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Loyola Dietitian Weighs in on Controversy about Arsenic in Food

Eating a balanced diet will limit exposure to element

MAYWOOD – Recent reports about arsenic in rice have sparked a great deal of panic among U.S. consumers. However, the average American who eats a variety of whole grains doesn’t need to stress about arsenic, according to Loyola University Health System registered dietitian Brooke Schantz, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.

Consumer Reports recently completed an investigation, which found that white rice grown in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas had higher levels of total arsenic compared with other rice samples. The report also revealed that brown rice contains higher levels of total arsenic compared with white rice, and arsenic levels are 44 percent higher in consumers who eat rice compared with those who do not. These findings are being used to encourage the United States Food and Drug Administration to set limits for arsenic in our food.

“It is possible to limit your exposure to arsenic in your food through a balanced diet,” Schantz said. “More vulnerable populations or those who consume a higher amount of rice due to dietary preferences or needs, such as infants, pregnant women, vegans, vegetarians or individuals with celiac disease, are at greater risk for consuming excessive amounts of arsenic in rice."

Arsenic is an element that occurs in inorganic and organic forms. Both types of arsenic can be found in water, food, soil and air. Inorganic forms of arsenic (arsenate and arsenite) are known carcinogens and are toxic to the body.

Rice plants normally take up silicon from the soil to help strengthen their stems and husks. However, the chemical structure of silicon and arsenic look very similar. Therefore, in growing conditions that have higher amounts of arsenic in the soil and water, rice plants mistakenly take up arsenic instead of silicon from the surrounding environment.

To reduce your intake of arsenic, Schantz recommends consuming a diet with a variety of whole grains and watching your portion sizes. She also suggests thoroughly rinsing off raw rice before cooking it. Also, use a ratio of six cups of water to one cup of rice and drain the excess water.

“The truth is we don’t currently know what amount of organic and inorganic arsenic is even absorbed into our bodies from specific foods made from rice nor do we know enough about long-term exposure to low levels of arsenic to set limits,” Schantz said. “There likely have been high concentrations of arsenic in our food for centuries; we have just only now begun to properly detect it in our food."

The FDA is collecting and analyzing data of more than 1,000 rice and rice-containing products before setting limits or future regulations. The agency reported that it would be premature to recommend modifying diets because of arsenic levels until a more thorough analysis is complete.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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