Is White Rice a Yellow-Light or Red-Light Food?

Is White Rice a Yellow-Light or Red-Light Food?
4.59 (91.84%) 76 votes

Do the health benefits of rice consumption outweigh any potential risk from the arsenic contamination?

Discuss
Republish

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 is not just considered a carcinogen, but a so-called “nonthreshold carcinogen,” meaning that there really isn’t a quote-unquote “safe” level of exposure. “[A]ny dose, no matter how small, [may carry] some cancer risk.” So, “it may be reasonable to…use the conservative ALARA” approach, reducing exposure “as low as reasonabl[y] achievable.”

I have a low bar for recommending people avoid foods that aren’t particularly health-promoting in the first place, like when that acrylamide story broke, the chemical found concentrated in French fries and potato chips, I was like, look, we’re not sure how bad this acrylamide stuff is, but we’re talking about French fries and potato chips, which are not healthy anyway. So, I had no problem provisionally bumping them from my list of yellow-light foods into my red-light list, from “minimize consumption,” to “ideally avoid on a day-to-day basis.”

One could apply the same logic here. Junk foods made out of brown rice syrup, rice milk, and white rice are not just processed foods but arsenic-contaminated processed foods; so, they may belong down here. But, something like whole brown rice is more difficult, because there are pros to help outweigh the cons.

The rice industry argues that “[t]he many health benefits of rice consumption outweigh any potential risk.” That’s the same thing you hear coming out of Japan about the arsenic-contaminated seaweed hijiki. Yeah, “the cancer risk posed by hijiki consumption exceeds… acceptable” cancer risk levels by an order of magnitude, but the Japanese Ministry of Health stresses the potential “health benefits,” lots of “fiber and minerals,” as if hijiki was the only weed in the sea. Why not choose any of the other seaweeds and get all the same benefits without the arsenic?

And, the same thing here. “The many health benefits of rice consumption outweigh any potential risk”—as if brown rice was the only whole grain on the planet. Can’t you get the whole grain benefits without the risks by eating oatmeal instead, or barley, or quinoa? Or, is there some unique benefit to rice, such that we really should try to keep rice in our diet?

Consumer Reports recommended moving rice to here, not necessarily avoid it completely, but moderate one’s intake. The rice industry criticized Consumer Reports for warning people about the arsenic levels in rice, saying there’s “a body of scientific evidence that establishes…the nutritional benefits of rice consumption; [so,] any assessment of the arsenic levels in rice that fails to take this information into account is inherently flawed and very misleading.” They cite two pieces of evidence. Rice-consuming cultures tend to be healthier, but is that because of or despite their white rice consumption? What about rice-eating Americans tending to be healthier? Yeah, but they also ate significantly less saturated fat; so, how do you know it’s because of or despite the white rice?

They could have cited this study showing “brown rice intake ([two or more] servings [a] week…) was associated with a lower risk of diabetes.” But, presumably the reason they didn’t is because “white rice [intake is] associated with an [increased] risk of…diabetes,” and white rice represents 95% of the U.S. rice industry. Switching out a third of a serving of white rice a day for brown rice might lower diabetes risk 16%, but switching out that same white rice for whole grains in general, like oats or barley, might work even better! So, other grains have like 10 times less arsenic and are associated with even lower disease risk. No wonder the rice industry doesn’t cite this study.

They do cite the Adventist studies, though, and some in vitro data. For example, in a petri dish, there are rice phytonutrients that can inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells, at greater and greater doses, while apparently leaving normal colon cells alone. That’s exciting—and indeed, those who happened to eat those phytonutrients in the form of brown rice once a week or more between colonoscopies had a 40% lower risk of developing polyps. (The consumption of green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and beans were also associated with lower polyp incidence). But, the only reason we care about the development of polyps is that polyps can turn into cancer. But, there had never been studies on brown rice consumption and cancer, until now, which we’ll cover, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Kevin, Chad Remsing, Arthur Shlain, Artem Kovyazin, pablo, Denis Shumaylov, Laymik, H Alberto Gongora, and Cédric Villain from The Noun Project

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 is not just considered a carcinogen, but a so-called “nonthreshold carcinogen,” meaning that there really isn’t a quote-unquote “safe” level of exposure. “[A]ny dose, no matter how small, [may carry] some cancer risk.” So, “it may be reasonable to…use the conservative ALARA” approach, reducing exposure “as low as reasonabl[y] achievable.”

