Is Your Sweet Snack Hiding a Sneaky Danger? The Unexpected Truth About Arsenic in Some Organic Foods

Rice, even organic rice, has an annoying habit of soaking up arsenic from the soil it’s grown in. As a result, products sweetened with brown rice syrup — like baby formulas, cereal bars, and energy shots — may contain worrisome levels of this toxic, potentially carcinogenic mineral. And yes, you read that right — the very same ingredient found in some organic baby formulas could be harboring potentially dangerous amounts of arsenic.

Infant formulas: A cause for concern?

Researchers at Dartmouth conducted tests on 17 infant milk formulas and found that only two listed organic brown rice syrup as their primary ingredient. Alarmingly, these two formulas — one dairy-based and one soy-based — contained more than 20 times the arsenic found in other formulas. (The amount of inorganic arsenic, which is the most toxic form, averaged 8.6 ppb for the dairy-based formula and 21.4 ppb for the soy formula.)

To put those numbers in perspective, the concentrations of arsenic in these formulas were comparable to, or even greater than, the current U.S. drinking water limit of 10 ppb. Keep in mind that this limit doesn’t account for the low body weight of infants and the corresponding increase in arsenic consumption per pound of body weight. Yikes!

The hidden dangers lurking in cereal bars

It’s not just infant formulas that are at risk. Dartmouth researchers also tested 29 cereal bars and three flavors of energy products obtained from a supermarket. Twenty-two of the bars listed at least one of four rice products — organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain, or rice flakes — in the first five ingredients.

The amount of total arsenic in these cereal bars varied widely, ranging from 8 to 128 ppb. As you might expect, those bars without any rice ingredients had the lowest arsenic levels (between 8 and 27 ppb). In contrast, bars containing a rice ingredient had arsenic concentrations ranging from 23 to 128 ppb.

Clearly, there’s an urgent need for regulatory limits on arsenic in food. But until that happens, what can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Safer alternatives for sweetening

When shopping for cereal bars or other products containing brown rice syrup, consider looking for those sweetened with alternative ingredients. Some options include:

  • Raw organic honey
  • Date syrup
  • Coconut nectar
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Stevia (a plant-based, no-calorie sweetener)

Keep in mind that while these options may be safer in terms of arsenic, they still add calories and sugar to your diet. It’s always a good idea to consume any sweetener in moderation, regardless of the source.

Selecting and preparing rice safely

Given that rice itself can be high in arsenic, it’s crucial to choose and prepare this staple food as safely as possible. Here are some tips for reducing your arsenic exposure from rice:

  1. Choose rice varieties with lower arsenic levels. Basmati rice from California, India, or Pakistan, and sushi rice from the United States, have been found to contain the least amount of arsenic, according to an article by Consumer Reports.

  2. Rinse your rice thoroughly. This simple step can remove around 30% of the arsenic content.

  3. Cook your rice in a 6:1 ratio of water to rice. This excess water will help to leach out some of the arsenic. Just be sure to drain any remaining water before serving.

  4. Consider incorporating alternative grains into your diet. Barley, quinoa, and millet routinely have lower arsenic levels than rice.

Ultimately, awareness and action are the keys to protecting yourself and your family from the potential risks associated with arsenic in rice products, including organic brown rice syrup. Stay informed, pay attention to product labels, and make smart choices in the grocery store to reduce your exposure to this toxic, potentially carcinogenic mineral.