in humans—until now. Yes, “brown rice may contain more arsenic than white rice.” But how about just measuring the urine levels of arsenic in white rice-eaters compared to brown rice-eaters? That shows how much you actually absorbed. For the arsenic to get from the rice into your bladder, it has to be absorbed through your gut into your bloodstream.

So, if you test the urine of thousands of Americans who don’t eat rice at all, they’re still peeing out about eight micrograms of toxic, carcinogenic arsenic a day. It’s in the air; it’s in the water; there’s a little bit in nearly all foods. But, eat just one food—a cup or more of white rice a day—and your exposure shoots up 65%.

Okay. But, what about those who eat a cup or more a day of brown rice, which technically contains even more arsenic? Your exposure shoots up the same 65%. No difference between the urine arsenic levels of white rice-eaters compared to brown rice-eaters. Now, this was not an interventional study, where they feed people the same amount of rice to see what happened, which would have been ideal. This was a population study. So, maybe the reason the levels are the same is that white rice-eaters eat more rice than brown rice-eaters. So, that’s why they ended up with the same levels? We don’t know, but it should help to put the minds of brown rice-eaters at rest. But, would it be better to eat no rice at all?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Marco Galtarossa and Yasir Bugra Eryimaz from The Noun Project.

Image credit: IRRI Images via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Arsenic in rice is “a cause for concern,” according to a consensus statement of the “European and North American [Societies] for Pediatric…Nutrition.” In the very least, wherever people eat a lot of rice, “authorities should be prompted to declare which of the rice [types] have the lowest arsenic content and are, therefore, the least harmful for use during infancy and childhood.”

Extensive recent testing by the FDA found that long-grain white rice, which is what most people eat, appears to have more arsenic than medium- or short-grain rice. But this may just be because most of the shorter grains are produced in California, which has significantly less contaminated rice paddies than those in the south, like Texas or Arkansas, where most of the long-grain rice is grown. So, it’s less long versus short, than white versus brown.

What about some of the naturally pigmented varieties, like red rice or black rice, which may be even healthier than brown? They may have even less than white! That’s exciting. One sample of black rice from China, purchased in Kuwait, had higher levels. But that’s for total arsenic; so, the toxic inorganic portion may only be half that, putting it on par with U.S. brown rice, which makes how low this red rice sample from Sri Lanka even more extraordinary. But, it had a ridiculous amount of cadmium, attributed to the cadmium content of widely used Sri Lankan fertilizers, evidently.

Though colored rice samples purchased mostly in the U.S. were better than brown or white, a dozen samples of red rice purchased in Europe were as bad as brown, or worse. I was hoping that wild rice would have little or none, since it’s a totally different plant, but an average of eight samples put it nearly comparable to white, though containing only about half as much toxic arsenic as brown.

Yes, the arsenic found in a daily serving of white rice carries a hundred times the acceptable cancer risk—136 times to be exact. But brown rice is even riskier. Brown rice averages two-thirds more toxic arsenic than white rice. But is that just because brown rice tends to be a different strain, or grown in different places? No. If you take the exact same batch of brown rice, and measure the arsenic levels before and after polishing it to white, you do get a significant drop in arsenic content.

But it’s not what you eat; it’s what you absorb. And the arsenic in brown rice appears less bioavailable than the arsenic in white rice. Maybe because the texture of brown rice cuts down on the release of arsenic from the grain? Or, maybe because the bran in brown rice helps bind it up? Regardless, instead of this—taking bioavailability into account—the difference may be more like this: a third more, rather than 70% more. But this was based on an “in vitro gastrointestinal fluid system,” where they just strung together beakers and tubes to mimic our gut: like one flask with stomach acid, then another with intestinal juices. See, the problem is that it’s never been tested in humans—until now. Yes, “brown rice may contain more arsenic than white rice.” But how about just measuring the urine levels of arsenic in white rice-eaters compared to brown rice-eaters? That shows how much you actually absorbed. For the arsenic to get from the rice into your bladder, it has to be absorbed through your gut into your bloodstream.

So, if you test the urine of thousands of Americans who don’t eat rice at all, they’re still peeing out about eight micrograms of toxic, carcinogenic arsenic a day. It’s in the air; it’s in the water; there’s a little bit in nearly all foods. But, eat just one food—a cup or more of white rice a day—and your exposure shoots up 65%.

Okay. But, what about those who eat a cup or more a day of brown rice, which technically contains even more arsenic? Your exposure shoots up the same 65%. No difference between the urine arsenic levels of white rice-eaters compared to brown rice-eaters. Now, this was not an interventional study, where they feed people the same amount of rice to see what happened, which would have been ideal. This was a population study. So, maybe the reason the levels are the same is that white rice-eaters eat more rice than brown rice-eaters. So, that’s why they ended up with the same levels? We don’t know, but it should help to put the minds of brown rice-eaters at rest. But, would it be better to eat no rice at all?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Marco Galtarossa and Yasir Bugra Eryimaz from The Noun Project.

Image credit: IRRI Images via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

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