Low-arsenic rice discovered in Bangladesh
“This is a very important finding since consumption of certain types of aromatic rice will not only reduce human exposure to arsenic, but will also increase their intake of zinc and selenium,” says Dr Haris. This is very good news for millions of Bangladeshis who are exposed to high concentration of arsenic through drinking water and rice and are also deficient in zinc and selenium.
“We seem to have found one of the lowest arsenic-containing rice ever reported in the literature,” he continues. Several varieties of Sylheti aromatic rice even had lower arsenic than the well-known Basmati aromatic rice from India and Pakistan.”
For someone consuming 500 grams of non-aromatic or aromatic rice from Sylhet, the daily intake of arsenic from rice would be approximately 48% and 69% lower, respectively, compared with consuming non-aromatic rice from other parts of Bangladesh. “Bangladeshis are proud of their diet and often refer to themselves as ‘mache bhathe Bangali’ which can be roughly translated as ’fish and rice makes a Bengali.’ Our identification of rice with very low arsenic concentration and higher quantities of essential elements is good news for the Bangladeshis and other communities where rice is a staple food but it is important to encourage a more balanced diet that is less dependent on rice,” Haris explains.
Aromatic rice is generally cultivated during the wet (aman) season and therefore is less dependent on the use of groundwater for irrigation. It also requires less fertilizer and pesticides. Haris recommends that the authorities in Bangladesh encourage farmers to cultivate more aromatic rice. Although the yield of aromatic rice is lower, the farmers will not need to spend much money on applying chemicals that could pollute the environment and harm their own health. “Furthermore, energy costs (electricity or diesel) will be lower as there will be less need for them to pump groundwater for irrigation,” Haris says.
The impact of this finding may also have heath implications for other groups of people who eat large quantities of rice daily. “This type of rice could be used in infant foods instead of rice with higher arsenic concentrations. It could also benefit people suffering from celiac disease who consume rice-based foods on a regular basis. Therefore, it is essential that further research on aromatic rice from different parts of Bangladesh and other regions of the world are conducted,” concludes Dr. Haris.
Full bibliographic information
“Reducing human exposure to arsenic, and simultaneously increasing selenium and zinc intake, by substituting non-aromatic rice with aromatic rice in the diet,” by Shaban W. Al-Rmalli, Richard O. Jenkins, Michael J. Watts, and Parvez I. Haris. Biomedical Spectroscopy and Imaging, Volume 1/Issue 4. DOI: 1010.3233/BSI-120028. Published by IOS Press.