Rice and arsenic: Go for a variety of grains as a smart strategy

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Chances are you’ve heard plenty about the rice and arsenic issue. If not, here’s a quick roundup of the happenings: Consumer Reports testing revealed that all sorts of rice products, from baby cereal to brown and white rice, contain worrisome levels of arsenic.

Arsenic comes in two forms –  inorganic  and organic (which occurs naturally in the earth).  Both kinds are found in a whole host of foods. But it’s mainly the levels of inorganic arsenic that’s reason for concern as consumption, over time,  is linked to illnesses such as cancer. But neither one is in the clear in terms of health risks.

Somehow in the recent discussion of the nutritional value of organic and conventional produce study from Stanford University, the issue of what we are putting into the environment is often left out. It should be pointed out, though,  that much of the inorganic arsenic has accumulated through the years as a result of use of products such as insecticides.

Consumer groups and politicians are now calling for legislation to limit the amount of arsenic allowed in rice.  But not unexpectedly, there are many (rice producers, for instance) who state that the reported arsenic levels should not stop anyone from eating rice.

Rather than cutting it out, limiting the amounts you consume and possibly changing the way you cook it might be a more prudent move.

Another key way to reduce the level of this contaminant in your food is eat a variety of foods. Variety is more than just the spice of life. It’s actually a very important concept when it comes to nutrition. Eating a wide assortment of foods, even prepared in a variety of ways, offers you a way to minimize the total amount of different nutrients or compounds that you might want to avoid –  such as  arsenic in this case.

For example,  you might have rice possibly once a week, quinoa and buckwheat, a few times and if you’re not avoiding gluten, add in some barley, oats or wheat berries on the other days.

Not only will this allow you to lessen the amount of arsenic you consume, eating a variety of foods will also help meet your nutritional needs while taking in a bounty of weapons to defend against various ailments.  The range of various nutrients and phytochemicals – disease-fighting compounds from plant foods – is really quite astounding. And eating a variety of foods let you reap that benefit.

For instance, quinoa contains compounds called saponins which supply blood cholesterol lowering action along with immune system benefits. Barley, on the other hand, with its tocotrienols – one of the members of the vitamin E family- can lead to less cholesterol being produced in the body. Barley’s soluble fibre also offers advantages for both blood cholesterol lowering and blood sugar regulation.

Variety is vital as well when it comes to fruits, vegetables and even nuts and seeds.

Mixing it up when it comes to food preparation also supplies assorted perks. For instance, raw spinach offers triple the amount of vitamin C compared to its cooked counterpart. But when you heat spinach, the healthy vision pigment called lutein is better absorbed.  So have a spinach salad one day and sautéed spinach with garlic another day.

Season your dishes with an assortment of herbs and spices and you’ll also reap health perks. Go Mediterranean and use herbs like rosemary and you’ll consume compounds that may defend against the cancer, melanoma. Have Indian fare seasoned with turmeric to obtain some compounds that fight other cancers including breast tumours.

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Do you try to go for a variety of foods or do you tend to go for the same foods on a regular basis? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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