Due to the cost of labor, many things are now “made in China,” but should we be outsourcing our health?  From an industrial standpoint, this leads to cheaper more accessible goods, such as electronics, but from an environmental standpoint, China is still stuck in the stage of the Industrial Revolution.  Case in point?  Recent reports, based on research presented to The American Chemical Society by Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi, have indicated that rice coming from China has been contaminated with heavy metals, such as lead and arsenic.  The biggest problem is that their water supply is highly contaminated from industrial runoff and China does not have stringent environmental protection regulations in place.

Now we have previously covered the arsenic issue in our book, Rich Food, Poor Food, so lets focus on lead right now.  Lead toxicity is implicated in a variety of disorders including cancer, cardiovascular, blood, kidney, gastrointestinal, reproductive and neurological issues.  It is particularly dangerous for children, resulting in birth defects and developmental problems.  This was one of the main reasons we moved away from lead-based paints, piping and gasoline.

How dangerous was the rice tested?

Usually, we strive not to be alarmist, but the data from this study suggests we do otherwise. According to Tongesayi, eating this rice even occasionally could contribute to such chronic conditions as cancer, osteoporosis, nerve damage, and developmental and brain problems in children.  This is because infants and children consuming child-size portions could swallow 30 to 60 times the amount of lead deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration in a day. And Americans eating only one cup of this rice would consume 10 times the amount.

Fortunately, the United States only imports around 7% of its rice and the large scale operations have not become the property of the GMO industry.  But that doesn't mean we are out of the woods just yet.

What can you do to protect yourself?

If you do choose to eat rice you should make the best choices possible. Here are 5 steps to insure the rice you eat is not a compromised treat.

  1. Choose American. It is important to check your labels to make sure you are getting American rice. There were lead issues in samples taken from Taiwan, China, the Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India, and Thailand. You may also want to check with restaurants to make sure the rice is not being imported from one of these locations.
  2. Choose Organic. This helps you to avoid the thirteen known pesticides found in conventional rice.
  3. Go Gluten Free Safely. With the rise in the number of gluten free dieters and the boom in rice based “products,” to replace gluten containing ones, it is important to know where manufacturers are sourcing their rice from, as well.
  4. Ferment. Soak and then ferment your rice before you eat it (we cover this protocol in Rich Food, Poor Food).  This will mitigate the issues presented by the Everyday Micronutrient Depleter (EMD), phytic acid, as well as reduce arsenic content by upwards of 30 percent; while there is not adequate data regarding lead, it would follow that this process might help with lead as well.
  5. Supplement for Safety. If you do find yourself exposed to lead and fear lead toxicity, all is not lost just yet.  Various vitamins and accessory micronutrients have been implicated in reducing the deleterious effects of lead.  A recent literature review by Flora, Gupta & Tiwari (2012) in the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology, found that vitamins B1, B6, C, and E, as well as alpha-lipoic acid and quercetin “have the ability to scavenge ROS (reactive oxygen species or free radicals) at the molecular level and chelate lead ions, thereby reversing their toxic effects.”  This underscores the importance of achieving micronutrient sufficiency, both through diet and proper supplementation.  All of those micronutrients and more are found in nutreince and could help provide that final layer of protection against these risks.

So here is the simple take home on rice. Buy smart, prepare well, and supplement for security! Follow these guidelines and you will be well on your way to living your optimal life.