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Ask Tufts Experts June 2015 Issue

Q. Is the amount of arsenic in commonly sold rice in the US harmful to health? Would I be wise to stop eating rice entirely or limit the amount I eat? Is there more arsenic in white vs. brown rice?

A. Quentin Johnson, a consultant to Tufts’ Friedman School, answers: “Arsenic and other metal contaminants such as lead and cadmium concentrate in the bran layers of all cereal grains rather than the white endosperm fraction of the kernel. This means that arsenic levels may be higher in brown rice than white rice.”

In a 2013 report, he notes, the FDA concluded, “While levels varied significantly depending on the product tested, agency scientists determined that the amount of detectable arsenic is too low in the rice and rice product samples to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects.”

Johnson adds, “However, it should be noted that rice is grown in some overseas countries where the water used for growing rice is contaminated with arsenic.”

Eating a variety of grains, including rice, is the best strategy for insuring that you’re obtaining a wide mix of nutrients without exposing yourself to any long-term risks from arsenic or other contaminants. See this issue’s article on farro, for example, for one nutritious alternative to rice.

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