By Karen Brennan, MSW, NC, BCHN, Herbalist
You may opt to go gluten free for various health reasons. Avoiding gluten means avoiding gluten containing grains which are wheat, rye, barley, and spelt (and oats if it does not say gluten free).
Many people who avoid these grains substitute with gluten free products. While I don’t recommend this substitution due to the still high processed carb and sugar content, there are also other reasons to be concerned.
Are you Getting too Much Arsenic in your Diet by going Gluten Free?
Many gluten free products contain brown rice and or white rice. It is not so bad if you consume brown/white rice from time to time but if you eat gluten free products daily, chances are, you are consuming a lot rice.
Some of these products contain 90 times more arsenic than what is allowed in drinking water. Even low levels of arsenic can contribute to headaches, fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues respiratory illness and more. Arsenic is found in brown rice at higher concentrations than what is found in white rice. Organic rice will contain arsenic too.
Rice is grown in flooded fields and it absorbs more arsenic from the environment than any other crop. Arsenic is a chemical element found naturally in our environment. It is present in our soil, water and air. Organic arsenic is used in pesticides and fertilizers. When used this way, the arsenic can stay in the soil for years after crops are harvested. For example, much of the rice harvested in the US is grown on former cotton fields where farmers used arsenic based pesticides to control weevils.
Who Should Watch Their Arsenic Intake
Arsenic can accumulate in your hair, skin, nails and even in your internal organs.
- Pregnant women
- Children and infants
- People who eat a lot of rice
- People who are on a gluten free diet
Symptoms of Arsenic Toxicity
(from low level, long-term exposure (i.e.: gluten free diet))
This is not an exhaustive list but some of the more common/frequent symptoms
- Stomach pain
- Numbness of hands and feet
- Higher rates of skin, bladder and lung cancer
- Increase in heart disease
- Skin and nail changes
- Brain fog
How to Know if You Have High Arsenic Levels
Just because you are on a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you require testing. This should be determined on an individual basis and is between you and your health care provider.
On average, there is 10-20 milligrams of arsenic in the average human body. Exceeding these levels can contribute to health problems.
- Arsenic 24- hour urine test: this is the preferred test
- Raid Urine Spot Test: this test is not as accurate
- Blood Test: this can be used in conjunction with the 24-hour test and do monitor levels
- Hair Mineral Analysis: You can request this test on your own and have your holistic nutritionist or ND go over the results with you.
How to Reduce Arsenic in Your Diet
- Rice, wine and fruit juices can contain higher arsenic amounts than other foods
- Organic foods do not necessarily contain less since arsenic is found in the soil
- Talk to your doctor about giving rice cereal to your infant: consider other foods as your baby’s first food. Babies should have no more than one serving of rice cereal per day.
- Limit the amount of gluten free products you consume such as gf pizza, bread, pasta and so forth.
- Alternate your grains: Learn how to cook and bake using other grains such as millet, teff and quinoa
- Brown rice contains 30-80% more arsenic than white rice. This is because it still contains the bran and germ portion of the kernel which is where most of the arsenic concentrates.
- If you do use brown rice opt for basmati as it will contain less arsenic. For white rice, opt for basmati as well, to reduce exposure.
- Rinse your rice before use. This can reduce 25-30% of the arsenic content.
Eat a well-balanced diet. You don’t have to eliminate rice products entirely from your diet but instead mix it up with other grains and fruits and vegetables. For instance, if you always eat your burger and sandwich on a gluten free bun, try a lettuce wrap or paleo coconut wraps. Instead of having rice as a side dish, have quinoa, cauliflower rice, teff or millet. Instead of brown rice pasta try lentil or quinoa pasta. There are many options!
Research shows that while chelation may be good to remove heavy metals it may not be as effective to remove arsenic. Instead a dietary protocol including mineral supplementation can help to remove arsenic. Depending on your level of toxicity, it may take up to 2 years to reduce toxic levels.
Here are some a couple gluten free recipes that do not contain brown rice:
Haas, E.& Levin, B. (2006) Staying Healthy with Nutrition. CA: Celestial Arts
As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure or diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only