I have a low bar for recommending people avoid foods that aren’t particularly health-promoting in the first place, like when that acrylamide story broke, the chemical found concentrated in French fries and potato chips, I was like, look, we’re not sure how bad this acrylamide stuff is, but we’re talking about French fries and potato chips, which are not healthy anyway. So, I had no problem provisionally bumping them from my list of yellow-light foods into my red-light list, from “minimize consumption,” to “ideally avoid on a day-to-day basis.”

One could apply the same logic here. Junk foods made out of brown rice syrup, rice milk, and white rice are not just processed foods but arsenic-contaminated processed foods; so, they may belong down here. But, something like whole brown rice is more difficult, because there are pros to help outweigh the cons.

The rice industry argues that “[t]he many health benefits of rice consumption outweigh any potential risk.” That’s the same thing you hear coming out of Japan about the arsenic-contaminated seaweed hijiki. Yeah, “the cancer risk posed by hijiki consumption exceeds… acceptable” cancer risk levels by an order of magnitude, but the Japanese Ministry of Health stresses the potential “health benefits,” lots of “fiber and minerals,” as if hijiki was the only weed in the sea. Why not choose any of the other seaweeds and get all the same benefits without the arsenic?

And, the same thing here. “The many health benefits of rice consumption outweigh any potential risk”—as if brown rice was the only whole grain on the planet. Can’t you get the whole grain benefits without the risks by eating oatmeal instead, or barley, or quinoa? Or, is there some unique benefit to rice, such that we really should try to keep rice in our diet?

Consumer Reports recommended moving rice to here, not necessarily avoid it completely, but moderate one’s intake. The rice industry criticized Consumer Reports for warning people about the arsenic levels in rice, saying there’s “a body of scientific evidence that establishes…the nutritional benefits of rice consumption; [so,] any assessment of the arsenic levels in rice that fails to take this information into account is inherently flawed and very misleading.” They cite two pieces of evidence. Rice-consuming cultures tend to be healthier, but is that because of or despite their white rice consumption? What about rice-eating Americans tending to be healthier? Yeah, but they also ate significantly less saturated fat; so, how do you know it’s because of or despite the white rice?

They could have cited this study showing “brown rice intake ([two or more] servings [a] week…) was associated with a lower risk of diabetes.” But, presumably the reason they didn’t is because “white rice [intake is] associated with an [increased] risk of…diabetes,” and white rice represents 95% of the U.S. rice industry. Switching out a third of a serving of white rice a day for brown rice might lower diabetes risk 16%, but switching out that same white rice for whole grains in general, like oats or barley, might work even better! So, other grains have like 10 times less arsenic and are associated with even lower disease risk. No wonder the rice industry doesn’t cite this study.

They do cite the Adventist studies, though, and some in vitro data. For example, in a petri dish, there are rice phytonutrients that can inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells, at greater and greater doses, while apparently leaving normal colon cells alone. That’s exciting—and indeed, those who happened to eat those phytonutrients in the form of brown rice once a week or more between colonoscopies had a 40% lower risk of developing polyps. (The consumption of green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and beans were also associated with lower polyp incidence). But, the only reason we care about the development of polyps is that polyps can turn into cancer. But, there had never been studies on brown rice consumption and cancer, until now, which we’ll cover, next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Kevin, Chad Remsing, Arthur Shlain, Artem Kovyazin, pablo, Denis Shumaylov, Laymik, H Alberto Gongora, and Cédric Villain from The Noun Project

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This