Recently many people have been jumping on the bandwagon of the gluten free diet and all the promises that come along with it. But alas, it appears there is now a new offender trying to deter you from going the way of your gluten-free gurus, and that concern is arsenic. But, is this really something you need to be worrying about? What are the risks that come alongside extra consumption of arsenic from a gluten free diet, and does it actually matter? Read on to find out the truth about arsenic and the gluten free diet, so you can make your own informed decision.
The Gluten Free Hype
Before I drown you in information about the gluten free diet and the risk of arsenic consumption, here is a little background on the gluten free hype. There are numerous benefits to a gluten free diet and until recently the links between autoimmune diseases and gluten consumption were well known within the health community, with many people swearing by it and being recommended to avoid gluten in order to significantly improve gut health and issues like crohn’s, hashimoto’s, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, arthritis and psoriasis.
Despite the advocated, a recent study has suggested that gluten free is a load of boo-hockey, when participants with IBS were found to have no gluten sensitivity whatsoever. However, this one study does not eradicate all previous claims that gluten sensitivity does in fact exist and can play a part in the development of some serious issues (see here, here, and here), and it is not a figment of the imagination to all those who suffer with it (me being one of them).
A long story short would be that gluten is not the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to gut health; there are other proteins that must be considered and FODMAPs (more on this here).
Gluten Free Diet and Arsenic
So what is the deal with this new arsenic consumption situation? Basically a recent report has suggested that certain gluten free alternatives contain worrying amounts of arsenic, with rice in particular. Arsenic can be introduced into the environment and your diet through fertilizers and pesticides, however, it naturally occurs in soil.
It is also concerning due to the fact that the FDA has requirements with regards to arsenic in water (no more than 0.01 ml per litre of water) but there are no regulations when it comes to food. One study of particular concern was with regards to the levels of arsenic in baby rice which ‘found that 35% of the baby rice samples analyzed would be illegal for sale in China’. Baby rice is often a child’s first solid food, and was found to contain ‘at least five times more [inorganic arsenic] than has been found in alternatives such as oatmeal.’ An ever so slightly alarming finding.
This is an issue with rice as many people on the gluten free diet will use rice as an alternative to foods such as pasta, wheat flour, and bread. Rice absorbs much more arsenic from the soil as it is grown in flooded conditions, hence the concern. Researchers also found that brown rice contained around twice the amount of arsenic as its white counterparts.
Arsenic can be found in numerous forms throughout nature (inorganic, organic and as a gas) which means that it is virtually impossible to avoid. It is important to be aware of where you are most at risk of consuming arsenic in your diet meaning you can make smart decisions on how to limit the intake of it. You don’t need to simply watch out for arsenic within rice, it is also found in leafy vegetables, fruit juices, fruit and seafoods.
However, there are simple ways to reduce your rice intake and avoiding this issue altogether. Rice is a great alternative to pasta in your diet, although there are many other nutrient dense foods you can incorporate into your diet without rice even having to be in the equation. Experimentation with different foods is key, as you may be missing out on vital nutrients and vitamins thinking rice is one of your only options when on a gluten free diet.
If you still love that rice and consume it regularly then there are a few things you can do. Firstly, pick a different type of rice; Basmasti and Jasmine contain significantly lower levels of arsenic than others. Try and source your rice from low arsenic regions such as California.
Even simply rinsing your rice before you cook it can reduce the levels of arsenic by 30%. Also, don’t fall for the organic trick. Organic or not the rice has absorbed no less arsenic as it is soaked up from the soil.
However, avoiding foods that are known to have a higher level of arsenic in them is a recent development that should not be ignored as it has been linked to an increased risk of lung, skin, and bladder cancers, with particular risk to children as it can stunt brain development.
Rice is undeniably a fantastic alternative when it comes to a gluten free diet, especially when it comes to baked goods and treats, and as long as you aren’t baking yourself a rice flour cake a day you should be fine.
Many snacks in the gluten free diet are rice based, so it may be time for you to consider your alternatives. In all honesty moving away from carbohydrate based snacks would do you a world of good in the arena of weight management and controlling any insulin resistance issues.
Think outside the box when it comes to snacking. Rather than reaching for your rice based crisp alternatives you can just as easily eat carrot sticks, cucumber, or other raw vegetables. There is also corn, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and millet; all great grain alternatives to rice.
What This Means For The Future
As this is a relatively new field of research it is difficult to predict what effects this may have on future populations. Particularly for those living in Asian countries who are said to consume on average 2 cups of rice per day, compared to the half a cup per day consumed by Americans. Although these statistics are not a reflection of those on a gluten free diet, who consume more rice products on average.
Although the FDA has not recommended any change in current dietary guidelines on the consumption of rice products, they do recommend a varied diet with plenty of different grains. However, Sonya Lunder a senior research analyst states that ‘the agency has spent the past 20 years testing foods without making any recommendations on what consumers can do to reduce their risk [and] the public should not wait for [the] FDA.’
It could be a while before the FDA make any changes to their guidelines (if they decide to at all), so knowing the truth about arsenic and making the initiative to reduce your intake now could help protect yourself from the potential detrimental effects that comes alongside increased arsenic consumption.
This is particularly important for your children, as the increased arsenic consumption could set them up for health issues later in life.
There are two sides to this story with rice producers arguing that we should not get our panties in a twist about arsenic consumption, and with the benefits of rice outweighing the negatives of additional arsenic consumption. However, scientists warn against complacency with this issue as ‘we already know that high concentrations of arsenic in drinking water result in the highest known toxic substance disease risks from any environmental exposure’. (Read the full consumer report here)
Now we are becoming aware of the truth about arsenic and the gluten free diet, it raises the question: if there are regulations with regards to arsenic levels in drinking water, surely there should be the same regulations for arsenic in food? Research into the long term effects of arsenic consumption have only just begun so only time will tell of the true effect arsenic has on our health.
However, as you’ve just read, there are many simple ways you can reduce your arsenic consumption even when on a gluten free diet. Is it worth risking your future health by taking the easy option?
If you found this helpful, leave a comment below.
And be sure to check out these additional free resources:
- Common Toxins in Cookware and How to Avoid Them
- 10 Easy Ways to Lose Weight and Double Your Physical Energy
- 5 Simple Changes You Can Make to Lose Weight and Feel Great
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