Arsenic and Other Heavy Metals in Rice

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What does fearmongering have to do with your health? EVERYTHING! Stay informed with accurate information to safeguard your greatest asset: You!

In the Headlines

Protein powders and heavy metals are making headlines again. It seems to be about a two to four-year cyclical attention-grab that takes advantage of fear tactics to make money off good people who care about their health and the health of their loved ones. The most recent fearmonger is asking for donations on every page of their site, having popups ask again, collecting your data for future fear triggered marketing, leveraging the companies they rate poorly to pay to certify through them, and making more money by including affiliate links to every product they rate.

Why Fear Works

Unfortunately, this type of negative marketing works wonders on the human mind. We are drawn to negativity. The media uses it to make you watch and read more. Clickbait uses it to catch your attention. Fear-based marketing is big business. Watch this Ted Talk to understand more about how our brains crave negativity.

Fear marketing also uses misleading numbers purposely to confuse and amp up the stress response. We’ll talk more on that later.

It Isn’t New

The FDA dropped some interesting test results about arsenic in rice on the public in September of 2012, with some products containing as high as 11 mcg of inorganic arsenic per serving. Consumer Reports followed shortly after with a list of their own test results. Both created a lot of confusion and managed to scare many of us away from rice products for a while. The FDA quietly released a statement later to say, “FDA scientists have determined that the levels of inorganic arsenic found in the samples are too low to cause immediate health damage.”

Natural News did much the same fear-based marketing in 2014 that’s being done today. They drove tens of thousands of people to their site and their affiliate linked proteins, doing their own testing on arsenic and other heavy metals in vegan rice proteins and other products. This did bring Sunwarrior, Garden of Life, Natural News, and other health advocates together to hold suppliers and farmers more accountable for the metals that make their way into our foods.

Looking at the Numbers

The numbers certainly look scary, but what do they actually mean? Are we at risk? Let’s dig a little deeper and look at some of the answers.

PPB or ug/kg vs. PPM

The industry standard is parts per million, rather than parts per billion or ug/kg to make the data more approachable and understandable. The ppb numbers certainly look impressive, but 10,000 parts per billion is only ten parts per million. Take ten dollars and divide it between a million people and what do you have left? Are you left with even a penny? No, much, much less than that. You are left with nothing, a number so small it is insignificant. 500 ppb is only .5 ppm. Take 50 cents and divide it between a million people and you can imagine how tiny it gets fast. That is the type of numbers we are looking at with the findings that were recently posted. That’s .0000005 to make it clear.

The fearmonger marketers purposefully go against industry standard to make the numbers look scarier. 9 ug/kg makes you pause, look, feel the fear rise as you consider those whole numbers swimming out of your food and into your bloodstream, while the more appropriate number 0.009 mg/kg does not.

When we talk about the amounts in foods, we use milligrams. Most of us are familiar with grams and milligrams. You see the little “g” for grams next to sugars and proteins on labels and the “mg” next to many vitamins and minerals. The fearmongers are using micrograms. That is what that less familiar “ug” is in the charts they are sharing. To put it into context even further, it takes 1 thousand micrograms to make even a milligram, and it takes 1 thousand milligrams to make a gram. That means it takes 1 million micrograms to equal a gram.

What is Lead?

Lead is a semi-soft metal that is naturally occurring in the earth’s crust, the air, and water. It has many beneficial uses in batteries, electronics, and much more, but is toxic to humans. Lead likes to replace other essential minerals in biological reactions, causing problems with protein formation. Most of our exposure to lead comes from man-made pollutants, like exhaust and contaminated pipes. Governments around the world are trying to minimize our exposure to lead, since lead is not like many other heavy metals which can come in safer organic forms.

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is a non-metal element with some metallic properties that is naturally found in low levels in soil, air, and water. It is a dull metallic grey in appearance. The majority of plants do absorb arsenic from water and soil as they grow, meaning arsenic is a part of our food. Arsenic has always been a part of our food in one form or another. Arsenic comes in two varieties, organic or inorganic.

Organic arsenic is created when arsenic binds to organic elements and molecules, ones that contain carbon. This produces arsenic that is rather innocuous. Organic arsenic is fairly harmless, hundreds of times less toxic than inorganic arsenic, and easily ignored by the body.

