Arsenic is a natural element found in soil, and inorganic arsenic (not part of a carbon-containing molecule) is classed as a category one carcinogen by the European Union, meaning that it is a known cause of cancer. As it is present in soil, tiny amounts often get into food, but this is usually too small to cause problems. However, rice is a different case, because it is grown in flooded ground. This frees up the arsenic normally locked in the soil, making it easier to absorb by the roots of rice plants. Because of this, rice is 10-20 times higher in arsenic than all other cereal crops. But eating rice a couple of times each week isn't dangerous for adults, although it may be a concern for children and people who eat it more often.
Fortunately, there is a way to make rice safer. Like many foods and their mineral content, some ways of cooking reduce arsenic more than others. The best way to cook rice is to first soak it overnight, and then cook it in a 5:1 water: rice ratio. Compared to just boiling it in two parts of water to one part of rice, this reduces the level of arsenic by 80%. Alternative grains such as quinoa may be substituted for rice in some situations, especially if you're going for a nutrient-dense, Asian-fusion meal. Many people now are cutting out grains entirely because the Paleo or LCHF (low-carb, high/healthy fat) diet turns out to be what's best for them. In these diets, cauliflower rice or vegetables cut with a spiraliser are used in place of "normal" rice and noodles. Cauliflower rice is just made by lightly pulsing chopped cauliflower in a food processor, while zucchini is a popular choice for vegetable noodles.
|A non-arsenic releasing alternative. Source: Muffinn|
All of this may seem terrible and insurmountable, but in recent years progress has been made. China, a major producer of rice, is finally beginning to reject coal in favour of clean renewables such as solar energy. In fact, the country doubled its solar capacity in 2016, adding 34.54 gigawatts over the year. This is still a small percentage of their total electricity production, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. One example of such new developments in China is the recent construction of a solar farm over a fish farm, which will supply electricity to roughly 100,000 homes. Overall, while arsenic and other heavy metals are a concern, there are ways to reduce their concentration in food, and the rise of renewable energy means less of them will be released into our environment.