Read this before rice becomes your weeknight staple.

Hayley Sugg
August 08, 2017

We here at Cooking Light love whole grains, especially brown rice. Whether it's in stir-frys, risotto, soups, or grain bowls, rice is usually a common ingredient of our recipes. That's why it's good to ask, is there such a thing as eating too much rice?

Whole grains (including brown rice) have been linked to many health benefits, from better blood pressure to improved brain function. But brown rice is a sometimes tricky food to balance in your diet, due to a concern over the grain's arsenic levels. 

Naturally occurring in the soil, arsenic can appear in everything from drinking water to wine and crops. Various mechanisms, such as erosion of arsenic-containing rock and the many industrial uses of arsenic can contribute to higher levels in our food supply. Since rice is grown in water-laden conditions, its roots readily absorb arsenic from the groundwater and soil. Since the arsenic is held in the outer layer of grains, and refined grains like white rice usually shed these layers during processing, arsenic levels are are almost twice as high in brown rice as they are in white rice. 

Photo: Banar Fil Ardhi / EyeEm / Getty

While all this talk about arsenic may sound worrisome to the average consumer, even after extensive tests in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration has released no actual limit on brown rice consumption. Some research though suggests that heavy consumption of arsenic-rich foods may be harmful to pregnant women and small children.

Bottom line: Just like any other food, it's a good idea to eat brown rice in moderation. Be conscientious of your rice consumption by maybe switching a serving or two for other whole grain varieties. For infants and children, the FDA recommends diversifying grain consumption by limiting rice cereal to one serving per week and offering cereals made from other grains, including wheat, barley, and oats. For most adults, having a few servings of rice a week has not been scientifically linked to any major negative health effects.

For those concerned about arsenic, but still wanting to consume rice, the best options for avoiding the chemical currently include:

  • Use a special preparation technique, which includes soaking and a longer cooking time, to reduce arsenic levels. 
  • Pay attention to where it's grown. According to one report, brown basmati rice grown in California, India, or Pakistan contains lower levels of arsenic. 
  • Brown rice-based products, like rice milk or brown rice syrup, have been found to have higher arsenic concentrations. Switch these staples out for similar ingredients to avoid excess levels of the chemical.