Heavy metal accumulation is one of the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to healing. This is because heavy metals are so toxic, the body immediately sequesters them away in various organs in an attempt to evacuate them from the bloodstream and prevent them from doing further damage. Over time, the buildup of metals causes problems in the areas of the body where they’ve accumulated. By the time they’re eventually detected, patients have suffered through years of misdiagnosis.

It’s becoming more known among the general public that things like tuna and swordfish are high in mercury. What most people aren’t aware of is the high levels of arsenic in rice and chicken. Many people forgo red meat in favor of chicken thinking it’s a healthier choice when in fact, they would have been much better off with the filet mignon.

No Safe Level

Although it wasn’t widely reported by the mainstream media, Consumer Reports tested 223 rice products and found significant levels of arsenic in most of them, including inorganic arsenic. Organic arsenic occurs naturally in small amounts in the soil and is linked with carbon-based elements. Inorganic arsenic is linked to non-carbon elements and retains its metallic form. It has long been identified as a known carcinogen and is highly toxic.

On average, the Consumer Reports testing showed that of the arsenic contained in various rice and rice products, inorganic arsenic made up 55% of the total with some brands going as high as 963 parts per billion (ppb). Amazingly, whether the rice was organic or conventional had no effect on the level of arsenic, and brown rice was consistently higher than white. Of even greater concern were the results that showed arsenic levels of 200ppb in rice-based baby cereals.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only allows 10ppb in drinking water, however studies show that there is no level of arsenic that can be deemed safe. Research conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health revealed that near zero levels of arsenic, just 5ppb (.005 parts per million) caused “reductions in full scale, working memory, perceptual reasoning and verbal comprehension scores” in children. At present, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no limit on the amount of arsenic food.

The Consumer Reports research also revealed that the majority of rice grown in the U.S. (76%) comes from Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas. Rice from manufacturers in these states generally had higher levels of total arsenic and inorganic arsenic than samples from elsewhere. Analysis of federal data showed that people who ate rice, particularly Hispanics and Asians, had arsenic levels 44% higher than those who did not. This may also be an issue for vegetarians who tend to eat more rice and those on a macrobiotic diet.

Naturally, the FDA along with the USA Rice Federation mobilized their forces for damage control when the Consumer Reports results were publicized. With a $34 billion rice industry at stake, the FDA told TIME magazine that arsenic levels in rice were, “very low and do not pose short-term health risks.” [emphasis added] Well, we already knew that. The danger with any heavy metal is the accumulation over time. Dr. Allan Smith, professor of epidemiology at the University of California, Berkley told Consumer Reports:

“We already know that high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water result in the highest known toxic substance disease risks from any environmental exposure. So, we should not be arguing to wait for years until we have results of epidemiologic studies at lower arsenic intake, such as from rice consumption, to take action.”

Dr. Allan’s work in Chile and Argentina has shown that arsenic in public drinking water has been linked to lung, bladder, kidney and liver cancer, and other conditions. Only recently has a long-term study begun between arsenic and rice in the U.S.

In the meantime, the Dartmouth Children’s Environmental Health & Disease Prevention Research Center published a small but important study in late 2011. Results showed that people who ate just over ½ cup of cooked rice per day had significantly higher levels of arsenic in their urine than those who drank water with the FDA approved 10ppb limit. Researchers mentioned their concern for, “harmful levels of arsenic through rice consumption.”

Finding the Source

Regardless of where it’s grown, rice consistently has higher levels of arsenic than most other foods. This is because it’s designed to grow in flooded plains. As such, rice naturally draws up much more arsenic from the soil and water than any other plant. Another suspected source of arsenic in domestic rice, particularly crops grown in the south-central part of the U.S., is pesticides. For decades, cotton in the region was heavily sprayed with pesticides containing arsenic to combat the boll weevil beetle.

Finding a rice source from outside the U.S. might seem like a solution, but it’s not that simple. In 2013, data analysis from the Forensic Food Lab using atomic spectroscopy with high-end ICP MS instrumentation showed that rice from China contained incredibly high levels of lead and cadmium, which is 2-3 orders of magnitude more toxic than arsenic. Various samples showed cadmium levels of 2,000-3,000ppb (2-3ppm). This is roughly ten times the level of arsenic normally found in rice and up to 1,000 times more toxic to the body.

No one talks about the toxic rice from China because the conversation quickly becomes political. Politics aside, analysis from the Hebei Agricultural Institute in China published by MarketWatch revealed that 89% of the rivers used to irrigate rice fields were heavily contaminated with cadmium, most likely from industrial waste. Some rice and rice products in the U.S. are imported from China. Keep in mind, this includes things like rice syrup, rice protein and other rice-based ingredients in foods that aren’t necessarily perceived as a “rice” dish. Many nutritional supplements also use rice powder as filler.

A Classic Dish

Nothing goes better with rice than chicken. Up until very recently, all non-organic chicken was loaded with arsenic. How could this happen? Because it was fed to them…on purpose. That’s right. The arsenic that wound up in chicken meat didn’t get there by accident, pesticide spraying or industrial dumping; it was fed directly to them in a feed mix known as Roxarsone. The reasoning was that it made the chickens grow faster. It should come as no surprise that the manufacturer of Roxarsone, Alpharma LLC, is a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer.

Of course, the FDA and the National Chicken Council eventually had to admit that the arsenic fed to the chickens did end up in the meat. After the public outcry in 2011, Pfizer agreed to voluntarily pull Roxarsone from the market, although the FDA made no requirement to do so. While this was welcome news, there are still several feed products in use today that contain arsenic.

What You Can Do

While it appears chicken may be safe for now, there is no easy way around the rice and toxic metals issue. It seems they simply can’t be avoided. The best you can do to reduce your exposure to the arsenic and cadmium in rice and chicken is by:

  • Rinsing: Don’t drop your rice in the pot and just turn on the heat. Thoroughly rinse the rice grains. Use a 6:1 water to rice ratio for cooking and completely drain the excess water when finished. This is the Asian method and is thought to remove about 30% of the inorganic arsenic.
  • Vary Your Diet: Eat other grains more often. Wheat, oats, quinoa, millet and amaranth all have much lower levels of arsenic than rice. If you have celiac disease, you must be very careful not to over-consume rice-based baked goods. Look for those made with almond, coconut or another type of flour.
  • Go Organic: Although the organic label makes no difference with arsenic when it comes to rice, it is essential when buying chicken. Yes, it’s more expensive, but when possible, always buy organic chicken. Roxarsone was discontinued voluntarily. It could come back unannounced at any time.
  • Baby Needs: Because a baby’s brain and nervous system are still developing long after birth, I urge you to avoid all rice-based cereals and formulas. As children grow, oatmeal is a much healthier cereal option. Avoid rice completely if you are pregnant.
  • Check Ingredients: Look at ingredients in processed foods. Try to avoid rice syrup and other rice-based additives. Examine your nutritional supplements by looking under “other ingredients”. If they contain rice, see if you can find similar alternatives that don’t use it.

For more health insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit beingclarity.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter or check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN here. For daily messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagram at @drhabibsadeghi.

In Your Inbox