Watch: Arsenic Found in Rice Milk, Rice Krispies, and Brown Rice Syrup

This article is shared with permission from our friends at Nutrition Facts.

I recommend people switch away from using rice milk.

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For kids and teens, the amount of arsenic flowing through their bodies was found to be about 15% higher for each quarter-cup of daily rice consumption. A similar link was found in adults. A study of pregnant women found that about a half a cup a day of cooked rice could raise urine arsenic levels as much as drinking a liter of arsenic-contaminated water at the current upper federal safety limit. So, that suggests that many Americans “may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of arsenic through rice consumption.”

But, you know where Americans get most of their rice arsenic from? Rice Krispies— though brown Rice Krispies may have twice as much.

“Organic brown rice syrup…is used as a sweetener in organic food products as an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup.” Big mistake, as organic brown rice syrup products may introduce significant concentrations of toxic arsenic into peoples’ diets. For example, two of these might hit the provisional upper daily arsenic limit, based on the water standards.

“[T]oddler formulas with added organic brown rice syrup have 20 times higher levels of [toxic] arsenic.” And, “[i]n older children,” thanks to brown rice syrup, a few cereal “bars a day could pose a [quote-unquote] very high cancer risk.”

What about rice milk? A consensus statement of both the “European…and…American [Societies] for Pediatric…Nutrition…recommend the avoidance of rice milk for infants and young children.” And, generally, toxic arsenic intake in infancy and childhood should be as low as possible.

To this end, “the UK has banned the consumption of rice milk for young children,” a notion to which Consumer Reports concurred, recommending no servings a week of rice milk for children, and no more than half a cup a day for adults.

The arsenic in various brands of rice milk ranges all over the place, a 15-fold difference between the highest and lowest contamination, suggesting manufacturers could make low arsenic rice milk if they wanted. Consumer Reports found Pacific brand and Rice Dream were right about average, though perhaps for Rice Dream, it appears the vanilla or chocolate flavors may be lower. Rice vinegar doesn’t seem to be anything to worry about, but rice pasta and rice cakes end up similar to pure rice—which makes sense, because that’s what they pretty much are, though pasta is boiled. So, we’d expect the levels to be cut 40 to 60%, like when you boil and drain rice.

If for some reason, you just couldn’t live without rice milk, you could make your own, using lower-arsenic rice, like brown basmati from India, Pakistan, or California, but then it may have even less nutrition, as at least most of the commercial brands are fortified. Better options might be soy, oat, hemp, or almond milk, though you don’t want kids to be drinking too much almond milk. There have been a few case reports of little kids drinking like four cups a day, running into kidney stone problems, due to the relatively high oxalate content, averaging about five times more than soy milk.

I have about 30 videos that touch on soy milk—how it may normalize development in girls and reduce breast cancer risk, as well as prostate cancer risk in men. Some of the latest science on soy milk includes an association with better knee x-rays, suggesting protection from osteoarthritis, and an interventional study suggesting improved gut health by boosting the growth of good bacteria, Though drinking three quarts a day—10 to 12 cups a day for a year—may inflame your liver. Two cups a day, though, can have an extraordinary effect on your cholesterol, a whopping 25% drop in bad cholesterol after just 21 days.

An ounce-and-a-half of almonds every day, like a handful a day, can drop LDL 13% in six weeks, and reduce abdominal fat, though a cup of almond milk only contains about 10 almonds—less than a third of what was used in the study. So, it’s not clear if almond milk helps much, but there was a study on oat milk compared to rice milk. Five weeks of oat milk lowered bad cholesterol, whereas rice milk didn’t, and even increased triglycerides, and may even bump blood pressure a little bit. But, the oat milk only dropped LDL about 5%, and that was with three cups a day; so, as plant-based alternatives go, it appears soy milk wins the day.

So, why drink rice milk at all when there are such better options? There’s really not much nutrition in rice milk. In fact, there are case reports of “severe malnutrition” in toddlers who centered their diets around rice milk due to multiple food allergies. Infants and toddlers have increased protein requirements compared to adults; and so, if the bulk of some poor kid’s diet is rice milk, coconut milk, potato milk, or almond milk, they may not get enough.

Oh, yeah? Show me one case of kwashiorkor (that bloated belly protein/calorie deficiency) due to rice milk. Here you go. Here’s another one, “severe kwashiorkor,” not in Ethiopia, but in Atlanta, Georgia—because literally 99% of his diet was rice milk. So, these malnutrition cases were not because they drank rice milk, but rather because they drank rice milk nearly exclusively. But, I just use these to illustrate the relative lack of nutrition in rice milk. So, if you’re going to choose a milk, might as well go for one that has less arsenic—and, more nutrition.

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DOCTOR’S NOTE

I’ve got a bunch of  videos on soy milk, but I think only one major almond milk one so far: Prostate Cancer & Organic Milk vs. Almond Milk. I plan on doing a bunch more on choosing between various milk options; stay tuned.

Already went through lots of useful material on dietary arsenic, if you missed any:

The last four videos then take this information, and try to distill it into practical recommendations:

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Dr. Michael Greger at NutritionFacts
Dr. Michael Greger is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and creator of NutritionFacts.org. This service provides the first non-commercial, nonprofit, science-based service to provide daily updates on the latest discoveries in nutrition.
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