Rice can contain arsenic, a cancer-causing toxin, which is why you have to cook it in a certain way and limit how much you eat, researchers have warned, given how much Pakistanis like this staple.
A study carried in the prestigious scientific portal Nature titled ‘Risk perception of arsenic exposure from rice intake in a UK population’ gave the results of a survey of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and how much they knew of the risks.
The researchers asked minorities in Greater Manchester to find out how much they knew about the way to cook rice given that it can carry arsenic. More than half of the people knew about arsenic as a hazardous substance but less than ten percent knew that eating rice could be an important route of arsenic exposure.
Knowledge of arsenic was lower in Asians such as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis compared to white people. Bangladeshis ate three times more rice compared to White British people.
Rice and arsenic levels
Rice is a source of nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals and dietary fibre. But it is also a major route of inorganic arsenic exposure. Rice usually contains higher inorganic arsenic concentrations than other grains such as wheat and barley. Arsenic is a class I carcinogen and can cause skin, bladder, liver, renal and lung cancer. Other health risks include skin lesions, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, diabetes, hypertension, poor mental development, respiratory disorders and cardiovascular diseases. Emerging studies say that arsenic exposure from eating rice can lead to genotoxicity.
The arsenic content of cooked rice depends on many factors the rice variety, where it is grown, irrigation methods and cooking methods. In the study it was found that Basmati was the most popular type of rice.
How to cook rice
Rinsing rice before cooking is an effective way to remove arsenic. This was practised by 93% of the people surveyed. The most popular cooking method was to use two cups of water for one cup of rice (1:2). It was not the a method that used excess water (over 1:4), which is a better way to remove arsenic.
Washing rice before cooking can remove around 10% of arsenic from basmati rice. Using excess water can remove between 15% to 63% of rice arsenic.
The survey was conducted between December 2016 and April 2017. A total of 184 participants took part, of which 59% were ‘non-White British’ (Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Black). The Pakistanis had the highest percentage (89%) of participants who had never heard of arsenic, followed by the Bangladeshis (58%) and compared to White British, both ethnic groups had significantly lower knowledge of arsenic risks.
The Swedish National Food Agency advises grownups limit eating rice to six times a week. Over 80% of the Bangladeshi participants were eating three times more rice than White British. Both Pakistani and Bangladeshi participants were less likely to change their rice eating habit compared to White British people.