Croatia—Rice-based foods, particularly rice drinks and cereals, may present a danger to infants and small children, said a group of doctors in a recent journal publication. Rice, due to its genetic makeup and the methods used to grow it, is thought to absorb arsenic from the environment in amounts higher than other plants.

The commentary appeared in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, and focused on assessing the risks of rice products for children. The authors recommended the avoidance of rice drinks for infants and young children. They went on to state that for all rice products, regulators should enforce strict limits on arsenic content and should compel companies to declare inorganic arsenic content on labels. The commentary also recommended a balanced diet that includes a variety of grains as carbohydrate sources for children. Though rice-based infant formulas may be suitable for infants with allergies to cow’s milk protein, the risks of inorganic arsenic content should be considered.

Inorganic arsenic is classified as a first-level carcinogen. Long-term exposure is linked with increased risks for various types of cancer, as well as issues with gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, liver, neurological, immune and reproductive function.

Most of the inorganic arsenic in rice becomes concentrated in the bran layers. The risk of arsenic contamination is higher in rice drinks than in polished white rice, because drinks typically include rice bran. The authors note that rice bran is also often added to products like rice crackers or cereals to increase fiber content, and that rice bran is also used as a health food supplement.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2014 (online 7/29/14)