Arsenic in Rice? What now?

The scoop on arsenic, recipes, a giveaway and more below!

There’s been recent headlines about levels of arsenic in rice due to a study published last week. The gluten-free community tends to eat a LOT of rice, so this is pretty important news!  Think about it: many gluten-free folks are eating Rice Chex with breakfast, some rice bread with lunch, a few rice crackers for snack and maybe rice pasta with dinner. Arsenic is potentially cancer promoting and may affect brain development and IQ in growing children. A recent Consumer Reports study indicates “worrisome” levels found in food.  Currently there are no federal regulations for food, and now groups are suggesting people limit the amount of rice they consume.

Why would there be arsenic in rice? Generally, the arsenic in rice is a byproduct of soil levels and the amount in water, and rice is often flooded. Many regions where rice is grown have high levels, and/or use pesticides with high levels of arsenic.

The gist:

  • Brown rice has higher levels of arsenic than white rice
  • If you eat it frequently (and if you’re eating most g-free products daily, most likely that means you) Consumer Reports recommends to cut back to just 2-3 serving per WEEK, with less for babies and children.
  • Pregnant women, children and babies are at particular risk
  • Consumer Reports recommends cutting back, because studies show that the more rice you eat, the more arsenic is in your body.
  • FDA recommends “wait and see”
  • My take: since g-free folks tend to eat a LOT of rice, we’re the most likely to be affected. Looking into other options simply makes sense, and the worst that can happen is you broaden your horizons.
  • The study details are here
  • AND a reader kindly forwarded me a petition for the FDA to set limits on arsenic in rice. Thanks, Anna!

So there are several good options:

  • Change the way you cook your rice, by using more water and discarding it. Consumer Reports has more details here
  • It seems like some kinds of rice, like basmati, tend to have lower levels of arsenic
  • Vary your grains—they are all grown differently and in different climates, regions, etc. and the belief is that other grains have lower arsenic levels:

Tasty grain-free options:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • White potatoes
  • Parsnips, turnips, carrots and other root veggies
  • Butternut and acorn squash are seasonal and have a nice carb-y texture
  • Beans and lentils–chili season is around the corner
  • Eden Foods has Mung Bean Thread noodles that are tested to be gluten-free
  • Cauliflower “rice” from Elana’s Pantry or even Roasted Cauliflower
  • Cassava (these are my very favorite cassava crackers)
  • Zucchini “pasta” from Kalyn’s Kitchen
  • Spaghetti squash pasta from Jules Gluten Free
  • Bean based pizza crust from Diet Dessert and Dogs
  • Chestnut crepes—the fun never ends!
  • Traditional Brazilian style cheese bread is made from tapioca. Chebe is one brand, and here’s a recipe by Ginger Lemon Girl
  • There are lots of almond flour recipes and coconut flour recipes…more than I can count! Elana’s Pantry, Paleo Parents, the Spunky Coconut , Gluten Free Happy Tummy and many more.

I’m actually mildly allergic to rice and have been many years, so my recipe blog contains very few recipes with rice. There’s even rice-free bread!

Tricia Thompson has a nice interview with more info here, too.

Variety is the spice of life. It makes sense to venture out beyond the rice bowl! Feel free to leave your favorite tips for including foods other than rice in the comments.

Upcoming Event:

Celiac Sprue Association is hosting its 35th Annual Conference on October 4-6th on Long Island in Hauppauge, NY. There will be great sessions on the latest and greatest from the Columbia Celiac Center, dietary tips, gluten-sensitivity, and panels on gluten-free blogging, travel, dining out and much more.

Giveaway #2

Nourishing Meals is a great cookbook which was just released. It just so happens to contain a variety of grains and grain-free recipes, and I’m giving away 2 signed copies. The giveaway ends Weds, so hop on over

Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Wellness Coach in Fairfax & Alexandria, VA. Cheryl works with people to feel and look their best with a range of specialties, including Celiac Disease, food allergies, pregnancy, breastfeeding, vegetarian and vegan diets, preventing diseases and “whole foods” eating. Let’s get you on your way to achieving your goals.  Email her or call 571-271-8742. 

Celiac & Fertility: Sept Newsletter

Celiac disease and fertility

News and events

Infertility is one of the hardest things for couples who want children, and Celiac disease is frequently an overlooked cause.

It’s commonly known that around 1% of the population has Celiac disease, and we often think of it as a gastrointestinal disorder. But Celiac is 4-8 times more common in women who are experiencing infertility without any other known cause.  It’s particularly tricky, because many of these women are not experiencing any of the typical Celiac tummy troubles, and most don’t even have anemia, which is often the most visible sign of Celiac.

Many doctors now suggest screening for Celiac when there isn’t another obvious cause for infertility. It’s also a much simpler and less invasive test than many of the infertility procedures. If you’re reading this, most likely Celiac is on your radar screen, but you know as well as I do that this isn’t universal. Since there’s such a genetic link involved, if you have family members who are experiencing infertility or miscarriages, or if you know people experiencing infertility, do consider passing this information along! (gently of course, to people who you think might be open to it)

What’s causing the infertility?

Well, as you know, with untreated Celiac disease, every time the mom to be eats gluten, her body attacks the small intestine, which often causes nutritional deficiencies. Obviously this makes it harder to get pregnant and to have a healthy pregnancy. The nutrients people with Celiac aren’t absorbing well are the same ones that grow babies, such as iron, vitamin D, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, calcium, etc.

But there’s more than that. An untreated autoimmune disease even without nutrient deficiencies isn’t good for mom or baby.  The same tissue transglutaminase antibodies that doctors look at to tell if we have active Celiac disease and how we’re responding to a gluten-free diet can actually interfere with pregnancy. According to Daniel Leffler, MD, MD, director of clinical research at the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston “It turns out that antibodies affect the placenta in negative ways. We thought they were just good diagnostic markers, but they also seem to bind to and wreak havoc on many areas of the body.”

This also means that moms-to-be will have the best chance of a healthy pregnancy if they wait 6 months or until the tTg (tissue transglutaminase) levels are back to normal and nutritional deficiencies are corrected. Because at the end of the day, the goal is not just getting pregnant, but having a happy, healthy baby.

Don’t forget dad

We tend to focus on mom, but if Dad has untreated Celiac, HE may be the cause of infertility. Vitamins A, E and zinc are critical to sperm production. And one study even showed that Dads with untreated Celiac were five times more likely to have low-birth weight babies.

Smart steps:

So-if you want to get pregnant and have Celiac disease, make sure you’ve checked with your doctor about nutritional deficiencies and your thyroid, too. People with Celiac are more likely to have autoimmune thyroid diseases, too, such as Hashimoto’s or Graves’, which often show up during and after pregnancy.

It’s also critical to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. Most gluten-free products aren’t fortified the way regular products are, and many are both higher calorie and higher in empty, starchy carbs, too. The nutrients that are low in the diets of women with on a gluten-free diet (iron, B vitamins, calcium, fiber) are needed by both mom and baby. A Registered Dietitian can help you make sure you’re getting what you need.

For more information or for health professionals and RDs, I do have a CE course on having a healthy gluten-free pregnancy.

Coming soon: infant feeding and Celiac—I’ll post that soon, I assume I have at least 9 months!

Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Wellness Coach in Fairfax . Cheryl works with people to feel and look their best with a range of specialties, including Celiac Disease, food allergies, pregnancy, breastfeeding, vegetarian and vegan diets, preventing diseases and “whole foods” eating. Let’s get you on your way to achieving your goals.  Email her or call 571-271-8742.