Arsenic is a toxic substance found in many foods, and you might wonder if it is dangerous to consume food with this substance. This element is usually represented by the symbol As. Recently, due to increased pollution in many parts of the world, the element has been found in more foods and has posed severe health risks to human beings. High levels of this substance have been found in rice than in any other food. Rice is among the foods that are used by many people worldwide.
Arsenic does not exist independently – it is found combined with other elements. It exists in two ways; organic arsenic, mostly found in animals and plants, and inorganic arsenic, found in both living and non-living things such as rocks and soils. Since this compound is present in both water and soils, some plants may draw it directly from these sources, causing contamination of foods. Recently, rice contains more arsenic than any other food. In this blog, we shall discuss why the substance is mostly found in rice, how to reduce it, other foods that contain arsenic, and its health effects.
Reasons why Arsenic is mostly found in Rice.
Levels of this substance in soils differ. Some areas have more dissolved arsenic in soils and water, while others have negligible amounts. So, foods grown in areas with more concentration of arsenic become super toxic. The concentration of the substance in foods determines how risky the food is. Most farmers today use inorganic fertilizers and other chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides. These are major contributors to the increased arsenic substance in rocks, soils, and water.
Rice is grown in water flooded fields. This is a major reason why it has high accumulations of arsenic. The rice plant draws the contaminated water into the rice grains. Since water in such areas are stagnant, it contaminates the soils too. Roots of the rice plant may also draw the substance directly from the soil. The arsenic substance can be found in wells and rivers too. Rice grains can absorb arsenic from cooking water. Rice absorbs a lot of water during cooking which might carry significant toxins into the food.
Ways to Reduce Arsenic in Rice.
We have discussed ways in which arsenic gets into the rice. Since rice may get arsenic from the farm, thorough washing of rice in uncontaminated water reduces the arsenic in the grains. Ensure washing of rice before cooking to eliminate the substance. If cooking water contains arsenic, it contaminates the rice too. Use clean, uncontaminated water to reduce levels of these toxins to harmless levels.
Rice grown during the dry season may have more arsenic than the one grown during wet seasons. Rice grown in the dry season uses stagnant irrigation water. It may contain more arsenic which finds its way to the rice grain. Avoid rice grown during such a period.
Other foods that may contain Arsenic
Arsenic can be found in any food. However, there are some foods where the substance is found at significant levels that are dangerous to your health. These foods are:
Seafood such as catfish, sardines, bass, herring, salmon, lobster, crayfish, prawn, shrimp, and shellfish may contain high arsenic levels. They may contain both organic and inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is more dangerous. Sea animals feed on seaweeds and water, which might contain this substance. Consuming such foods makes them harbor these toxins. If you happen to feed on these foods, the toxins may affect your health too.
Major sources of drinking water are rivers and wells. Drinking water might be contaminated with arsenic. Water from farms and paddy areas may find its way to the wells and rivers. Drinking such water may come in with toxins. Therefore, you should be careful not to drink contaminated water.
Rice is the most vulnerable food to arsenic substance. Other rice products such as rice crackers, rice bran, and baby rice are vulnerable as well.
Vegetables are of different types. There are leafy vegetables and root vegetables. Roots vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and beetroots store arsenic in their outer skin. Leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, lettuce, and green turnip store the substance in the leaves. However, the arsenic stored in vegetables is not enough to pose health threats.
Some fruits such as grapes, apples, mangoes, and melons may contain arsenic. Trees that bear these fruits may absorb arsenic from the soil or water. Fruits may also trap it from pesticides and other chemicals that are sprayed on them. To be safe, you can grow your fruits and avoid inorganic methods of controlling pests and plant diseases.
Health Effects of Arsenic
Arsenic may be found in many foods but negligible amounts. Consuming more arsenic becomes toxic to the body. It can cause long-term health effects. In children, it affects their cognitive abilities causing learning disabilities. Arsenic can cause different types of cancers, mostly stomach and liver cancer. It can cause hypertension through the narrowing of blood vessels. Arsenic may also cause diabetes. Pregnant women should be careful not to consume this substance, increasing their unborn babies’ chances of developing congenital disabilities.
The bottom line
Arsenic is a dangerous substance that might not have immediate effects on your body but long-term effects. Brown rice contains more substance than white rice. Always wash the rice thoroughly to eliminate the substance. Eating different types of food may help us escape the arsenic in rice. If possible, consume foods that have been grown without inorganic compounds, which increases arsenic in foods. Rice grown in Pakistan and India is safer than in parts of Africa in irrigation schemes. Other foods such as vegetables may contain the substance, but this should not be a concern as the levels are low, posing no health effect. Children are more vulnerable to this substance. Parents should take measures to protect them.
We would like to thank the below contributors who have helped us to write this article: