Warning: Eating rice will give you cancer

Rice will give you cancer. At least that’s the latest story currently circulating.

When you start paying close attention to the media and science, you’ll begin to notice that every food on this planet is associated with some sort of negativity. You give up one food, and soon after, another food you think is perfect is all of a sudden very terrible.

I chose to stop eating animal products because of allergies. Prior to giving them up, I was aware that animal products had a strong association with a lot of chronic diseases. But, I didn’t know the extent until I became vegan and started doing more research.


I thought that eating a plant-based diet was good enough, but I soon learned that oil was processed and was no good because it could still increase my risk of heart disease. So, I gave it up. Over time, I learned about the health benefits of eating a whole foods plant-based diet and chose to adopt it as a lifestyle.

Once oil was out, I was sure my diet was as good as it could get. That is until I heard that eating soy still put me at risk of cancer and other hormonal imbalances. Ughhh! I did my own research on soy and decided it wasn’t so bad as long as I ate only certain types of non-GMO soy in moderation. At this point, I didn’t think any more curve balls could be thrown my way until I saw the news about rice. Of all the grains it could have been, it just had to be rice….WHY?!!!

If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I LOVE rice. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten it every day over the last two months. I was almost devastated when I watched Dr. Greger’s (of Nutritionfacts.org) video on YouTube detailing how rice could potentially cause cancer. But, I realized soon enough that it wasn’t completely terrible.

What is this kerfuffle about rice?

Arsenic is a chemical element that is naturally found in the air, soil, food, and water. It exists in two forms, organic and inorganic. The inorganic form can be toxic and is a cause of cancer in humans.

It is worth noting that the majority of arsenic accumulates in animal products, so by eating a plant-based you will drastically reduce your exposure to it.

Long term exposure to high doses of inorganic arsenic whether from food or water can cause a variety of health effects including cancers of the skin, bladder, and lung, and heart disease. Some of the symptoms of these may include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody urine
  • Muscle cramps
  • Stomach pain
  • Convulsions
  • Anaemia
  • Leucopenia
  • Numbness, burning or tingling sensations in the limbs

Industrial activities, such as the burning of coal, oil, gasoline, and wood; mining; and the use of arsenic compounds as medicinals, herbicides, and wood preservatives have led to an increase in the amount of arsenic present in our environment.

Since arsenic is found naturally in soil and water, negligible, non-toxic amounts of it enter our food. When it comes to rice, however, the story is a little different. Rice grows under flooded conditions that make it very easy for arsenic to leave the soil and enter the rice. Consequently, rice has around 10-20 times more arsenic than other grain/cereal crops.

According to research, eating half a cup of cooked rice per day increases the risk of cancer from arsenic by over a 100-fold. This risk increases by 272-fold if you eat 1 cup per day, and further increases by 408-fold if you eat 1 1/2 cups a day.

Which rice contains the least arsenic? 

The amount of arsenic in rice depends on the area where it grows. Rice that grows in certain southern states in America, particularly Texas and Arkansas contain the highest levels of arsenic in the world. This is because of the toxic arsenic chemicals that were dumped in the soil during the cotton-manufacturing era.

Rice that grows in California contains much less arsenic than rice from southern American states.

Rice that is grown in India and Pakistan (basmati rice) seems to contain the lowest levels of arsenic compared to other regions in the world. Brown basmati rice from California also seems to contain lower than average levels of arsenic. 

Comparing rice varieties, white rice appears to contain lower levels of arsenic than brown, red or black varieties. This is because white rice does not contain the bran layer where arsenic usually accumulates. You may think that eating brown rice increases the amount of arsenic you absorb from rice, but this is really not the case.

There is only a certain amount of arsenic available for your body to absorb from brown rice. The good news is that this amount is very similar to what your body absorbs when you eat white rice. On the basis of this, it is still more beneficial to choose brown rice over white rice because of its superior nutritional content.

Please note that even though manufacturers replace nutrients, including iron, thiamin, and folate that are lost during polishing by spraying them on, you still lose up to 70% of them once you wash your rice.

How to reduce the amount of arsenic in your rice

There are ways to reduce the amount of arsenic in rice, so you don’t need to completely stop eating it. In addition to choosing varieties with the least quantities of arsenic, you should:

  1. Wash your rice thoroughly and until the water runs clear before you start cooking it. This can reduce its arsenic content by up to 10%.
  2. Cook your rice in the same way you cook pasta. That is, cook it in an excess amount of water. Once the rice cooks to the consistency you desire, drain off the excess water. This can reduce the arsenic content by 35-45%.

If you’re still paranoid about eating rice, you can always reduce the amount you eat. Swap it with other delicious grains like quinoa, millet, barley, Kamut wheat or amaranth.

I will continue to eat rice. I was taught as a child to wash rice thoroughly before cooking and depending on the variety of rice, parboil it. So I guess, I have always reduced the amount of arsenic in rice without knowing I was doing that. I will probably work on reducing my consumption from daily to a few times a week, but give up completely? That is NOT happening!

What are your thoughts? Is this the whole arsenic thing deal breaker for you?

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4 Comments

  1. Samantha
    23rd August 2017 / 8:45 PM

    I am West African the whole arsenic thing is not a deal breaker for me.
    “There’s rice at home”
    and I’m off to go make it.

    • 24th August 2017 / 1:23 PM

      Haha! I’m pretty much the same. Rice is going nowhere 🙂

  2. Charlene
    25th August 2017 / 12:51 AM

    This is not a deal breaker for me I will still eat rice. However , because of you informing me I will be more careful as to where the rice is coming from and washing it thoroughly. Thank you so much I always learn with you.

    • 25th August 2017 / 8:49 PM

      You’re welcome Charlene! Definitely, choosing rice with the lowest arsenic and washing it thoroughly is the way to go 🙂 Life is too short to give up rice, haha!

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