Arsenic is not only considered to be carcinogenic. It is also known as a “no threshold carcinogen,” which means that any dose, no matter how small, carries some risk of cancer. So there is really no such thing as a “safe” exposure level. With this in mind, it may make sense to use the conservative ALARA approach to keep exposure as low as possible.
I have a low bar for recommending people avoid foods that are not particularly healthy at all. Remember when that acrylamide story came about about the chemical concentrated in french fries and potato chips? (See my video Acrylamide in french fries for more.) My mindset was pretty simple: look, we’re not sure how bad this acrylamide stuff is, but we’re talking about french fries and potato chips which aren’t healthy anyway. So I had no problem temporarily adding them from my list of yellow light foods to my red light list, from “minimize consumption” to “ideally avoid daily”.
You could use the same logic here. Brown rice syrup, rice milk, and white rice junk foods are not only processed foods, but also processed foods contaminated with arsenic. They may therefore belong in the red zone as red light food, which we should avoid. What about something like whole brown rice? This is more difficult because there are pros and cons that outweigh the cons. I discuss this in my video Is white rice a food with a yellow or red light?where you can see a graphical representation of my traffic light food system at 0:49.
The rice industry argues that “the many health benefits of consuming rice outweigh any potential risk”. This is the same feeling you hear from Japan about the arsenic-contaminated seaweed hijiki: Yes, “the risk of cancer from consuming hijiki is acceptably higher than that risk [cancer risk] Levels by a factor of 10, “an order of magnitude, but the Japanese Ministry of Health emphasizes the” potential health benefits “such as high levels of fiber and minerals, like hijiki is the only weed in the sea. Why not choose one of the other algae and get all the benefits without arsenic? So when the rice industry says that “the many health benefits of consuming rice outweigh any potential risk,” it’s like brown rice is the only whole grain on the planet. Can’t you get the benefits of whole grains without the risks of eating oatmeal, barley, or quinoa instead? Or does rice have a unique benefit that we should really try to keep brown rice in our diet?
Consumer reviews recommended putting rice in the yellow light zone. In other words, don’t necessarily avoid this entirely, but instead reduce your intake. The rice industry criticized the consumer reports for warning people about the arsenic content of rice in a fact sheet titled “The article on consumer reports is flawed,” saying: “[t]Here you will find a number of scientific findings that… demonstrate the nutritional benefits of consuming rice. Any evaluation of arsenic in rice that does not take into account this information is inherently flawed and very misleading. “The rice industry brings up two pieces of evidence. First, it has been suggested that rice consuming cultures tend to be healthier, but is that because of or despite their white rice consumption? And what about the fact that rice-eating Americans tend to be healthier? Maybe, but they also tend to eat significantly less saturated fat. So how do we know again whether it is due to or despite the white rice?
The rice industry could have cited the study that I discuss in my article at 3:12 a.m. Video This showed that consuming two or more servings of brown rice per week was associated with a lower risk of diabetes. Presumably, however, this was not because white rice ingestion is linked to an increased risk of diabetes and white rice represents 95 percent of the US rice industry. Replacing a third of a serving of white rice for brown rice a day can lower your risk of diabetes by 16 percent. However, if you swap the same white rice for whole grains like oats or barley in general, it might work even better! So other grains have about ten times less arsenic and are associated with an even lower risk of disease. No wonder the rice industry doesn’t quote this study.
However, the Adventist studies and some in vitro data are cited. For example in a petri dish as you can see in mine at 4:05 a.m. VideoThere are rice phytonutrients that, in increasing doses, can stifle the growth of colon cancer cells while apparently leaving normal colon cells alone, which is exciting. In fact, those who ate these phytonutrients in the form of brown rice once or more times a week between colonoscopies had a 40 percent lower risk of developing polyps. (Eating green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, and beans has also been linked to lower polyp incidence.) The only reason we’re interested in developing polyps is because polyps can turn into cancer. But there have never been studies of brown rice consumption and cancer … until now that I discuss in my video Do the benefits of brown rice outweigh the disadvantages of arsenic?.
For those unfamiliar with my traffic light system, I’ll talk about it in my book trailer. Check out How not to Die: An Animated Summary.
Almost there! This is the corresponding article for the 12th in my 13 video series on arsenic in the food supply. If you missed any of the first 11 videos, see:
Ready for the finals? See Do the benefits of brown rice outweigh the disadvantages of arsenic?.
And you might be interested Benefits of turmeric for arsenic exposure.
Michael Greger, MD
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