Newsbite: The Low Down on Low Levels of Arsenic in Food and Beverages

Our knowledge about arsenic has increased since the initial airing of the Dr. Oz Show segment “Dr. Oz Investigates Arsenic in Apple Juice”  in 2011 and so has the public’s interest in “chemicals” in food overall.   Attention has now pivoted to arsenic in other foods—specifically some rice and rice-based products.  With growing interest in this topic, this is a unique opportunity to explain arsenic’s presence in food….and why it’s not a public health concern.

Very low levels of naturally occurring arsenic can be found virtually everywhere; it’s in our environment, our food and in our water.  While there are industrial uses for arsenic compounds, these are not added to our food supply.  Many plants absorb arsenic in varying amounts from the soil through their root system.  This explains why very small or miniscule amounts of arsenic can be found in rice, other grains, vegetables, fruits and juices and seafood.

Previous news articles and blog reports give the impression that we may not know the long term health effects of arsenic in our diets.  However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been monitoring arsenic content in our food supply for more than 20 years. The FDA, through its surveillance sampling programs, has not indicated a safety concern related to the low levels of arsenic present in juice and rice products.  It is important to know that the FDA continuously monitors all scientific information about arsenic and takes action as needed to mitigate any health concerns.

We do have well established data to show that whole grains, fruits and vegetables--variety and moderation—are fundamental for a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that can make us healthier individuals and most importantly, healthier families. 

Do you need to worry?

Dr. Julie Jones – nutrition and food science expert and professor emeritus at St. Catherine University says: “Focus on the whole food as a main source to a healthful diet, rather than those individual low-level, non-threatening compounds within food.  The benefits of a diet rich in variety and moderation far outweigh any perceived impact to our individual health and the health of our families.”