Are rice cakes healthy?
Is rice healthy? How much is ok to eat? Is it safe for children? How about other rice products? Are rice cakes healthy? Rice Krispies? Rice noodles? Gluten-free rice products? Rice cereal for babies? Rice flour? Egg-roll wraps and Rice paper? Rice based oil? Rice based alcoholic beverages?
This list can go on and on and on…. We just don’t realize how much rice is actually a vital part of our food system, not to mention the gluten-free industry which is based almost entirely on rice.
Now, before I got into more depth here I want to make something clear. The purpose of this article is not to scare or intimidate you. I know how confusing eating has become these days, and I do not wish to add more confusion and clutter into your daily life. I hate those dramatic articles you see online which only scare parents without really telling them what they can do instead. My reasoning is different – imagine yourself sitting in a movie theater with your family and there is a mom who smells smoke. Wouldn’t you want her to yell “smoke” immediately as she smells it, or is this something that wouldn’t matter to you? Of course it does! So think of me as that mom.
I do not write not share anything on this website unless I know it is important for parents to know and take proper percussions in order to protect our families. This is our responsibility as parents (it should really be the responsibility of the health authorities we support with our tax money, but don’t get me started on that…).
Now, that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about rice in more depth, shall we?
Lately there has been a media hype regarding alarming levels of arsenic in the rice we eat, and its affect on children (especially children under 6 years of age).
What is arsenic and how did it find its way into our rice?
Arsenic is a heavy metal which is extremely toxic to the human body.
There are two types of arsenic:
- Organic arsenic – Sourced from plants and animals (it is called ‘organic’ because it has a tendency to bond to carbon). This type of arsenic is considered to be NOT toxic to the human body.
- Inorganic arsenic – found in gravel and soil in certain areas of the world which are extremely polluted and is soluble in water. This is the dangerous kind of arsenic which you want to avoid at all costs. Since rice is grown in water it is routinely exposed to the inorganic arsenic which is very toxic to the human tissue.
Other foods that expose us to arsenic
- Polluted drinking water – In certain areas of the world (mainly south America and Asia) the drinking water is contaminated with the inorganic arsenic. (1, 2)
- Sea-Food – Fish and various sources of sea food are also contaminated with arsenic, however this is the organic kind of arsenic which is much less toxic to the human body, with the exception of certain oysters and algae which are contaminated with the inorganic type of arsenic. (1, 2, 3)
- Poultry – chickens are routinely exposed to inorganic arsenic through feed, hormones and medication. Many food and drug administrations in the world allow the use of this toxin into the food system, which sucks. Chickens who were raised organically (meaning they weren’t exposed to medications, hormones or toxins in their feed) are not contaminated with this substance. (1)
- Rice and Rice Products – Out of all the foods grown in the ground, rice has the highest tendency to accumulate arsenic. Other grains, such as wheat, quinoa, buckwheat and the various kinds of vegetables grown in the same soil don’t accumulate as much arsenic as the rice. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Arsenic in Drinking Water
As mentioned before, arsenic is present in certain places of the world where large amounts of toxic waste is dumped into the drinking water. Examples of this toxic waste are pesticides, chemical fertilizers, wood preservatives, industrial waste, waste from mining operations, waste accumulated during generating electricity from coal (It is also the main source of mercury present in the atmosphere and our water sources), and waste from refineries. (1, 2, 3)
Why out of all grains rice has a higher tendency to accumulate the inorganic arsenic?
- The inorganic arsenic leaches the world’s aquifers and from there to the wells where the water is being pulled for irrigation purposes. (1, 2)
- Rice is affected the most since it is literally immersed in this polluted water during its entire growing time until it is harvested. Rice pulls the arsenic not only from the water, but also from the polluted soil, which makes the problem even worse. (1, 2)
When is arsenic toxic to the human body?
Occasional exposure of arsenic through food will not cause any immediate symptoms or medical problems. The problem becomes real only when the exposure to inorganic arsenic is frequent during many years…
Here’s what arsenic does to the human body after a prolonged consumption:
- Higher risk of cancerous diseases such as lung, skin, and bladder cancer. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- Higher risk of high blood pressure (1)
- Higher risk of heart diseases (1, 2)
- Higher risk of type 2 diabetes (1, 2)
- Damage to brain neurons (1, 2)
- higher risk of cataract (1)
- higher risk of brain strokes (1)
- Among teenagers prolonged consumption of inorganic arsenic caused impaired concentration levels, memory and learning abilities, General infringement of intelligence and social adjustment difficulties (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- arsenic is passed from mother to baby through the placenta during pregnancy, therefore large consumption of arsenic during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects and proper development of the baby. (1, 2)
Is all rice contaminated with arsenic?
