A study conducted by researchers at Dartmouth published in JAMA Pediatrics found that infants who consume increased amounts of rice cereals and foods containing rice have higher levels of urinary arsenic. Arsenic exposure is associated with an increased risk of neurocognitive problems in children.
In light of these recent findings, what are parents to think?
The FDA has just proposed new guidelines on the allowable amounts of arsenic in rice cereal that is parallel to the level set by the European Commission (EC) for rice intended for the production of food for infants and young children. (The EC standard concerns the rice itself; the FDA’s proposed guidance sets a draft level for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal.) FDA testing found that the majority of infant rice cereal currently on the market either meets, or is close to, the proposed action level.
Why is rice higher in arsenic than other grains?
Arsenic is present naturally in soil and water, and fertilizers and pesticides contribute additional amounts. As rice plants grow, they take up arsenic more readily than other crops. A rice labeled as organic does not guarantee a low level of arsenic due to these natural sources.
What should parents feed their infants and children?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about six months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced. When a child is around six months, infant cereals can be gradually introduced. Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients, but it shouldn’t be the only source, and does not need to be the first source. Oat, barley and multigrain cereals are other options.
The FDA is also advising pregnant women to consume a variety of grains, in order to limit potential arsenic exposure to the developing fetus. Washing the rice prior to cooking also helps decrease the levels of arsenic, although this may also decrease the amounts of nutrients.
Natasha Polensek, M.D.
Director, Doernbecher Healthy Lifestyles Clinic
Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital