Over the last week there has been an increased awareness of arsenic being in rice.
It started when somebody posted a link to an article in a Facebook group that I belong to.
The title of the article was loud, clear and scary, and therefore got a lot of shares (and many objections such as “well, what can I feed my child?”).
“Warning to All Parents: Don’t Let Your Children Eat Rice Cakes.” it shouted. The title was certainly attention grabbing and there was no mistaking the message. Even if you couldn’t be bothered to read the article it gave very clear advice!
I have often wondered how to get people to realise that there is an issue with eating rice and feeding it to your kids. Obviously this is the way.
Don’t use the softly softly approach. Go in with the full, shouty, scary heading to grab people’s attention. If it means that there are a few children saved from exposure to arsenic then I guess it is worth scaring people for!
So, what exactly did the aforementioned article say, and what has been said since, by the American ‘Journal of Pediatrics’?
The first article was based on one written by the Swedish press informing people that the National Food Administration had changed their recommendations to advise that children eat rice and rice containing products (if you avoid gluten then that is an awful lot of products because most are made with rice flour) less than four times a week, and that they avoid rice cakes all together. They also advise that adults cut back their consumption, particularly if they are eating it more than seven times a week.
Why? Because rice contains arsenic, a carcinogen, and chronic exposure to inorganic arsenic (found in rice) can cause numerous health effects such as cardiovascular disease, liver damage, chronic cough, diabetes, and neurological effects, especially in children.
The second article I read was based on a study carried out by paediatric environmental health specialists at the University of California San Francisco along with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley and Dartmouth.
They stated that children who regularly consume large amounts of rice or rice products may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic than that allowed in public drinking water systems in the U.S.
They also point out that children at particular risk for arsenic exposure include those that consume rice or rice products daily, those who consume a lot of rice as a cultural practice, or those with diets high in rice due to gluten-free requirements or to control allergens.
“Clinicians should be aware that exposures to arsenic that children have from rice products (including those sweetened with brown rice syrup) may present a risk and that certain children have particularly high exposures due to dietary needs and preferences” states Dr. Mark Miller, Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Francisco and Director of the Western States PEHSU.
They suggest that parents look at alternatives to rice when introducing infants to food and that if rice must be used it should be limited to once per day.
The message is loud and clear! Your dietician may not be telling you this, but read the evidence and make your own informed choices…that is what we did a couple of years ago.
We avoid rice as far as possible as a whole family…it is entirely possible so please don’t use the “well what can I feed them” excuse!
So how do we do it? Here are my tips for avoiding rice:
- If you eat rice as rice, make sure it is basmati (known to have the least arsenic) and wash it well before cooking, cook it in at least four times its volume of water, and rinse it again when cooked.
- Make your own flour blend without rice flour (I have one which I am hoping to get on the market at some point, and if not, will publish the recipe in a book) to make baked goods with. If you don’t know where to start (it has taken a lot of years to perfect mine!) then continue to bake with Dove’s flour but reduce the quantity by about 1/3 and add ground almonds instead. This way there will be less rice in the products.
- Use quinoa, millet, buckwheat, teff, potatoes, sweet potatoes or polenta as alternatives to rice if you want some carbohydrate with a meal. Try out my lovely vegetable, millet and buckwheat pilauf instead of having risotto.
- Swap rice cakes for corn cakes
- Explore alternative flours, such as teff flour, millet flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, gram flour, sorghum flour, oat flour…the list goes on! There are so many more grains than wheat, barley, rye and rice! And many are far more nutritious too!
- For breakfast swap rice based cereals for porridge or corn-based cereals. Or try making my homemade fruit and fibre cereal, museli or trail mix which is like granola. Or go for good old eggs if your diet allows! Far better than bought processed foods!
- Try Newburn Bakehouse breads. We have found that the amount of rice products they add is significantly less than other brands. They also fortify their bread with calcium (important for coeliacs), are lower in sugar and fat than other brands and are dairy-free.
- Bake cakes with ground almonds rather than flour. There are loads of flourless cake recipes out there…just look them up! Or try my plum frangipane pudding.
- Make pastry using ground nuts. Check out my recipe for nectarine, summer berry and amaretto tarts for inspiration.
- Make pancakes with gram flour – you can find my recipe at the bottom of my pancake blog post.
- Make your own flapjacks rather than buying biscuits. I have three super healthy recipes, one banana & date, one chocolate and one without oats for those who can’t tolerate oats. I also have a ‘standard’ unhealthy recipe!
- Make a simple ‘grain-free bread’. I haven’t yet had a chance to share my recipes, but I can highly recommend this one by Danielle Walker. And while you are on her site check out her other recipes. They are fabulous!
- Look up ‘paleo’ recipes on the internet. You will find loads and none will contain rice, or grains of any kind.
I am sure there are a huge number of other ways to avoid rice that I have forgotten…but that is quite a lot!
As I have said before…it takes a little thought, but cutting down on rice is entirely possible even with restricted diets. And it’s important. Rice or ill health? I know what I will choose for me and my family. It just isn’t worth the risk.
If you want to read my other articles about rice you will find them here:
Spiced Toffee Apple Traybake (a recipe with reduced rice)
I’d love to hear what your views are on this, and how you approach the arsenic in rice issue…please leave a comment below.