Inorganic arsenic is another case altogether. It is highly toxic and was historically a favorite poison by would-be assassins. Inorganic arsenic has branched away from regicide into many other uses. It has been used as a pesticide, to pressure-treat lumber, and in glass. Arsenic isn’t the most mobile of elements, and only a few forms are water soluble. Despite this, it can also enter the environment through mining, smelting, volcanic activity, pesticide use, and weathering. Inorganic arsenic has been linked to cancer and heart disease. Luckily, the body still does a good job of removing it from the body when the doses are very low.

What is Cadmium?

Cadmium is a soft, blue-white metal similar to zinc and often found with zinc. It naturally occurs in small amounts in the earth’s crust. Long-term exposure to large doses of cadmium is toxic and carcinogenic as this metal causes irritation to internal organs when inhaled or ingested by creating reactive oxygen molecules. Like arsenic, cadmium comes in two forms, organic and inorganic.

Inorganic cadmium is highly dangerous, coming from mining, electronics, pigments in paints, and many other industrial sources. Organic cadmium is far safer and is typically what is found in foods. Organic cadmium has always been a part of our diet in trace amounts as plants draw it from soil and water. Organic cadmium may actually be put to use by the body’s immune system in destroying cancer cells, according to some research.

What is BPA?

BPA is a synthetic polymer used to coat plastics, cans, and receipts. It is very good at keeping things from sticking or leaking. In the body, it mimics hormones and can wreak havoc on the endocrine system, including thyroid. There have been some links to BPA and obesity too. It has found its way into much of our food, though most of your exposure comes from handling receipts and money. Many BPA free plastics have simply switched to BPS, a similar compound with similar health risks. Sunwarrior has always avoided BPA and BPS. We’d rather our protein powder stick to the sides and to our scoop more than we like than put anyone at risk. Always wash your hands after handling receipts and money, especially the heat printed paper receipts found everywhere.

How Much is in our Food?

Small amounts of heavy metals are always present in our food, our water, and in the air we breathe. This is a combination of inorganic and organic forms. Scientific modeling estimates that rice accounts for only 17% of our exposure to arsenic and that only about 10% of that is the dangerous inorganic form. Rice was targeted in the FDA and Consumer Reports testing because it’s rather unique in how it is grown. Rice grows in pools of standing water where it is more likely to draw up arsenic and other heavy metals than other grains.

Protein powders fall into the other category with supplements, water, dairy, and foods not covered in a more specific category. The other category comprises 13% of our exposure. Water takes 10%, which leaves 3% attributed to supplements, dairy, and miscellaneous uncategorized foods, less than meats and eggs at 5%.

Despite what some would have you believe, rice, grains, baby food, and protein powders don’t actually stand at the forefront when it comes to our exposure to heavy metals. Vegetables actually take first place at 24%. Nearly a quarter of our exposure to arsenic comes from the healthy vegetables we eat. Fruits and fruit juices clock in at 18%. Much seafood and sea vegetables also contain high amounts of heavy metals but in the less toxic organic forms. Tuna, shrimp, and fish often top the lists for arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Despite all these in foods, the EPA found that exposure to heavy metals from food is incredibly low, many times below the set levels to protect us from long-term effects.

How Will Heavy Metals Affect Us?

Very little is known about the health effects of organic heavy metals. They haven’t been a huge health problem, like the inorganic forms, so they have not been thoroughly tested and studied. The few studies that have been done show them to be neutral or so mildly toxic, they pose no concern in the doses found in food.

Inorganic heavy metals are dangerous and can easily result in death in high levels, but very low doses of inorganic metals are cleaned and removed from the body with little problem, though long-term exposure to inorganic heavy metals increases the risk of several types of cancer and can put more strain on the heart and kidneys.

The heavy metals in rice are a combination of these two forms and have not been determined to be harmful. The FDA released the test results but deemed the levels it found safe and did not make a recommendation to avoid rice. The FDA is still analyzing and collecting data before they come to any decision. The EPA is working to limit the amount of inorganic arsenic that makes its way into our food, and many farmers and rice companies are also striving to minimize our exposure as well, thanks in part to the bad press that erupted after the FDA and Consumer Reports shared their news. We may expect a resurgence of activity thanks to Mike Adams and Natural News, and, hopefully, this will lead farmers and food suppliers to further clean up and improve the soil and water beneath rice’s roots and any other crops that may be at risk.

Should We Change How We Eat or Supplement?

We should always be working toward eating healthier. The FDA and other health governing bodies have not recommended a change of our consumption of rice, rice products, or protein powders. The FDA and nutritional experts recommend a balanced diet that includes a variety of grains and protein sources. Perhaps this just means we should be wise and not lean on one food source. The truth is simple: all of our foods contain some toxins. Lead, cadmium, BPA, arsenic, tungsten, and mercury are just a few. Some occur naturally, and some do not. The body can handle small amounts, and the more we vary our diet, the less these toxins build up enough to do us damage.

