When we choose a product labeled as “organic”, we tend to believe this is the healthiest way to go. Not so, according to a new study that found arsenic–a toxin that can increase the risk of cancer–in certain organic baby formulas, cereal bars and energy gels.
The research, conducted by scientists at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, found that foods which contained organic brown rice syrup–an ingredient often used as a “healthier” alternative to high fructose corn syrup–was a potential source of arsenic. The foods made with this organic syrup were found to contain unusually high levels of arsenic, compared with similar products that were made without it.
Of the foods tested, 17 were infant formulas, 29 were cereal bars and 3 were energy shot. The researchers found:
–Two of the infant formulas contained organic brown rice syrup as their primary ingredient and had arsenic levels 20 to 30 times that of the other infant formulas.
–Twenty-two of the cereal bars contained at least one rice product as one of the first five ingredients. These bars had levels of arsenic that ranged from 23 to 128 parts per billion (ppb). Cereal bars that did not contain rice had much lower arsenic levels, ranging from 8 to 27 ppb. Some of the cereal bars had concentrations of arsenic that were 12 times more than what the EPA has limited for drinking water.
–The energy “shots” contained between 84 and 171 ppb arsenic. All the products had organic brown rice syrup as one of the ingredients. Eating just four of these gel blocks equates to 10 micrograms of arsenic.
The majority of arsenic the researchers found was inorganic –a term that only refers to the chemistry of the arsenic compound, not the use of pesticides as in foods. So organic foods can contain inorganic arsenic.
Inorganic arsenic is considered to be more harmful and chronic exposure to this has been linked to increased risks of bladder, lung and skin cancer, as well as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The levels of arsenic in baby formula is particularly concerning, said the researchers, because of an infant’s small body which is still developing.
There are currently no rules in the United States governing how much arsenic is allowed in foods, but “there is an urgent need to regulate arsenic in food,” the researchers wrote in their study.
All of this makes us question just how healthy the term “organic” really is. Yes, it means foods are free of pesticides, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t contain other harmful ingredients.
The take-away here is: Do your research, read the labels and know what ingredients are in your food. And for now, stay away from anything that contains “organic brown rice syrup.”