Rice is a staple food in the diet of half the world's population.
In recent years, rice consumption has increased in Latin America and the Caribbean. In tropical regions, for example, about 37 kilograms of rice per year is consumed, which is equivalent to 1.3 cups of rice per day and per person.
But a team of specialists has announced that rice has considerable amounts of inorganic arsenic, a poison that is known to be harmful to our health. For this reason, an alert was issued for every person consuming rice and there have been instructions released on how to properly cook it in order for it to not be harmful to health.
Inorganic arsenic in groundwater
This news comes as no surprise, as arsenic is found naturally in groundwater in many countries. Arsenic is a natural element which behaves like a metal. It is in the periodic table of the elements as a metalloid with atomic number 33.
Arsenic can be found in nature or as the result of certain human activities and can be found in its organic and inorganic form. The inorganic form of arsenic is the most toxic, classified as a carcinogen since it is known with certainty that it is one of the causes of cancer in humans.
In the laboratory, it is possible to determine the concentration and form of arsenic in samples derived from groundwater and soils. Improvement in these methodologies made it possible to detect disturbing concentrations of inorganic arsenic in the rice that fills our plate.
The consequences of arsenic consumption
There are some serious consequences with ingesting inorganic arsenic. An epidemic of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and developmental problems was observed in Bangladesh following exposure of the population to contaminated water.
Inorganic arsenic can contaminate our drinking water and foods that are grown in irrigation, such as rice. Rice is cultivated under irrigation, which means it is flooded with water that comes in contact with the soil and groundwater. This allows for arsenic present to be absorbed by the rice plants.
For this reason, rice has 10 to 20 times more arsenic than any other cereal. These levels are dangerous when the rice is consumed with greater constancy, that is to say, the more we eat rice the more arsenic we consume and we are more likely to suffer the consequences.
In addition, the danger is greater in children and infants, where arsenic can influence immune system development, as well as neuronal growth and development.
Professor Andy Meharg of Queen's University Belfast, who studied arsenic for several decades, explains that you have a lower risk of arsenic affecting your health when you eat less rice. Just like smoking more cigarettes poses a higher risk of health problems than it does for people who smoke but only do so every once in a while, more frequent exposure to arsenic through rice increases your chances of health issues.
Cooking for better health
The way rice is cooked can considerably reduce the amount of arsenic in rice at the time we eat it. After analyzing several techniques, the best would seem to be to soak the rice the night before you plan on cooking it. Then cook the rice with the water and rice ratio of 5:1. According to laboratory results, this technique reduces arsenic levels by 80%.
For many people, it is impossible to eliminate rice from their diets, but making an effort to cook it in this way does not take away too much time and could literally save our lives.
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