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Study Shows Your Food May Contain Arsenic

Feb 17th, 2012

Food may contain arsenicA sweetener commonly added to powdered baby formula, and some organic and gluten-free foods may be a cause for concern. Researchers have found that these products may contain dangerously high amounts of arsenic.

Brian P. Jackson, environmental chemist and director of Trace Element Analysis Core Facility at Dartmouth University, announced that his team found organic baby formula, which use brown rice syrup as main ingredient, to contain six times the safety levels established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, also found high levels of arsenic in some organic foods. These products which include cereal bars, energy bars, and energy shots, also use brown rice syrup as sweetener.

“The arsenic levels found in baby formula is quite alarming,” Jackson said. “You have a very remote risk of arsenic poisoning from eating an energy bar occasionally, but it is a big concern for babies and those who need to stay on a gluten-free diet.

“Our only reference is what we have learned about arsenic exposure through drinking water,” according to Jackson. “Parents should be aware that these brown rice-based formulas may have high levels of arsenic and should therefore minimize exposure. Read the label carefully before making a purchase.”

The study sampled several products which included 17 different kinds of baby formula, 29 energy and cereal bars, and 3 energy shots; all purchased from grocery stores in Hanover, N.H. The study did not specify which brands were used.

Organic arsenic can be found naturally in the soil. A more dangerous variety, inorganic arsenic, was used extensively in pesticides for several years before being banned by the EPA in 2009. Various types of cancer has been linked to inorganic arsenic and excessive exposure can affect brain function over time.

Arsenic absorption is not the same for all crops. Rice seem to take up more arsenic compared to other grains, according to Jackson. Additionally, brown rice has a higher arsenic content compared to white rice. This may be due to the removal of the outer hull.

Brown rice syrup is often marketed as a healthy substitute to high-fructose corn syrup. It can be found in several products you would not normally think of as rice-based, and in products labeled “all natural”, “organic”, and “healthy.”

“Consumers should be vigilant when buying food from the grocery, some products might just slip under your watchful eyes,” Jackson said.

However, nutritionists warned consumers not to jump the gun too quickly.

“Consumers shouldn’t be overly worried about this study, but to use it to remind them that foods grown on the ground can absorb the substances from the environment, whether it is natural or from chemicals used to accelerate growth,” said Connie Diekman, director of nutrition at Washington University. “This study just reminds us that organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthier.”

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