I’ve been asked many times over the past month or so if I can comment on the problems with arsenic in rice, especially brown rice, and what should those who home- prepare a diet with rice do about it. I am taking the arsenic issue very seriously but as always, or most of the time anyway, I’m not panicking. I’ve removed brown rice as much as I can from any recipe I’ve developed, and I only use white in therapeutic diets or growth, where brown is not indicated (such as renal disease, where the high phosphorus content is undesirable). That said, I don’t think there’s need to panic – let’s take a look at the issue, how to minimize it, how to substitute, and some ideas for helping the body deal with heavy metals (which, unfortunately, are everywhere).
So, for those who may not have heard, levels of arsenic have been reported and confirmed in brown rice, with much variation according to where the rice is from and which grower/company is selling it. Here is the basic scoop, from Consumer reports.org:
“Organic rice baby cereal, rice breakfast cereals, brown rice, white rice—new tests by Consumer Reports have found that those and other types of rice products on grocery shelves contain arsenic, many at worrisome levels.
The results of our tests were even more troubling in some ways than our findings for juice. In virtually every product tested, we found measurable amounts of total arsenic in its two forms. We found significant levels of inorganic arsenic, which is a carcinogen, in almost every product category, along with organic arsenic, which is less toxic but still of concern.”
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at what arsenic is, how widespread, and just how dangerous it may be: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/06/is-arsenic-the-worst-chemical-in-the-world/
So, how severe an issue is this for dogs? Well, have a look at the findings with regard to humans:
“Our resulting analysis of 3,633 study participants found that on average, people who reported eating one rice food item had total urinary arsenic levels 44 percent greater than those who had not, and people who reported consuming two or more rice products had levels 70 percent higher than those who had no rice.”
It seems to me that any dog eating a brand of rice with high levels on a daily basis, might be at risk of the health issues associated with high arsenic levels. Much of the research on this issue was conducted with regard to human baby food, and the findings there very worrisome indeed (so this is relevant to us all, not only our canines):
“The EPA sets limits for a carcinogen based on how many extra cases of cancer would be caused by exposure to the toxin at a certain level. The limit is designed to minimize that risk. For our recommendations, we used the latest available science to choose a moderate level of protection that balances safety and feasibility, similar to the EPA’s approach for water. Our scientists made these calculations using standard estimates of weight, typical daily consumption of individual rice products over a lifetime, and the range of levels of inorganic arsenic we found. For our recommendations for children, we paid particular attention to their levels of consumption during this critical phase of their development.
According to federal data, some infants eat up to two to three servings of rice cereal a day. Eating rice cereal at that rate, with the highest level of inorganic arsenic we found in our tests, could result in a risk of cancer twice our acceptable level.”
Given the startling rise in canine cancer over the past twenty years, and considering the total exposure-load dogs are faced with (lying on pressure treated wood decks, for example) I’m taking this issue seriously. In future I will take every possible measure to reduce or eliminate the use of rice in a canine diet; in cases where energy needs to come from a very low-phosphorus source, we may still need to add some (white or glutinous) rice, for specific conditions. For dogs who don’t tolerate any carb source at all other than brown rice, there are steps you can take, to minimize risk. These include brand selection and preparation, as well as additional supplements that can help the body deal with arsenic, and lastly, some well-chosen herbs and supplements that help prevent cancer development.
Note please that the first recommendation I am making is to remove rice from the diet and use another carb source- quinoa, buckwheat, sweet potato, oatmeal (glutenfree) can all be used, but they should not be substituted cup for cup – and especially not in any therapeutic diet – as they contain varying levels of mineral, fiber, phytate and oxalate, all of which can be a concern for sensitive dogs. If you need a recipe adjustment – contact me. I will make these services available at a very low fee, if you require an adjustment. Otherwise – try some of the suggestions below.
Know the content of your brand and if it is high, switch! I am using and recommending Lundberg’s White basmati (costly, I know but it’s one of the lowest) for those who are using diets based in part on rice.
