Brown rice, formula, cereal — these are all supposed to be good for your kids, but an investigation from Consumer Reports found "worrisome amounts" of arsenic in more than 200 rice products. The Consumer Reports investigation comes after an analysis showed that some grape and apple juices also contain arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element, but it’s also a known carcinogen in large amounts. Yikes. What’s a mom to do? We asked Jennifer A. Lowry, M.D., chief of clinical toxicology at Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, MO, to give us the facts — and advice on keeping kids safe.
What to know
We don’t have limits. The government has an arsenic limit for drinking water (10 parts per billion), but no such cap for food or other beverages.
Organic isn’t better. Why? Arsenic was once a widely used pesticide and the pollution is often still lingering in the soil. Also, brown rice syrup is regularly used in organic foods instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
Brown is not better. The most arsenic is found in the germ, or the cereal grain, which is removed during the processing of white rice.
What to do
Re-think first foods. Babies should eat no more than 1/4 cup of rice cereal a day. Try adding wheat or oatmeal cereals instead; they contain markedly less arsenic. Also, children under 5 shouldn’t drink rice milk at all — besides the arsenic concerns, it doesn’t have much nutritional value for kids.
Shake up meals. Rather than banning rice altogether, vary the grains you eat. (Quinoa and oats are good options.) “Studies show that eating regular amounts of rice over a lifetime could increase the risk of some cancers by a small amount. Essentially, the risk from eating foods with more arsenic on some days can be balanced by eating foods with less arsenic other days,” says Dr. Lowry.
Take a breath. The real key to keeping your family safe? "Eating a well-rounded, healthy diet," says Dr. Lowry. "There’s no immediate health risk for your child. Moderation is key. What we know about the negative effects of arsenic are based on long-term exposures to very high levels in developing countries. We don’t expect to see this in a typical U.S. diet." Phew!
Holly Pevzner is a freelancer writer in New York City.