Scientists have identified a variety of aromatic rice with very low levels of arsenic and super-concentrated amounts of the essential nutrients selenium and zinc.
The finding, reported in the scientific journal Biomedical Spectroscopy and Imaging, could offer millions of people a healthier alternative to current varieties of rice. The British researchers identified the rice — known as Sylheti, from Bangladesh — while comparing the nutritional and arsenic content of nearly 100 different varieties.
"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," said Parvez Haris, a scientist from De Montfort University in Leicester who led the research team that made the discovery.
"We seem to have found one of the lowest arsenic-containing rice ever reported in the literature. Several varieties of Sylheti aromatic rice even had lower arsenic than the well-known Basmati aromatic rice from India and Pakistan."
Millions of people worldwide eat rice grown in soil and water containing high amounts of arsenic, which is easily absorbed by rice plants. As a result, studies have shown rice is the highest arsenic-containing cereal. Long-term exposure can lead to certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and other health problems.
A team of scientists led by Haris is studying methods for removing arsenic from water and to identify ways of reducing human exposure to arsenic through diet. For the team’s latest study, Haris and colleagues from the British Geological Survey conducted a detailed study of rice from the greater Sylhet region in northeast Bangladesh, known to have lower groundwater arsenic concentrations.
The researchers analyzed 98 rice samples for arsenic and other compounds. The results showed Sylheti rice has arsenic concentrations that are 40 percent lower than similar types of rice from other regions of Bangladesh. It also contained higher concentrations of selenium and zinc.
Aromatic rice is generally less dependent on groundwater for irrigation and requires less fertilizer and pesticides, Haris explained.
He added that the finding is good news for anyone who eats large quantities of rice daily, including children and people on gluten-free diets.
"This type of rice could be used in infant foods instead of rice with higher arsenic concentrations,” he said. “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."
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