Arsenic and Brown Rice Syrup: Should You Be Afraid?

Arsenic and Brown Rice Syrup: Should You Be Afraid?
Arsenic and Brown Rice Syrup: Should You Be Afraid?

Brown rice syrup has been a hit among health nuts for a while because it doesn't raise your glycemic index like other sweeteners including sugar, honey, and of course, high fructose corn syrup. But last year brown rice syrup was rocked with controversy when Consumer Reports released an analysis of arsenic levels in rice products like white rice, brown rice, and rice breakfast cereals. Brown rice syrup is the chosen sweetener in a host of foods considered healthy.

Brown rice syrup and arsenic

The analysis found arsenic, a potent carcinogen that's harmful to a child's developing brain, was present in high levels in foods that were marketed to kids.

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What is arsenic and is brown rice syrup bad?

Arsenic is found in varying amounts in rock structures and in residue left over from when arsenic-based pesticides were legal. It cannot be created nor destroyed so what we have on Earth is what we're stuck with forever. "Arsenic hotspots" like Bangladesh, have dangerously high concentrations of arsenic in rock structures, and therefore, water supplies and soil.

Brown rice syrup and arsenic

Rice is naturally better able to assimilate arsenic, more so than wheat or other grains. Brown rice, used in brown rice syrup, has high concentrations of arsenic because the outer shell is still intact, where in white rice, it's removed.

Inorganic versus organic arsenic

And then there's inorganic versus organic arsenic. According to the FDA, "There are two general types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless." This is because the body absorbs inorganic arsenic and urinates out organic arsenic. However, some scientific studies have shown that dimethylarsinic acid (DMA) and monomethylarsonic acid (MMA), two organic forms of arsenic may also be a health hazard. Inorganic arsenic is more dangerous because the body actually absorbs it. Inorganic arsenic is what's found in the water supply, that's why it's carefully regulated. Water is tested constantly to ensure it's at safe levels no higher than 10 ppb. Well water, on the hand, is not tested.

Arsenic/Brown rice syrup takeaway

Here's my take: Rice, especially brown rice, absorbs arsenic from the soil. There's not too much you can do about that. But you can take steps to minimize your risk. The Consumer Reports study notes that rice grown in the U.S. has heightened levels of arsenic when compared to rice grown in India and Thailand, though arsenic was found in samples from all over the world. As a result, until arsenic levels in rice and other foods are regulated by the FDA, only use brown rice syrup in moderation.

Weigh the bad with the good and use other sweeteners like local raw honey and organic cane sugar as well. Have your voice heard by signing this petition telling the FDA and the EU to institute strict guidelines regarding arsenic in rice. Read more about organic foods

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Sara Novak specializes in health and food policy writing for Discovery Health. Her work has also been featured on TreeHugger,, TLC Cooking, and Animal Planet. After graduating from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia, Sara headed up the communication efforts for a national scholarship program in Washington, D.C. Sara has also handled copy writing and public relations for a global environmental consulting firm. She loves fiddling with healthful recipes, traveling, and exploring life atop her yoga mat. Today, Sara lives in Charleston with her husband and two lovable cocker spaniels, Madison and Bella.