Arsenic in Our Food

This article has nothing to do with yoga – but everything to do with our health. In general, I’ll be writing more articles about food and our food supply as I feel just as passionate about it as yoga. Most people turn to yoga to improve our overall health and well-being. But it’s important to remember that the food we put in our bodies is critical to our overall health and well-being.

Let me first give you a brief overview of the arsenic issue: back in Jan 2012, Consumer reports published a study about the levels of organic and inorganic arsenic in apple and other fruit juices. Quite understandably, this caused a lot of buzz in the media and concern in the public. This article brought the issue of arsenic in our food out into the open.

Around this time, it started becoming more and more public that rice and rice products contained high levels of arsenic. The FDA responded sounding unconcerned, stating, “Rice is an important and nutritious staple for many people. We believe it would be premature for the FDA to recommend modifying your or your child’s diet because of concerns about arsenic levels.” The National Association of Rice also downplayed the issue considerably, stating “You should not be concerned about arsenic in your food. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in soil and all plants take up arsenic.” This statement fails to address inorganic arsenic, which is not due to naturally occurring elements in the soil. It’s also important to note that there is currently no regulation limiting the levels of organic or inorganic arsenic in food. However, the EPA has set a limit of total arsenic in our water supply at 10ppb per liter of water.

At this time I searched around on the Internet for more information about this subject – but I came up with barely anything. Disappointed and frustrated, I tried to forget about the topic.

Then, for the Nov 2012 issue, Consumer Reports published another study about arsenic in food products, specifically in rice. In their rather in-depth study they tested several hundred rice products for levels of both inorganic and organic arsenic. You can find the detailed report here.

But to sum up the report, Consumer Reports consistently found higher than recommended levels of arsenic in many of the rice products they tested.

The subject of arsenic in our food is very complicated and convoluted. I’ve spent hours and hours studying the subject and I know quite a bit about it. However, in the interest of time and simplicity, I’ll break down the topic as much as possible. This article may be a bit long – but I really think it’s worth your time.

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is a chemical element that occurs in many minerals. In high levels, arsenic causes poisoning and death in multicellular life – including humans.

It’s important to note that there are two general forms of arsenic: organic and inorganic. In general, experts say that organic arsenic is not a concern when ingested. The concern is over inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic gets into our ground and ground water in the following ways:

  • Arsenic components are fed to chicken to reduce inflammation and retain a pink meat color. The chickens then poop out part of the arsenic and this gets into the soil.
  • Many pesticides previous contained arsenic. Although these are not allowed anymore, the arsenic is still in the soil and ground water.

 How Does it Get Into Our Food?

Arsenic gets into our food because our food is grown in the soil. If the soil is contaminated with inorganic arsenic, the chances of it getting into the food are much greater. This is especially true for food stuff that is grown in the ground or just above the ground, such as rice and potatoes.

What are the negative effects of arsenic in our body?

As I stated before, arsenic in high levels will cause poisoning and death. There are actually several parts of the world where many people died due to high levels of arsenic-contaminated drinking water.

In the U.S., our drinking water is regulated for arsenic levels. The EPA has set safe levels of arsenic as 10 ppb per liter of water. However, there are currently no standards for arsenic in food.

arsenic in riceThe cause for concern, and what this paragraph will address, is the effects of consistent exposure to low levels of arsenic in the body.

Arsenic is classified as “toxic” in the European Union. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes arsenic as a group 1 carcinogenic.

More studies are needed, but long-term exposure to arsenic has been linked to cancers of the bladder, kidney, liver, prostate, skin, lung and navel cavity. Additionally, epidemiological studies have suggested a correlation between arsenic consumption and diabetes.

A 2004 Bangladesh study of children suggested diminished intelligence in children exposed to arsenic in drinking water at levels above 5 ppb (the U.S. water allows for 10 ppb). Additionally, another study in Texas showed that arsenic exposure was related to poor scores in language, memory and other brain functions.

Stay Tuned, More To Come…

Overview of Consumer Reports

                -levels in rice

                -levels in juice

 What Can We Do About it?

                -Recommended levels as set by Consumer Reports

                -New legislation introduced in the White House

Picture Source: Google Images, http://www.carto.net/neumann/travelling/japan_2004_09/04_kyoto_2004_09_12/29_rice_plant.jpg

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