The poison on our plate | Daily News

The poison on our plate

When you readers learn and think about toxins encountered in daily life, do not make judgements based on your knowledge of sixty years ago. Those days we played with “Flit” guns, spraying DDT at each other; we handled mercury- interestedly observing it breaking up into small globules and readily coalescing into larger ones; we handled arsenic containing rat bait without a care – and so many other things now deemed dangerous. We were so ignorant then because we were not informed or warned. Instead, we were badly misled by deliberately lop-sided advertising. We still are. Regulatory authorities were inactive and even absent – not that they are diligent and active now. However, we survived – largely because the enhancement of natural toxicities by any human action was very low and could be ignored. That attitude is not safe now if you value your life because ongoing research shows that all the chemicals now in use in daily used products, including food and beverages, adversely affect basic units of life forms, such as DNA, cells, mitochondria, etc., and their biological functions, leading to chronic diseases.

Toxic non-metallic elements (Arsenic, Cadmium, Fluorine, etc.)


Arsenic is a non-metallic element widely found in nature combined with other elements. These compounds are very toxic. Its toxicity has been well highlighted in the novels of Agatha Christie on murder and detection.

Arsenic exists in nature as inorganic and organic compounds; the former is more abundant and toxic. Generally arsenic is distributed in low concentrations in nature but there are areas that are clearly carrying high concentrations such as in Bangladesh, Taiwan and the U.S.A. However, there are also areas in which the natural content is dangerously increased due to human industrial activities such as burning coal as in the production of energy, steel and cement and in the manufacture of fertilizer from phosphate ores. Such local increases occur also when poor quality fertilizers are used in agriculture and arsenic contaminated water is used in irrigation.

There are research studies linking arsenic contaminated water as the major cause of increased arsenic in agricultural produce, particularly rice. The rice plant draws arsenic from water and stores it in the grain. Some pesticides banned in the 1980’s are thought to have caused increased levels of arsenic in the soil; also suspect are some animal feed, particularly the feed additive roxarsone given to poultry for about 60 years for weight gain and to prevent parasitic infections, and fertilizers made from poultry waste. These were banned in some countries in the early 1980s.

The WHO has included it in its list of the ten most active environmental contaminants. Their recommended upper limit for arsenic in drinking water is 10 micrograms/litre – about 1 part per billion. This is generally exceeded in most regions with high arsenic content. The WHO has also set the maximum tolerated daily intake of arsenic at 2.1 µg/day/ kg body weight. This too may be exceeded depending on the arsenic content in rice, and the daily intake.

The WHO also maintains that considering a population of over two billion people in South Asia who are consumers of rice, over a 100 million of people worldwide could be exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic in their water supply. High doses are fatal. Even where sub-toxic levels of arsenic aren’t fatal, they can still endanger health. It is therefore unwise to ignore the potential risks.

Arsenic disrupts the working of the endocrine (hormone) system. Saying that differently, it is a hormone hacker. As an example, arsenic impairs insulin (a hormone) release and destroys beta-calls that produce insulin in the pancreas. Thus it gives rise to diabetes, both Types 1 and 2.

Diabetes is the main cause of adult blindness, kidney failure, and non-traumatic amputations. It is a potent driver of cardiovascular (CV) disease and cancers too – of the skin, cardio-vascular and reproductive systems.

It may be added here that inactive lifestyles and unhealthy, damaging diets are clear drivers of diabetes risk; so are some top-selling drugs like statins.

Arsenic poisoning has been linked to CKDu – Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin, too. CKDu has been linked to the herbicide Roundup/glyphosate as well. Now that this herbicide has been allowed to be used in tea and rubber plantations, the danger of arsenic toxicity can rise.

In regard to rice, there were some reports that Bangladeshi rice had the highest arsenic content and that Sri Lanka rice was a strong second. More recent research tends to show that Asian rice has quite a low arsenic content.

Researchers have showed that the total arsenic content in rice varied from 0.005 to 0.710 mg/kg in the West. These values when combined with values from many research studies gave a theoretical global normal range of 0.08-0.20 mg/kg arsenic concentration in rice. The mean arsenic content in rice from the USA and Europe was derived as 0.198 mg/kg, while for rice from Asia a lower value of 0.07 mg/kg was derived. Using two large datasets from Bangladesh, it was also shown that arsenic contaminated irrigation water, but not soil, led to increased content in the grain.

