Arsenic in Our Food and in Us

by: Dr. Sharon Collins


I learned recently that children in California were found to have disturbing levels of arsenic, other heavy metals, and toxic chemical contaminants in their blood. “Cancer benchmark levels were exceeded by all children (100%) for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE, and dioxins. Non-cancer benchmarks were exceeded by >95% of preschool-age children for acrylamide and by 10% of preschool-age children for mercury.” 
Rice is a significant dietary source of arsenic because rice absorbs more arsenic than other commonly eaten foods. And brown rice is not exempt; in fact it can have higher levels of arsenic because the bran is retained in brown rice. However, there are other grains that do not absorb as much arsenic. Rotating rice with quinoa, barley, polenta, and buckwheat will decrease exposure to arsenic.
In addition to rice, it was also found that chicken and dairy were other significant sources of arsenic. When a Masters Degree Candidate decided to look into this arsenic issue in chicken more closely, he discovered among other things, that three arsenic-containing antibiotics were fed to chickens here in the United States since 1944. (By the way, the use of these antibiotics were refused by European markets.) The accepted thought in the United States was that arsenic was not a problem since they were using organic arsenic and not the poisonous inorganic arsenic.
However, they discovered that cooking the chicken (which was loaded with arsenic from the antibiotics) changed the organic arsenic into the more dangerous one associated with increased cancer risk. Nonetheless, even after learning that, no changes were made in the antibiotics given to chickens until the industry was sued.
The practice of using the arsenic-containing antibiotics was finally discontinued in 2015—six years after it was determined that this was indeed a significant health problem.
There are other foods which contain significant levels of arsenic: cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and kale (arsenic binds easily to sulfur-containing foods) and dark-meat fish.
Added to the list of foods with higher levels of arsenic: tomatoes, peppers, squash, cucumbers, peas, beans, corn, melons, and strawberries. However, arsenic is not typically absorbed into the parts of these fruits or vegetables that people eat. So if we wash and peel the fruit and discard the peel, our exposure is lessened. Do not compost them, however, or you will recycle them into the ground.
As far as some of the other foods go, if you cannot totally avoid them, or if you do not want to take them totally out of the diet because of the benefit they are to your body, then commit to eating a varied diet of fruits and vegetables and eat them in rotation with other nutritious fruits and vegetables.
To avoid contamination from water or from pesticides, you might also want to consider growing your vegetables organically indoors in a Tower Garden, for example.
Lastly, consider getting tested for arsenic. If your level is high, you should consider testing your water and soil for arsenic and taking the above mentioned measures to protect yourself. Be sure to retest after a few months.