Arsenic and Old Rice?

Arsenic And Old Lace is a comedic story about two elderly ladies named Abby and Martha who run a boarding house.  The old spinsters, feeling sorry for their equally old bachelor tenants, decide to put the fellas out of their misery by slowly but surely poisoning them.  So they keep adding arsenic to the elderberry wine they’ve been serving each evening to the old guys. And sure enough, over time, the poison does its work until a dozen men are buried in the cellar.( If you want to know the rest of the story you’ll have to get the video.)

The release of a new health study has raised the question of whether we are doing the same arsenic poisoning to ourselves or others through eating rice.  Let me explain.

First, a few things about arsenic.  Arsenic is a poisonous element in nature.  Low levels of it exist in our soil, water and air.  And arsenic is  taken up by plants as they grow, meaning it makes its way into our food, and in turn, into us.  There is currently no way to stop this process from taking place, not even organically.  So for most people, food is their biggest source of arsenic.  Fortunately, when consumed, the arsenic does not stay in the body but exits in a day or two causing no harm.  However, exposure to larger amounts of arsenic over   longer periods of time is dangerous to health and even deadly.  But arsenic is not just found in nature, it is also one of the base elements in many pesticides.  And it is here where rice comes into the picture.

Because arsenic passes into plants in greater amounts through water than through soil –  rice, a water-grown grain – generally has a higher level of the element.  (Oddly enough, this is one case where white rice is better for you than brown rice because the hull of the brown keeps the arsenic in while the bleaching into white removes the hull and thus more of the arsenic.)

Now back to the new health study.  Consumer Reports is an advocacy magazine that does product testing.  And in its most recent issue their researchers sounded the alarm over the amount of arsenic found in rice.   Of particular concern was the rice in baby food since this generally is the first solid given to infants by parents.  The magazine then called upon the government to do two things: develop arsenic amount limits for food (currently this in done only for water) and ban the use of arsenic in pesticides (which they say is behind the higher levels in rice).  The Food And Drug Administration responded that their tests show the arsenic level in  rice is still well within the safe range.  And, if this was such a problem, then people around the world, who use the same growing methods as we do here and eat far more rice than us, would all be dropping dead.  In other words, there is currently nothing to worry about.  But this has not stopped some pediatricians from now recommending to parents that babies not be given any rice at all.  Other pediatricians say rice is okay, but just not every day or all day, and should be just one of other grains provided.  (If you’re concerned, check with your own pediatrician.)
The bottom line?  There is one area where both the magazine and the government agree when it comes to food, variety – meaning it’s never wise to consume any one meal item too often, but that it should be  part of a balanced diet.  And is this not the reason God gave us  so very many different things to eat?  For when it comes to food – variety is to be the spice (not rice) of life.