Arsenic is a naturally-occurring element in rocks and soil. It has a variety of industrial uses, including pesticides, wood preservatives, and metal works. It’s especially effective in pesticides because it’s a highly poisonous substance, which is why it’s important to avoid human ingestion of arsenic beyond 10 parts per billion (ppb), as recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. Below are 10 foods that are high in arsenic:
1. Dark Meat Fish
Seawater is a natural, rich source of organic arsenic. Naturally, fish and other sea life soak up this arsenic; however, organic arsenic is perceived to be generally harmless. Nevertheless, traces of inorganic arsenic has been found in dark-meat fish, and in tests performed on fish eaters, the presence of arsenic in the body was 7.4% higher in those who ate dark-meat fish at least once a week than in those who ate once a month or less.
Yes, white rice, delicious as it is, contains arsenic, and may easily give you significant amounts of it if consumed often enough. Brown rice, however, has been shown to contain significantly higher levels of arsenic than white rice. The average American, who consumes about half a cup of white rice a day, also ingests up to 222 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic, which is enough to give a person a 1 in 300 chance of developing cancer. It’s better to get your carbohydrates from other sources instead, like bread.
3. Rice Products
Because rice contains arsenic, foods derived from rice naturally contain it too. Popular rice products that are consumed in large amounts include infant cereals, ready-to-eat cereals, rice cakes, rice pasta, rice flour, rice crackers, and rice milk. An analysis of these types of products by Consumer Reports revealed measurable (significant) levels of inorganic arsenic, which is the type that should be avoided.
4. Brussels Sprouts
This is the kind of revelation that gives people trust issues—Brussels sprouts are among the healthiest of foods, and many health advocates highly recommend them and even describe them as a “superfood.” Despite this, the inorganic arsenic in the soil is highly attracted to Brussels sprouts, which in turn is readily absorbed by the vegetable and thereby ingested by health enthusiasts. Regular consumers of Brussels sprouts had 10.4% more arsenic in them than those who ate once a month or less.
Chicken, and other poultry birds, do not regularly contain high levels of arsenic in their meat; however, the feed they are regularly given usually contains arsenic-based drugs. The Food and Drug Administration had recently banned most of these additives from being included in chicken feed, but these feeds are still available in the wild, and there are still a few other chemicals that need to be addressed. Until this issue has been fully resolved, stick with organic poultry.
Bad news for beer lovers—your favorite after-work ritual might be giving you unhealthy levels of inorganic arsenic, among other unhealthy things. Having 2 and a half beers a day (which is far from enough for most drinkers) can increase your arsenic levels by 30% higher than non-drinkers. While scientists assume that the arsenic may be coming from the water used in brewing, there are also plenty of possible sources, like other ingredients and brewing equipment.
So you can’t drink beer because it has a lot of arsenic, does that mean you can turn to other methods of inebriation, like wine? Aside from being a questionable way to address your alcohol addiction, wine itself isn’t exactly free from arsenic either. A New Hampshire study found that arsenic levels in women who drank 5 to 6 glasses of wine a week had at least 20% more arsenic in their bodies than those who don’t drink at all. Red wines seem to contain more arsenic than the rest, but no matter which one you prefer, you can be drinking up to 23.3 parts per billion of arsenic, which is 13 ppb higher than the healthy limit of 10 ppb.
8. Apple Juice
Now that beer and wine are off limits, you might be thinking of turning to apple juice instead. Not so fast—10% of apple juice samples bought from stores have arsenic levels higher than the amount allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, people who drink apple juice regularly were found to have 20% more arsenic in their urine than those who don’t drink apple juice, according to Consumer Reports. This is especially worrisome for children, since the same report showed that they drink more apple juice than pediatricians recommend.
9. Pear Juice
Speaking of arsenic in fruit juice, pear juice products have also been found to contain concerning amounts of arsenic. In samples obtained by the FDA, regular pear juice can contain as much as 88 ppb, while pear juice concentrates can go as alarmingly high as 523 ppb.
How is it possible that water is bad? It seems that almost no beverage is spared from arsenic contamination! Water is probably one of the main reasons why there is arsenic in all the foods mentioned above, because it is used in beer and beverage production, watering plants, and in the production of animal feed. However, don’t panic. Water can only have large amounts of arsenic if it is not treated properly. The water that comes out of our faucets and sold in bottles are constantly monitored by the FDA for arsenic, and if it goes ever so slightly beyond the limit of 10ppb, measures are taken immediately. To avoid accidentally ingesting arsenic from water, do not drink water straight from wells or other direct sources. Likewise, do not water your vegetables with the same water, and keep it away from anything that will become a product that you will eat or drink.
In the end, as long as you don’t consume more than the recommended level of arsenic, you’re most likely safe. However, with most of these foods, it’s easy to lose track of how many servings you’ve had (beer, wine, apple juice), and it might lead to unpleasantly unexpected instances of arsenic poisoning and a trip to the ER. Make sure to follow recommended serving sizes to ensure you don’t go beyond the human arsenic tolerance levels—eat moderately, drink moderately, and don’t eat too many Brussels sprouts.