The independent testing organization discovered that many widely eaten rice products—including white rice, brown rice, organic rice baby cereal, and rice breakfast cereals—contain arsenic, a powerful carcinogen. The products tested included well-known labels as well as store brands, organic products and conventional ones; some were aimed at the booming gluten-free market.
“In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms,” the report stated. “We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.”
Some doctors immediately advised limiting rice consumption, especially in children, who are far more susceptible to the dangerous impacts of arsenic exposure. Consumer Reports suggested capping weekly servings to less than a cup of cooked rice for children and about 1½ cups of cooked rice for adults.
The FDA did not go as far as advising limiting rice consumption, or even arsenic residues in rice. But it did say that the findings have prompted it to test about 1,000 more samples by the end of the year in order to come up with “science-based” recommendations.
So what’s a rice-eater to do in the meantime? This article in the Chicago Tribune offers some helpful suggestions:
Avoid brown rice
For people who eat a lot of brown rice—for instance, those who follow macrobiotic diets that consist to 50 to 60 percent of brown rice—the findings are particularly bad news, for brown rice contains significantly more arsenic than white.
And arsenic isn’t the only problem in brown rice. It is also less nutritious than many of us—myself included—have long believed. For although it does contain more nutrients than white rice, it also contains higher levels of phytic acid, a compound that blocks the absorption of the nutrients in the rice (1). Phytic acid, which is present in most whole grains and seeds, binds with minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium, making them unavailable for absorption and assimilation. This is why phytic acid is often referred to as an “anti-nutrient.”
To top it all off, brown rice has been found to reduce the digestibility of protein and fat and to impair the absorption rates of sodium, potassium and phosphorus (2).
If you think all the rinsing and draining described above sound too much like hard work, let me suggest a radical alternative to rice of all kinds: Cauli-Rice. (Or as it’s called in my book, Zest for Life, “Cauliflower Couscous.”) How can I sing its praises?
The most compelling argument, however, has to be cauliflower’s superior nutritional value and vastly lower caloric and carbohydrate load (selected data obtained from Nutritiondata.com).
When comparing 100g of cooked white rice with 100 g of cooked cauliflower, we find that cauliflower has only 23 calories (vs 130 for rice); 4.4g of carbohydrates (vs. 28.2 g for rice); 167 mg of healthy omega-3 fatty acids (vs. 50 mg for rice); only 13 mg of less-healthy omega-6 fatty acids (vs. 62 mg for rice); 44 mg of vitamin C (vs. none for rice), 13.8 mg of vitamin K (vs. none for rice), 142 mg potassium (vs 35 for rice), 2.3g of dietary fiber (vs. 0.4 g for rice), an estimated glycemic load of 2 (vs 15 for rice) and a mildly anti-inflammatory rating of 18 (vs. a pro-inflammatory rating of -97 for rice).
I know which I’d rather eat!
Without further ado, therefore, I give you:
Cauliflower Rice (serves 4 as a side-dish)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp turmeric
1 cauliflower, cut into florets
squeeze of lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped parsley
salt & black pepper
black sesame seeds and/or chopped parsley or cilantro
In a large pot gently warm olive oil on medium heat and cook chopped onion and garlic until translucent. Add turmeric and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.
In a food processor, chop raw cauliflower until it resembles the size of rice grains. Add cauliflower and 2fl oz/¼ cup/60ml of water to the onions and garlic, cover and cook, stirring regularly until the cauliflower is al dente – about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice and serve immediately, sprinkled, if you like, with black sesame seeds and finely chopped herbs.
(1) Callegaro Mda D, Tirapegui J. Comparison of the nutritional value between brown rice and white rice. Arq Gastroenterol. 1996 Oct-Dec;33(4):225-31. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9302338
(2) Miyoshi H, Okuda T, Okuda K, Koishi H. Effects of brown rice on apparent digestibility and balance of nutrients in young men on low protein diets. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1987 Jun;33(3):207-18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2822877