I read a post on Facebook yesterday that stopped me in my tracks. The article stated that are high levels of arsenic in rice cakes and they are therefore not recommended for consumption by young children. WHAT!!!!! (grabs half eaten rice cake out of three year old’s hand).
There are so many conflicting health claims and scares these days that I tend to approach them all with a massive dose of scepticism. However I checked what the Food Standards Agency to see what information is available in relation to rice cakes and arsenic. I was a bit incredulous that this health claim could be true. I figured the FSA as a government organisation should be a credible source of information.
I thought it might be useful to pass on the information that I have found out regarding arsenic in rice products – please bear in mind that I am in no way claiming to be an expert.
Arsenic is present in soil and is absorbed by plants as they grow. The amount of arsenic that is present in different types of food varies significantly. Rice tends to take up more arsenic from the environment in comparison to other cereal crops. Having too much arsenic in your diet is potentially harmful to health and could increase the risk of illness including cancer. This is not about being at immediate risk but about the cumulative effects of eating food containing high levels of arsenic over time.
Food Standards Agency Advice
The FSA is involved in work in Europe to set enforceable EU maximum limits for arsenic in rice and rice products. The FSA view is that there should be more stringent limits for rice products that are intended for infants and young children. The FSA is continuing to investigate the levels of arsenic in food for babies and children which research due to be published this year. The FSA specifically advise that toddlers and young children (aged 1 to 4.5 years old) should not drink rice milk as an alternative to breast milk, formula or cows milk.
Information from the FSA is available here
Swedish National Food Agency
In 2015 the Swedish National Food Agency investigated 102 different rice based products to look at the arsenic content. Findings indicated that rice cakes contain more arsenic than other rice products. The Swedish National Food Agency advise that children under the age of 6 should not eat rice cakes at all. There is similar health advice in Germany.
Here is a link to an article reporting the findings of the Swedish study.
My rice cake loving children
As I said already I am not a scientist, a nutritionist or an expert. However reading the various sources of apparently credible information has made me think about the food choices that I make for kids.
My kids have, until today, eaten lots of rice cakes – they will have them most days as snacks and have done so since they were very little. I always thought that giving rice cakes to my kids was a healthy option. I was happy that they were not full of salt and sugar and assumed that as they are marketed as children’s foods they were a great snack. I was reassured that the ingredients in rice cakes are reassuringly short and simple (predominantly wholegrain rice). I’m now feeling pretty rubbish about how many rice cakes my kids have been eating!
Looking at alternatives
I have decided that from now on I’m not going to give me kids any rice cakes. I took a trip to my local supermarket today to try and figure out what would be an alternative healthy snack. I had the kids to me which made really studying all of the food labels a bit of a challenge! They like corn cakes so I think these will work as an alternative to rice cakes. I’ve also bought some different types of Ryvita and crackers to see if the kids like these. I will need to look at the nutritional information on these in a bit more detail. It appears that some brands of crackers have quite high levels of salt so I want to avoid these.
I’ve also looked at alternatives to the rice based cereals that the kids frequently eat. This was also a challenge as a lot of brands have lots of sugar in them. We have a different type of cereal to try out over the next week. I will look into the nutritional information of the different cereals available to see what other alternatives there are.
Please take a look at the information available on arsenic in rice products and make up your own mind. From what I’ve read from a number of different sources I’m concerned enough to rethink my kids eating rice cakes and rice based cereals.