Reduce Your Exposure to Arsenic


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Arsenic is a naturally-occurring but poisonous metal that can cause serious health problems like cancer and even death in high doses. No official limit has been set for foods but the Environmental Protection Agency limits arsenic to 10 parts per billion (ppb) in drinking water.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “the National Academy of Sciences estimated that people drinking arsenic-contaminated water at 10 parts per billion would have a 1-in-300 risk of developing cancer over their lifetimes.”

Arsenic is a real concern and water isn’t the only place it’s found. It’s showing up in more and more foods.

Consumer Reports magazine recently tested 223 samples of rice and rice products: rice cakes, rice crackers, rice pasta, rice flour, rice milk, rice syrup, and rice vinegar. They found arsenic in every single sample. Rice vinegar had arsenic levels below 10 parts per billion (4.6 to 7.3) but every other product exceeded the limit and most had levels in the hundreds. The highest was 963 ppb, in Arrowhead Mills Organic Sweetened Rice Flakes, a ready-to-eat cereal.

A previous investigation by Consumer Reports found that 10 percent of juice samples from five brands contained arsenic levels exceeding the standards for drinking water standards.

And other reports have confirmed that arsenic is added to chicken feed, as an antiseptic agent, and it can show up in the meat we eat.

Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks, soil, and water, but it’s also been added to the environment in the form of pesticides which continue to contaminate our soil and the food crops that absorb them. Arsenic is also used to harden other metals like copper and lead and make glass, lumber preservatives, and semiconductors.

We can’t taste arsenic but we can still reduce our exposure. Here are four steps to get started: 

#1  Avoid rice and processed foods like cereal, crackers, pasta, and added sweeteners.

It’s good to avoid sweetened and processed foods whether they contain rice or not. If you eat whole grains, experiment with other varieties like quinoa, millet, and steel cut oats.

#2  If you must eat rice, boil it like pasta and drain it before eating. 

Boiling rice causes some of the arsenic in the outer layer to leech out into the water. 
#3  Go grain-free.

People who are overweight, have high blood sugar, or have an increased risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or cancer should consider going grain-free. Eating fewer starches like grains and sweeteners is the best way to lower high levels of blood sugar and insulin, to reduce the storage of fat, and to prevent chronic illness.
Get your carbohydrates from vegetables instead. If you eat starchy fruits and vegetables like bananas, potatoes, carrots, and beets, make sure to get plenty of leafy greens as well. Make green vegetables half of your meal and starches a quarter at the most (or none at all). 
#4  Filter your water.
Activated carbon filters remove chlorine, lead, mercury, copper, pesticides, solvents, radon, parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium, some volatile organic compounds, and unpleasant tastes and odors from tap water, but they don’t remove arsenic. Fortunately, reverse osmosis filters do.

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