Arsenic in Food and Beverages
The Bottom Line:
Arsenic is everywhere… in air, water, and living things. Arsenic enters into our drinking water, our soils, and our crops through the weathering of rocks, a natural process that converts arsenic sulfides in minerals to arsenic trioxide. Unlike many toxins made or spread primarily by human industrial and urban activity, arsenic is mostly naturally occurring and can never be eliminated from our food and beverage supply. The abundance of arsenic in the world demands that consumers take on a larger responsibility for understanding how much arsenic is likely in the whole diet and whether or not these levels are dangerous to health and well being. Arsenic enters into some foods and beverage more than others, among them: private well water, red wine, rice, brown rice syrup products (including cereal bars and infant formula), and grape juice, to name a few. Anyone who consumes large amounts of one or a combination of these foods should consider asking his or her doctor for an arsenic test to identify whether the arsenic ingested has become a potential risk for cancer (adults) or neurological damage (children).
What we Know:
- Infant formula containing contaminated brown rice syrup presents the highest risk for a single product, both because infants have large consumption to body weight ratios for formula and because some formulas can be contaminated at levels twice that of the EPA drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb). Mixing different brands of infant formula and relying more fully on breastfeeding are effective strategies for reducing potential arsenic toxicity from infant formula.
- Contaminated rice is the highest single food risk for adults when rice is a staple in the diet, consumed multiple times per week. A serving of contaminated rice can make up to 85% of the maximum recommended total daily arsenic intake for an adult. Sourcing rice that has been tested for arsenic content or mixing rice with other grains and carbohydrate choices can minimize this risk to adult health.
- While most red wine tested contributes no more than 10% of the total allowable daily intake of arsenic to the diet of an American adult, some red wines made from grapes grown in arsenic rich areas of the country can contribute up to 4 to 5 times this amount. Enjoying red wines from different grapes and different wine growing regions can minimize this risk.
- Consuming contaminated grape or apple juice (or juices that contain grape or apple juice) can make up an average of 25% of the total allowable intake of arsenic for children and adolescents. Replacing juices with water can drastically reduce this health risk for children of all ages.
- Those who frequently consume multiple foods and beverages with a likelihood of arsenic contamination (red wine, brown rice syrup products, rice, grape and apple juices, contaminated well water, tuna) should consider replacing some of these food and beverages, in whole or in part, with arsenic-free alternatives.
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