Brown Rice and Toxicity

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Our Monday green news brings you the latest on nutrition, good causes and child education:

rice grain, rice and toxicity

Photo courtesy of Narith5 via Flickr

  • Brown rice and toxicity: There has already been publicity over rice-borne arsenic found in products containing rice including cereal bars as well as baby food. Some food manufacturers have increased screening for arsenic in their products, and agencies such as the F.D.A. (Food and Drug Administration) are advising the public to include a variety of different grains in their diet to “minimize potential adverse health consequences from eating an excess of any one food.” However, the problem doesn’t only concern potentially toxic compounds as arsenic and cadmium, which are naturally occurring elements in soil as well as industrial byproducts. Several recent studies found that rice is “custom-built” to pull a number of other metals from the soil, including mercury and tungsten (also known as wolfram-W). Based on these findings, scientists and growers are now pushing to make the grain less susceptible to metal contamination. The highest levels are actually found in natural or brown rice, since compounds like arsenic accumulate in bran and husk, which are eliminated during the processing phase. According to the Department of Agriculture estimates, the average arsenic levels in brown rice are up to 10 times higher than in polished white rice. Although these are mostly tiny amounts, chronic exposure to arsenic (even at very low levels) can have health affects. According to Rufus Chaney, the head researcher leading the investigation of metal uptake by food crops and a senior research agronomist with the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service: “Rice is a problem because it’s such a widely consumed grain.”
  • School bans on chocolate milk leads to milk consumption drop: According to a report from Cornell University, a ban on chocolate milk in eleven elementary schools in Oregon led to a big drop in students’ consumption of healthy, fat-free white milk. Researchers analyzed data from 11 Oregon elementary schools that banned chocolate milk to reduce students’ sugar intake and replaced it with plain skim milk. The results indicated that total milk sales fell by 10 percent, students ended up wasting 29 percent more milk than before and their intake of calcium and protein went also down. As the study co-author and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab Brian Wansink commented: “There are other ways to encourage kids to select white milk without banning the chocolate.”
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