The news some days can be scary and overwhelming.  A recent report in Consumer Reports details arsenic levels in a number of rice products on the market, many of which kids eat. What should a reasonable parent do?

First let’s look at some facts. Arsenic can be found in water, air, food and soil naturally. That’s always been the case. In fact, it has been suggested that arsenic is an essential nutrient. However, we now have inorganic insecticides which contain a form of arsenic that poses a potential threat of cancer, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Because more and more consumers want to know what’s in their food, a greater emphasis has been placed on studies like the one from Consumer Reports. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also interested in finding out if the levels of arsenic in our foods are dangerous. . Last year, Consumer Reports asked the FDA to look at the standards for arsenic in apple juice. The FDA will soon be releasing their findings, but they recently said the levels are low.

The biggest sources of arsenic exposure in the U.S. are vegetables, fruits and fruit juice, and rice. Water is another source. Because rice is a crop that is grown in flooded fields, it absorbs more water than other crops. Currently the FDA is gathering data on arsenic levels in rice to better assess risk to public health. The FDA has issued a statement stating that there isn’t enough evidence yet to give advice on how to change one’s diet.  Consumer Reports also analyzed rice products and found varying levels of arsenic in a variety of rice products, including infant cereals. Levels were typically higher in brown rice, and in some cases organic products had higher levels than traditional products. The Consumer Reports article suggests that “babies eat no more than 1 serving of infant rice cereal per day”. 

While I agree this might be prudent advice, it may be difficult for some parents. Parents who thicken formula or breast milk with rice cereal to help with reflux may be concerned about their baby’s level of rice consumption. Those who have children with multiple food allergies who use a lot of rice products such as rice milk might also be concerned.  It is true that we should not get “ahead of the science” as the FDA states, but many parents may rightly feel that they should minimize risk to their infants in case there IS a real risk while the data comes in.

  1. From my perspective as a pediatric dietitian and a mom, a reasonable option would be the following: Baby’s First Cereal: Start first foods with a hypoallergenic cereal such as rice cereal or even with pureed meats such as lamb. Feed 1-2 tablespoons mixed with breast milk or formula one time daily. After 5-7 days, when you are certain the baby has not demonstrated an allergy (no coughing, wheezing, skin rash, or stomach upset after eating the food), you might try introducing another hypoallergenic cereal:  oatmeal.  Then, serve no more than one serving of rice daily, and continue introducing other foods one at a time, allowing for time to observe for allergy.
  2. Thickening Formula or Breast Milk:  First, do NOT put cereal into a bottle unless your doctor or dietitian has told you to do so. Most infants do not need this. If you are thickening with rice, talk with your doctor about whether another thickening agent would be appropriate.  However, if rice is the best thickener, don’t panic. We still aren’t certain of the risk, so it may be okay to continue to thicken with rice.
  3. For Older Kids:  Serve rice a few times a week or no more than once a day. You might consider alternating brown and white rice.  Also, if your child consumes a lot of apple or grape juice, you might consider serving other juices with lower levels of arsenic from time to time.

Finally, do not panic, but as with so many things in life, handle this situation with moderation and variety.  

 References:

  1. Abhyandar LN et. al. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2012.
  2. Moon K et. al. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2012

 

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