Is all food toxic now?

babies & postpartum food choices & feeding

So, just as a follow up to my last blog post about rice cereal…. 

Consumer Reports just published another report warning about inorganic arsenic in rice. There’s a great little video and summary about it from Consumer Reports here.

In essence, they are warning about over consuming some types of rice because, as it turns out, rice absorbs inorganic arsenic better than other plants so levels can get quite concentrated in the grain – concentrated enough to be of concern from a health perspective. 

Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen, and has been linked to diabetes and immune dysfunction.  So it’s certainly something we want to keep our eye on.

The trouble, of course, is that rice is the new “thing”, now that gluten has become so vilified. It’s our old standby.  It’s what most people feed their babies. 

So what are we to do?  Not eat rice?  What about all those Asian countries where rice is a staple?  Why aren’t they all dying of arsenic poisoning?

I’ll get to that, but first there’s a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.

It’s important that we resist the temptation to throw up our hands in dismay saying, “argh! yet another food I thought was healthy that I can’t eat…. WTF?!”  when we read something like this report .

Is that how you felt when you read the first paragraph of this blog post?

Like I always say, we have to keep our eye on the bigger picture.  What we’re really uncovering (over and over again) is that what has become convenient and modern over the last 80 some-odd years (some would say longer), in fact has some ill effects on our health.

We can’t turn our backs on this any more.  We just can’t.  We can’t blindly say, “well, it’s been part of our diet for years… it’s gotta be ok”.  Not when reports like this one tell us otherwise...again. 

We live in an age when 1 in 3 is diabetic, 40-50% of us will someday battle cancer, obesity is rampant, and our health care system is in crisis.  We need to figure out why we’re all getting sick… don’t we?

Part of what is making us so sick as a culture, it turns out, is that we have come to rely on convenience – both in food production and in food consumption.  The quicker the better, the cheaper the better.  We’re too busy for food.  We like packages.  Farmers like high yields.  Now, I don’t know if farming practices have anything to do with the differing arsenic levels, but pesticides sure do. They are one of the biggest inputs of arsenic into our food supply.

We're finding out that convenience is not so convenient, after all. 

The good news is that we still have alternatives available to us. 

You’ll see in the report video that some rices, like basmati from India and sushi rice from the US, had much lower levels of arsenic when tested (you can see their full report detailing their findings here).    

Also, amaranth, millet, and quinoa had lower levels.  

Brown rice was the highest, likely because arsenic concentrates in the bran.

Rinsing rice thoroughly before cooking and using 6 parts water to 1 part rice (and draining off the excess water) also seems to lower arsenic levels by about 30%.

Interestingly, rinsing like this is a traditional method of cooking rice in Asia.

So here’s what I suggest

Read this report and watch the little video they put together and, instead of getting mired in the details of “now this is bad, now that is bad”, instead of spending hours and hours obsessing over each and every ingredient in a food label, think big picture. 

Think diversity.  Experiment with foods you have never tried.  Bring home odd things from the grocery store and try them with your kids.  You don’t have to like everything…. just go on a culinary adventure together. 

Culinary adventures will expand your children's expectations.

Know that anything that comes in a package is likely going to have something in there that’s not good for you (perhaps even something that’s still considered healthy but will turn out not to be someday).  Don’t stress and feel guilty about it, just use packaged food for the convenience that it is, in moderation when needed, and get back into the kitchen when your energy surfaces again.

New research keeps us moving forward.  Keeps us rethinking our paradigm.  Keeps us in flux.  It’s an uncomfortable feeling, for sure, to be questioning all the time.  But this is the age we live in.  Information is exploding, and from every direction we’re seeing that we need to get back to basics – back to traditional methods of cooking, back to quality food; we would do well to stretch our taste buds in different directions rather than say stuck in the patterns we’re so used to. 

We all have a responsibility to keep ourselves healthy.

As a bit of an aside, I do have to say that this report solidifies my stand about infant rice cereal.  Knowing what we know about rice and about refined carbohydrates, refined rice flour does not hold up as a good choice for babies, despite all the fortification that’s in there.  Learn about alternatives for your baby here.


About Jess Sherman, FDN-P, M.Ed, R.H.N

Jess is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition¬ģ Practitioner, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and a trauma-sensitive Family Health Educator specializing in brain health & resilience for kids.¬†She is also a teacher, with a Master's degree in education. Her¬†Calm & Clear Kids¬†introductory course,¬†her Amino Acids (with kids!) Quickstart program, and her signature¬†Roadmap to Resilient Kids,¬†¬†along with her book¬†Raising Resilience,¬†have¬†helped families¬†in at least 44 countries¬†improve the lives of their children with learning differences, anxiety, ADHD, and mood disorders and reduce¬†their reliance on medication.¬†She is the 2019 recipient of the CSNNAA award for Clinical Excellence for her work¬†with families, and she¬†continues to¬†bring an understanding of the Nourishment Needs and Biological Stress to the mainstream conversation about children‚Äôs mental health, learning, and overall resilience through her blog, courses, workshops and as a contributor to print and online magazines.¬†

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The content on this website and in the guides and courses offered here is meant to provide information so that parents can make informed decisions and discuss these issue with their health care teams. It is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or individualized care.