An ingredient found in many organic products, including baby formula, may be a hidden source of arsenic, claim U.S. researchers.
Organic brown rice syrup has become a preferred alternative to using high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener in food.
High fructose corn syrup has been criticised as a highly processed substance that is more harmful than sugar and is a substantial contributor to epidemic obesity.
Now organic brown rice syrup has been found to potentially contain high levels of arsenic.
With the introduction of organic brown rice syrup into food processing, even the savvy consumer may unknowingly be ingesting arsenic, say researchers.
Recognising the danger, Brian Jackson and other Dartmouth College researchers conducted a study to determine the concentrations of arsenic in commercial food products containing organic brown rice syrup including infant formula, cereal and energy bars, and high-energy foods used by endurance athletes.
One of the infant formulas had a total arsenic concentration of six times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) safe drinking water limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for total arsenic. Cereal bars and high-energy foods using organic brown rice syrup also had higher arsenic concentrations than those without the syrup.
Jackson, director of the Trace Element Analysis Core Facility at Dartmouth, and is lead author on the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, purchased commercial food products containing organic brown rice syrup and compared them with similar products that didn't contain the syrup.
Of the 17 infant milk formulas tested, only two had listed organic brown rice syrup as the primary ingredient. These two formulas, one dairy-based and one soy-based, were extremely high in arsenic, more than 20 times greater than the other formulas. The amount of inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form, averaged 8.6 ppb for the dairy based formula and 21.4 ppb for the soy formula.
The Dartmouth researchers also tested 29 cereal bars and three flavours of an energy product obtained from a supermarket. Twenty-two of the bars listed at least one of four rice products—organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain, and rice flakes—in the first five ingredients.
The cereal bars ranged from 8 to 128 ppb in total arsenic; those that had no rice ingredients were lowest in arsenic and ranged from 8 to 27 ppb, while those that did contain a rice ingredient ranged from 23 to 128 ppb total arsenic. The energy shots were also found to contain high levels of arsenic.