This means we can keep eating rice and using rice protein if we want to, but supplement in other grains and grain-like seeds too, like oats, barley, quinoa, amaranth, chia, and many more. If you use rice products, shuffle in other cereal grain products or take a break now and again. If you use a rice protein, you have little to worry about from the trace amounts of heavy metals, but feel free to cycle it with another protein from another vegetable source to stay safe. Sunwarrior Classic Protein is safe, well below the guidelines found throughout the world, but if you are still concerned about rice, make the switch to Warrior Blend, which contains no rice protein and consistently tests extremely low.

When using rice, you can get rid of a large amount of arsenic in brown rice by rinsing it, soaking it, changing the water several times, and cooking it with excess water that you can discard when it is done.

Infants and children may be more susceptible, so maybe cut back on rice and rice products with them if you feel there is reason to worry. The reports placed most products for children on the lower end of the spectrum, but it is still best to err on the side of caution. Remember that rice came in behind veggies and fruit. If we eliminate every slightly risky food, we would be left with almost nothing to eat or only the highly refined and processed foods that are unhealthy for other reasons. Toxins exist in everything. The trick is to help your body out by giving it what it needs to remove and lessen the risks of these toxins: fiber, antioxidant-rich foods, clean water, exercise, and a variety of foods. You can also take supplements like Enzorb that helps block free radicals from getting to your cells.

What About Sunwarrior?

Sunwarrior protein comes entirely from organic plants grown in mineral-rich soils. This means we’re comparable to whole foods like brown rice, fruits, leafy greens, and other vegetables that naturally absorb trace metals. The closer to the soil and the more water-loving a plant, the more it takes in. Thankfully produce tests don’t get splashed across the internet as scare tactics to make money off the fears of people who just want to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy. If so, we’d all stop eating carrots, spinach, kale, rice, apples, and hundreds of other perfectly safe and beneficial foods.

We only source the finest plant-based ingredients. Our proteins are Certified Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, and consistently test below EU, WHO, and FDA safety standards in every way. We’re even Prop65 compliant, which is the strictest standard and nearly impossible for plant-based sources to meet. We test internally and through an independent lab for more than is required. We then quickly refuse ingredients that don’t meet our strict levels of quality, because we take immense pride in knowing, thoroughly vetting, and loving our ingredients before we pass them on to you.

We believe in food as close to nature as possible, which is why when these types of reports come to light every few years, plant-based proteins fall below whey. Whey always tests better for two reasons. One, animal bodies, including our own, are very good at dealing with the trace amounts of heavy metals in the plants we eat. We filter and remove most before they have a chance to enter our systems. Two, whey is highly processed, stripping out nutrition, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes, and heavy metals all at the same time. Whole or less processed foods will always fall short when looking at barely detectable levels of these metals, but they excel when it comes to nutrition.

We will continue to bring you the cleanest, highest quality, and best tasting plant-based proteins. We will continue to test and retest. We will continue to beat the standards. With all the steps we take to provide our customers with only the best, you can feel safe knowing our protein is not harmful to you or anyone you care about. We drink this daily in our office and take it home to our families. It’s who we are.

And, if you are still concerned about the natural levels of metals found in unprocessed foods, look at Warrior Blend, which always tests at or near zero across the board due to its reliance on yellow peas rather than water-loving rice.

The most important thing you can do is stayed informed and understand the real numbers. Do not allow fearmongers to control you or your dollars. Be smart. Eat healthily.

What Others Say about the Clean Label Project

Visit these articles and posts to learn what scientists, journalists, and the friendly folks at Snopes think of all the hoopla happening at the moment.

Get healthy with our free fitness challenge where we give you a free meal plan and a free exercise regimen to follow so you can feel your best!

Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Sunwarrior’s awesome expert writers do not replace doctors and don’t always cite studies, so do your research, as is wise. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.

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Want to add your voice?

  • All of these issues with Rice Protein can be prevented if the maker just sourced the rice from California(lundberg) or New Zealand. That rice would literally have 0.000 contaminants. We will pay more for it. Which I don't have a problem with it.

