If you are on a gluten-free diet, you may be at greater risk for arsenic and mercury poisoning.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found twice the levels of arsenic and nearly 70 percent higher levels of mercury in subjects who ate gluten free compared to those who did not. They reported their findings in the journal of Epidemiology last month.
The speculation is that the arsenic and mercury are primarily coming from rice flour and rice products that are frequently used as substitutes for wheat flour and wheat products. Unlike Europe, the U.S. doesn’t regulate the amount of arsenic in rice.
Because metals exist in the soil, they can infiltrate our food supply. Rice is particularly vulnerable because it is commonly grown in flooded conditions, which makes the metals in the soil more readily available to be absorbed by the rice grains.
Long before “gluten-free” caught on in the general population, it was a diet relegated to individuals with celiac disease, an inability to tolerate gluten, which is less than one percent of the population according to the National Institutes of Health. In addition, it was adopted by individuals with certain special needs, particularly those who had food allergies and other environmental sensitivities.
Recently, roughly one-quarter of Americans said they were following gluten-free diets in 2015, a 67 percent increase from 2013, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. And although statistics aren’t in for the popularity of gluten-free eating in 2017, judging from the number of gluten free products on grocery shelves – the trend may even be picking up steam.
If you eat gluten free, careful use of rice is indicated. The highest levels of metals are often found in brown rice, because the metals that accumulate aren’t washed off in the processing that white varieties of rice undergo. According to the agriculture researchers, average arsenic levels are estimated at 10 times higher in rice bran (brown rice) as in polished rice.
Consumer Reports, which conducted several studies of the arsenic content in rice, recommends against giving children rice milk under the age of five. In addition, they caution that one serving of rice cake supplies close to their recommended weekly limit, and that one serving of rice pasta or rice cereal could put kids over the limit.