Arsenic in rice cereal raises questions
Babies in the U.S. are often introduced to rice cereal as a first food, but new research is raising concerns about the levels of arsenic in their bodies and whether rice products are to blame.
Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College studied the diets of more than 750 babies over their first year of life. At 12 months old, babies who regularly ate rice or rice products had significantly higher levels of arsenic in their urine.
Specifically, babies who ate brown or white rice had arsenic levels that were twice as high as babies who ate no rice. Babies who ate rice snacks were similarly high. The highest arsenic levels were in babies who ate rice cereal. Researchers reported that 80 percent of the participating infants had been introduced to rice cereal before their first birthday, most starting between four and six months of age.
“While it may seem troubling that babies who eat rice have higher levels of arsenic in their bodies than do their peers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are being harmed,” says Dr. Thorp, “The real question is whether the arsenic levels in these infants exceeds acceptable limits established by public health experts.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finding arsenic in a person’s urine does not necessarily mean that individual will face negative health effects. Previous research has also shown increased levels of arsenic in other products, such as infant formula and red wine.
Researchers stress that their findings may not be generalizable to larger populations based on participants’ water sources. Consumption of other foods such as apples and apple juice during the study period may also have contributed to the infants’ arsenic levels.
“As in anything, individual families need to weigh the risks and benefits of everything they consume,” says Dr. Thorp. “Although most American babies are given rice cereal as one of their first solid foods, there are many other options. Parents should consult with their pediatrician to discuss the most appropriate first foods for their babies.”
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