Rice cereal is a popular first food for babies. It's also kind of high in arsenic, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, so if your kid gets a steady rice cereal diet, it's time to diversify.
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Plants pick up minerals from the soil they're grown in. Rice is especially good at picking up arsenic. It doesn't matter if the rice was grown organically or not; this is a blanket warning for rice in general. Baby rice cereal is getting the most attention because some babies eat a lot of it. It's typically fortified with iron and other nutrients, so paediatricians love to recommend it. The FDA says it's still fine in small quantities, but don't go crazy:
Rice cereal fortified with iron is a good source of nutrients for your baby, but it shouldn't be the only source, and does not need to be the first source. Other fortified infant cereals include oat, barley and multigrain.
Pregnant women, likewise, should avoid relying heavily on rice in their diet. At very high levels, arsenic can interfere with a baby's brain development. Brown rice carries more arsenic than white rice, and some rice-growing parts of the world have more arsenic than others, Deborah Blum writes at Undark. Arsenic has also been found at high levels in organic brown rice syrup, which is used as a sweetener.
Currently, the FDA does not set a limit on the amount of arsenic that can be in rice products, however in Australia it is limited to 1mg/kg. In a recent analysis, the FDA sampled infant rice cereals and other foods. About half (53 per cent) had levels above the European Union's cutoff of 100 parts per billion (0.1mg/kg). Non-rice foods were all below that level.
The FDA has more information on arsenic in rice here. You can read their recent warning to parents at the link below.