  • Bummed to hear about such contamination in Sun Warrior as I have been using during my pregnancy to supplement my protien needs. My natural diet falls short routinely so I have been excited to encoorperate it into my diet. Is it true that the warrior blend does not include all 9 essential amino acids? Seems like there is now few options for people avoiding whey/soy now rice based powders in pregnacy or otherwise. Mercury poisioning in above comment is very alarming.
    Almost ready to give up on supplemental protien powder altogether, but I will say that comparatively the sun warrior products are of much much higher quality then the previous powder I had been using. The texture of the powder alone implies much more attention to quality and detail then other powders I've used. Guess Ill look into if you guys carry any hemp-based powders.
    another note, any word on trace contaminants in the ormus, barley, and liquid light products? Are these safe in pregnancy?

  • I don't appreciate the advice I'm seeing from the companies to just keep consuming the product until we know more. I've switched to Hemp protein and I am completely avoiding organic brown rice until there is more research. Just because the FDA , etc., says it is safe, means absolutely nothing. I figure it means they haven't been "convinced" to approve it. This is so disappointing that these companies that make these supposed healthy supplements aren't really that concerned about health. And excuse me, but I doubt the comment that organic metals easily wash from the body-even when they are mixed with inorganic? How much is too much if consumed on a daily basis? I don't believe any of it.

    • In reply to N Madrid's comment

      I completely agree!! I've been following Health Ranger who offers research into this, not just "smooths things over." And you are right about the FDA! Absolute crap! Look at all the drugs they approve in our country - drugs that are causing a LOT of harm and have many awful side effects! The only way to get real information is to rely on 3rd party testing, as they have no monetary interest in any of the products. The above article really says "nothing". Heavy metals do not belong in our bodies! Period.

  • My spouse and I had our Mercury levels tested about a year ago or a little more as part of our regular checkup. They tested zero levels. After taking Garden of Life Raw Protein for a year my left eye started twitching and I had severe stomach aches. My spouse developed dark circles around the eyes that never went away. Eventually she was unable to heal from a common flu. Went back to the doctor who tested for everything after 3 rounds of antibiotics didn't help. Sure enough we both had Mercury poisoning. My spouse had nearly double the Mercury as I did and I believe this was because I took 1 scoop when she took 2. I took one because 2 made my shake too thick. We are still healing and it's been about 5 months now. We are taking lots of stuff to push the metals out. What a shame!! We trusted them with our lives. I hope sharing our story in encourages others to get tested for heavy metals and to stop taking this protein powder.​

    • In reply to Lin's comment

      I believe what you say - GOL products need to be pulled from the shelves until it can be proved by 3rd party testing that they are way below an acceptable level of toxins (metals). I returned all my GOL products to the store I purchased them from and switched to VEGA products. Even before all this "flap" their (Vega) product tests very, very clean. That being said, they are on the bandwagon now too, making sure none of their suppliers sell them rice, or other ingredients unless they test clean as well. Vega uses a combo of rice and hemp protein. I am very disappointed in GOL products, which at one time, I really thought were great.

    • In reply to Lin's comment

      just use zeolite to get this out of your body this works and for alu just use silicium ( silica )

      May you have the best day ever

  • USP 38 , , and should be a requirement for food products as well as drug products. Why should foods get special treatment? Also, be aware that the testing that was done probably gave levels BELOW what actual levels were. It has been shown that the methods of digestion are far more important than the analysis methods (ICP-MS, for example). Back in the 1990's, Congress was lobbied heavily by nutritional companies to pass the DSHEA act. Basically the government agreed to back off completely on regulating nutritional supplements. The unregulated side of the nutitional supplement business, in my opinion, puts its products in some danger to cosumers, especially given the frequency of excipient and raw material sourcing that is done in China.

    Lastly, you do not mention mercury in your article above. That is one of the 'top 4', along with Cd, Pb, and As. Tungsten is not considered one of the worst.

  • The article was well written. You did state that your rice protein was well below the guidelines found all over the world. Your article does make me feel comfortable that it was written fairly.

    There are two points that need to explained. The fruits and vegetables that contain more arsenic, for example, were they organic? Or chemically treated products?

    I would like to be clear on the source of your brown rice protein. Where does the rice come from?
    I have a store, and we sell your Sunwarrior rice protein in it. I have been approached by a customer who asked "why won't they provide the results of their testing"? He wants us to stop selling this product.

    Surely you are aware of the latest stating Wholefoods shares dropped 20% after Mike Adams exposed them selling rice protein with very high levels of contaminants. He did not name you; however, your product and others were on the invoice.

    I think I need to know beyond doubt (probably by seeing test results done by a third party). Selling this product is not worth losing a reputation. It actually can happen as customers are very well informed these days in Kuwait. And we need to have the answers if anyone is going to bring it up.