Over the weekend my inbox was filled with e-mails by worried parents over the safety of rice in their baby’s diet. It did not take me long to figure out why this happened, as BBC online had an article on the safety of rice in children featuring Prof. Meharg, who is well known in the field of arsenic research, in particular related to arsenic in rice.
So what is the concern. Arsenic exists in soil and small amounts can get into food, though in general these levels are so low that they are not a cause for concern. However rice is different from other crops, as it is grown under flooded conditions. This makes the arsenic in the soil more readily available so that more can be absorbed into the rice grains.
Already in 2008 the Food Standard Agency (see FSA policy on rice and arsenic) has put in place guidelines for the use of rice milk, which should not be used < 4.5 years of age. In 2015 the EU put in place legislation on maximum limits of inorganic arsenic in rice and rice products and these legal limits have been applied since 2016. The FSA did a survey of infant foods in 2016 and we are awaiting there results.
Prof. Meharg, assessed many brands of baby rice, rice crackers and rice cereals from the UK (between 2014 and March 2016) and found that in some the inorganic arsenic was higher than the recommended levels and in particular this was found in products that contained whole rice (arsenic is mainly concentrated at the surface of the whole grain) and were often associated with organic rice products. One has to take into account that legal limits were only implemented since 2016, so this study may have included products prior to these limits being implemented. Similar data exists from the USA.
I am sure though you want to know what to do now with rice in your baby’s diet? Unfortunately no official body has yet come out with any guidelines (outside of rice milk guidelines that were published by the FSA a couple of years ago) on general rice consumption for children, so what I am going to provide you in this blog entry is my own opinion on what to do (based on the data that we have) and also some of the practical advice from Prof. Meharg in the BBC article. We hopefully will get more official guidance, as soon as the FSA has their data published.
- Do not use rice milk as alternative 4.5 years of age
- Keep rice intake in children to max 2-3x per week and if used soak in a lot of water ideally overnight (throw water away) or if not time for soaking cook using a lot of water (5:1 ratio) – this significantly reduces the arsenic content
- Try using other baby cereals than baby rice – millet, quinoa, oat ect
- Be aware the whole grain rice may have more inorganic arsenic