Next: preparation. I always recommend rinsing and pre-soaking rice, but now it’s more important than ever. I soak Danny’s white rice (he is currently on a mineral restricted diet, hopefully short term!) for several hours before cooking, changing the water many times. Remember that white rice is much lower in arsenic than brown, so while it’s a pretty empty food nutritionally, it is also safer. You might consider switching from brown to white and adding a Bvitamin ( just a simple Bcomplex, or B50 as they’re termed) a few times a week. Some ground flax can add fiber and cancer-protective lignans if your dog needs more fiber than the white rice, but extra, rotated green vegetables can provide plenty of that, too! More on vegetables later – they too can be a source of arsenic.
You can also consider doing as described here: http://www.westonaprice.org/beginner-videos/proper-preparation-of-grains-and-legumes-video-by-sarah-pope
I personally soak quinoa, buckwheat and oatmeal this way, in a little buttermilk/water – but since arsenic removal is the goal of preparing white rice more than phytate lowering, I just rinse, rinse, rinse… and soak in plain water.
I also use a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice when cooking and just drain the excess. This is helpful in removing some of the arsenic, but it does take some getting used to.
So far: careful brand selection, thorough rinsing and perhaps altering how you cook the rice will reduce the exposure significantly.
Additionally, there are some supplements you can use that are helpful in removing arsenic and other heavy metals from the body. Although this is not intended as a guarantee, nor is it meant to imply you can feed rice at will and these supplements will nullify the effects; I for one believe they are worth trying. Let me be clear that not all are suitable for all dogs, and I will post a separate entry on their usefulness and dosage later this week. For now, do some of your own research on the following: chlorella, lipoic acid, garlic, glutathione, apple pectin, cilantro and VitaminC. Please note that high levels of garlic should never, ever be fed to dogs; so it’s usefulness at low dose (with regard to removing heavy metals ) may be negligible. Selenium supplementation can be helpful,too, but this is also a mineral you need to understand and use carefully, so please wait for the follow-up entry before adding it.
It’s very important to understand that not only rice contains arsenic: many vegetables we commonly use for dogs may also be contaminated. And let’s not forget well water: here is a short piece on arsenic contamination in New Hampshire:
“According to a new U.S. Geological Survey report, nearly 40 percent of New Hampshire’s bedrock groundwater likely contains at least low levels of naturally occurring arsenic. According to Joe Ayotte of the U.S.G.S., the results of the study were surprising: “We knew from previous studies that arsenic is a regional problem in New Hampshire, but we were surprised that low arsenic levels are widespread across the state.” However, while the data released with the report are intended to inform public health research and decision makers, Ayotte cautioned that individual homeowners should not use the maps or data to conclude that their water is contaminated or safe; “The geology and fractures in New Hampshire’s bedrock are complex, so homeowners should not rely on the results from neighboring wells to determine if their own well is safe.” Further, unsafe levels of manganese, uranium, and radon are also common in private wells in New Hampshire.”
I mention this because again, if you are currently using rice in your dog’s diet, you need more than ever to be aware of total load, and that means potential other sources.If you’re on a well, have it tested.Although not all commercial dogfoods contain rice, many do and I would seriously consider contacting your manufacturer with re gard to this issue, and – consider switching to a rice-free brand, or going to home prepared.
Last but not least, I advise extra caution in exposure to herbicides, pesticides and environmental sources of arsenic- that can mean pressure-treated wood, yes, but also soil underneath a deck or playground that has been removed.. lawn chemicals…This is important for all dogs, not just those who have rice in the diet – and for us, too, of course.
My takeaway message (I know this is a lot of information in one entry) is this; replace rice with other carbs if you can; if you can’t, choose and prepare carefully, evaluate other potential sources of exposure, including water, consider some supplementation to offset the load, and if you are very concerned, consider having your dog’s hair analyzed.
More on this in the weeks ahead…and other worrisome toxins as well. It’s not happy news, but better we know about it, I believe, than not.