Arsenic contamination depends on where is the rice sourced from, in other words, where was it grown? And also, which water was used during irrigation (contaminated or not)?
Because it is so hard to find the answers to these questions on the label (actually it is impossible), I recommend you stay away from rice which was grown in Asia or South America. These places in the world have reportedly higher amounts of arsenic in the drinking water, and therefore should not be consumed.
How much contaminated rice is “safe” to eat?
Since arsenic in rice is relatively a new discovery in the world of health and nutrition, health authorities around the world have not yet set a safe level for arsenic in food. Yup, you’ve read it right, as of this writing there is no safe standard according to the FDA nor the EU with regards to allowable levels of arsenic in rice. Therefore I can’t really tell you how much is safe or unsafe, what I can tell you is to avoid eating rice on a daily basis (this included other rice based products). This is especially important with regards to children who’s bodies are much smaller and therefore are at a higher health risk.
Is there such a thing as safe rice?
Apparently there is! From my research “basmati rice imported from India and Pakistan and Jasmine rice from Thailand contain the least arsenic” (1). Since Jasmine rice is high on the glycemic index, I do not recommend using it, however, basmati rice seems to be the right choice. It has lower levels of inorganic arsenic and it has the lowest glycemic index (meaning it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels as much as other rice products).
By the way, organic rice means nothing. This makes total sense because arsenic seeps into the rice from the irrigation system and through the contaminated soil, and it doesn’t matter whether this rice has or has not been sprayed with pesticides. Don’t get me wrong here, organic food is healthier in general, but when it comes to arsenic, it makes no difference. So don’t waste your money.
What can you do at home to minimize exposure to inorganic arsenic?
There are a few things you can do at home in order to control how much arsenic your family members are being exposed to:
- Do not consume rice on a daily basis! This includes the various rice based products such as rice crackers, rice cereal, rice Krispies, etc. By the way, most gluten-free products are made from rice since it doesn’t contain gluten. If you or anyone in your family have sensitivities to gluten, stick to other grains such as buckwheat, millet and quinoa. If you do feel like eating rice, opt for basmati rice once per week tops.
- Children are at a higher risk since their bodies are smaller the risk is higher. Don’t expose them to rice products more than once per week, especially if they are younger than 6.
- According to my research whole rice has a tendency to accumulate more arsenic than white rice. This is true with regards to whole basmati rice as well! When comparing the two, the whole basmati rice has 50% more arsenic than the white basmati, therefore choose the white basmati whenever possible. I don’t usually recommend white over whole grains but since arsenic is a serious toxin and should not be taken lightly, I have to change my usual ways.
- The most important things to remember is that it matters where the rice has been grown. Not all rice is contaminated with high levels of arsenic, so not all rice is dangerous, but since most rice nowadays is important from Asia where pollution levels are among the highest in the world there will be a health risk.
- Wash rice with lots of water! According to my research, washing the rice with lots of water has the capacity to reduce arsenic levels by 10-28%. This is true with regards to basmati rice only! This is another reason why this should be your choice of rice.
- Cook the rice with more water than usual – this is assuming that the water you are cooking with is clean from arsenic, so make sure to use quality filtrated water when cooking rice. If regularly the water to rice ratio is 1:1.5 (1.5 cups of water per 1 cup of white rice), the healthiest way to cook rice would be to maintain a ratio of 1:6 (6 cups of water per one cup of rice), and drain the water at the end of cooking. This method of cooking showed a reduction of 35-45% of arsenic!
- Don’t feed babies with rice based products! Instead choose buckwheat, barley or quinoa cereals.
- Don’t drink rice milks – drink almond milk instead.
- Avoid (or at least significantly reduce) the consumption of conventional poultry. As mentioned above, chickens are exposed to arsenic regularly through their feed, growth hormones and medication.
Bottom line – are rice cakes healthy?
Want to guess? Most rice crackers are made from contaminated rice and therefore are unhealthy. That being said, if your family is not consuming them on a regular basis, there shouldn’t be any health risks. As said before, it is only a problem when rice is consumed on a daily basis. This is a real issue for people who eat rice crackers as a healthier replacement to bread for weight loss purposes.
I do think we are soon going to hear from health authorities regarding arsenic levels in our food, as this has been a trending topic which is alarming parents and people around the world – it’s about time!!
I want to hear from you!
Did you like this article? Do you know people who consume rice regularly? Please share this article with them and anyone who is willing to listen! I want every parent in the world to know this and take the necessary precessions. Feel free to comment below if you have questions or comments.