Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance in our environment. It occurs in both organic and inorganic forms. Organic arsenic is believed to be safe, but inorganic arsenic can be toxic and cause cancer and developmental delays. The most significant risk from arsenic exposure is during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. Rice absorbs a higher amount of inorganic arsenic than other crops.
Regarding weight, infants consume three times more rice than adults through rice cereal. National studies have shown the highest rice consumption in life at eight months of age.
In response to growing concern and review of scientific information, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed limits for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals. Most infant rice cereals (76%) are at or below the recommended limits.
To reduce the amount of arsenic that babies and children consume, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released the following recommendations for parents.
Breastfeed. The AAP recommends breastfeeding as your baby's sole source of nutrition for about six months. When you add solid foods to your baby's diet, continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months. You can continue breastfeeding after 12 months if you and your baby desire. Check with your baby's doctor about vitamin D and iron supplements.
Vary your baby's diet. Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients, but it shouldn't be the only source and does not need to be the first source. Other options for parents to introduce as first foods include oat, barley, and multigrain cereals.
Limit fruit juices. Arsenic has been found in higher quantities in juice. Infants can be encouraged to eat whole fruits that are mashed or pureed. Toddlers and young children can be encouraged to eat whole fruits instead of juice.
Avoid brown rice syrup as a sweetener in processed foods for kids. The arsenic in rice is concentrated in rice syrup, sometimes used as a sweetener in toddler snacks or puffs.
Do not use rice milk as a dairy substitute for cow's milk. In many cases, dairy-sensitive children can be given other dietary sources of calcium.
For toddlers, provide a well-balanced diet, including various grains.
Parents with questions about their child's nutrition are encouraged to speak with their pediatrician.
Inorganic arsenic exposure during pregnancy is associated with pregnancy complications and developmental and learning problems during childhood. Based on these findings, it is recommended that pregnant women eat a variety of foods, including varied whole grains such as wheat, oats, and barley for good nutrition.
Existing studies, as well as new research by the FDA, indicate that cooking rice in excess water (from six to 10 parts water to one part rice) and draining the excess water can reduce from 40 to 60 percent of the inorganic arsenic content, depending on the type of rice. However, this method may also remove some essential nutrients.
For additional information:
- FDA Warns Parents About Arsenic in Rice Cereal
- For Consumers: Seven Things Pregnant Women and Parents Need
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