Our irrigation and drinking water, starting from the hills, can and do collect arsenic from soil as well as from fertilizer and agrochemicals applied to plantations and vegetable cultivations. However, no alarm bells have been sounded in the public domain about increasing arsenic content. It is questionable as to whether this is due to positive safety results or lack of diligence. Research by our scientists show that the arsenic content in water and rice is a cause for concern.

It may be a good idea to reduce your exposure to arsenic, mindful of the cumulative exposure to many more toxins – thereby lowering your overall risk of going down with a chronic disease. You can achieve that as follows.

Prepare rice as described below or reduce rice intake

Consume more vegetables – clean and wholesome produce – not those loaded with agrochemicals.

Wash the vegetables and fruits in boiled, filtered water – at least the last rinse – before cutting.

Be well hydrated by drinking plenty of water – boiled filtered water, not bottled water.

As a further precaution you might get your water tested for arsenic content.

Consume healthy fats – coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, small fish, omega-3 supplements.

Consume plenty of fiber – like a daily serving of pol sambol.

Eat a serving or two of coloured vegetables and fruits – for antioxidants.

Eat fermented foods – preferably home-made using salt or vinegar and without preservatives.

Try to get some glutathione – “the antioxidant of antioxidants” from vegetables of the cabbage and onion families and animal protein, especially organ meats.

Get in some selenium too – to promote the action of glutathione. Eat animal protein, nuts, legumes.

Avoid cereals, seeds and legumes desiccated with glyphosate. This includes oats and wheat flour.

This regimen will reduce arsenic intake and help flush it out of the body. It will also reverse the risk of diabetes.

Reducing your arsenic intake from rice

* If you can, arrange for rice direct from farmers cultivating rice in areas low in arsenic.

* Reduce rice consumption by substituting a staple, lentils or vegetables as alternatives.

* For rice meal days, rinse the rice several times, until the wash water is clear. Strain the water.

* Soak rice overnight in water – x cups of rice in 6x cups of water. Rinsing and soaking removes 25 to 30% of the arsenic in rice.

* In the morning, remove the water and rinse the rice again.

* For cooking, add water again – at least 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. More will be better. Usually rice is cooked in less water, but cooking in excess water like this removes 50-60 % of arsenic in rice. If you are in the habit of adding salt to flavor the rice, add more than usual, say about one tablespoonful for two cups of rice, because you are using excess water. The rice will not be too salty because you will be discarding the cooking water.

* At the same time fill another vessel with the same volume of water as the cooking water. Start heating both vessels.

* Bring the rice vessel to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and let simmer until the rice is tender. Covering eliminates evaporation of water. The water is necessary to remove the residual arsenic. Let the water in the other vessel too simmer.

* Strain the water from the cooked rice and rinse it in the hot water from the other vessel.

* Drain off as much water as possible. The rice will be somewhat soggy because excess water was used but it can be dried perfectly by under very low heat with a piece of toweling placed between the pot and the lid during the drying process. The rice should be dry in 15 minutes.

Please note that it is assumed that your tap water is low in, or free of, arsenic. If not, and arsenic levels in your water are above 10 parts per billion, the first two steps will not be useful. However, the cooking and rinsing removes most of the arsenic. A more reliable assessment of arsenic in local rice is the study done by Jayasumana et al. As they report, new hybrids of rice that need more fertilizer and agrochemicals contain about 20.6 to 540.4 micrograms/kg, irrespective of locality. This shows that the arsenic comes from the fertilizer and agrochemicals. The research also shows that traditional rice varieties cultivated without artificial fertilizers and agrochemicals have a low arsenic content of 11.4 to 64.2 mg/kg, but this content increases greatly with use of fertilizer and agrochemicals.

It needs to be mentioned that arsenic could be retained in the body due to the use of glyphosate herbicides. Glyphosate is a strong chelator – a chemical that readily grabs other elements to form complex chemicals. Chelates are large stable molecules. Glyphosate can produce arsenic chelates in plants and soil. We consume that in our food. The chelates can get stuck in the kidneys’ and block the filtration system – thereby disrupting kidney action, causing toxicity along with hormone disruption.

It is because of these new risks brought into modern life that it becomes necessary to be careful and eat organic food grown by trusted people and to be as careful about imported foods – finished, semi-finished or unfinished. 

Visit Sri Lanka's Largest online shop. Over 125,000 unique categories such as Fresh Flowers, Cakes, Food, Jewllery, Childrens Toys and other Sri Lankan e-commerce categories. Low delivery cost to most cities here and free delivery in Colombo.


Add new comment