Group offers recommendations on unfortunate rice-arsenic link

Many people eating a vegan or vegetarian diet will be concerned about possible problems with a toxins sometimes found in rice and products containing rice.

The Environmental Working Group (“Know your environment. Protect your health.”) which offers guides to the healthiness of foods and other consumer products, is currently touting a page it has constructed outlining the basis for emerging concerns with arsenic, a heavy metal, as a contaminant in rice and products containing rice.

Summarizing recent widely reported problems, the group notes that

Federal government scientists and regulators and food industry officials are scrambling to respond to emerging evidence that arsenic, a known human carcinogen, contaminates many otherwise healthy foods that contain rice.

The page summarizes its recommendations in the following “bottom line”:

The bottom line: EWG recommends that you limit consumption of rice and rice-based food when possible and instead eat a varied diet of [including?] healthy lower-arsenic grains and sweeteners.

The EWG goes on to make some consumer recommendations such as substituting other grains or rinsing rice before use.  They note the difficulty posed for vegetarians and others who in many cases eat a great deal of rice. (Also mentioned are some policy ideas that could be used by regulators and growers.)

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, whose advice and website I cite often here, recommends a limited amount of whole grain as a reasonable part of a healthy “nutritarian” diet. He advises in his book Eat to Live and elsewhere that white rice–along with foods made with white flour and other refined (non-whole-grain) grains–is a low nutrient-density food and should be avoided by those seeking a healthy diet. The strict “six-week plan” in that book includes at most one serving of starchy vegetables or whole grain foods per day.  Moreover, refined flours are in the lowest nutrient-density (nutrients per calorie) category for anyone following Fuhrman’s nutritarian advice–approximately as low as beef or sugary sweets, for example. (Fuhrman’s books can be found on the web at booksellers like Alibris (link to the book’s page) or at the drfuhrman.com website mentioned earlier, as well as your local bookstore.) Oatmeal without sweeteners or milk or quinoa as a base under vegetable curry fit the definition of unprocessed whole grains in the 6 -week plan in the same way that brown rice does.

Personal digression: I mention Fuhrman’s “6 week plan” because it seems to have worked for me as an individual to lower LDL cholesterol, lose extra weight and keep it off, increase HDL cholesterol, and lower blood sugar. For me, the plan turned out to be a good framework for building a well-rounded vegan diet on my own after being a (lacto-ovo) vegetarian for 12 years. The plan encourages simple habits, e.g., a routine fruit meal in the morning or steamed vegetables and salad at night. I am one who finds that vegans are often people who are already have skills and knowledge related to whole-foods nutrition and cooking, whether or not they are on a diet plan. Others will perhaps be using other diet plans that reflect the same principles of plant-based nutrition, including the options outlined at the Fuhrman website. In any case, many people who never developed the metabolic syndrome common to people on standard diets may not find they need to be on such a strict regimen.  Of course, medical advice can only come from qualified nutrition professionals, such as Dr. Fuhrman and others working in his practice. End digression.

The vast nutritional benefits—and interesting flavor–of whole as opposed to refined grains are another nutritional issue to remember, as people decide what to do about possible rice contamination. I have enjoyed quinoa bowls, Mexican dishes with corn tortillas, and other alternatives at local restaurants since being pointed to the rice story by a vegan friend in another city. There is now also an excuse to eat even more locally grown superfoods like the kale and other produce I bought at a frigid but enjoyable farmers’ market in the mid-Hudson Valley over the weekend, some of which are pictured at the top and below in a salad I made over the weekend.

Note to readers: We can now be found using the simpler and more easily remembered URLs, healthyveganhudsonvalley.com or www.healthyveganhudsonvalley. We have also recently added SSL technology for more security on the worldwide web.

The story of a meal

This blog is somewhat local-food oriented. In this post I illustrate ways to eat that avoid animal products and help to achieve health goals in a very scientifically supported way–with the twist that I illustrate my connection to sources of food that are in some relevant way local–a concern of many in this era of big conglomerates and their industrial ways.

I had found myself completely without of vegetables yesterday. Finding my local farmers market in the village of Rhinebeck virtually unreachable with all nearby parking taken, I went to the wayside stand that is part of Montgomery Place, a historic estate in the area (website link). I bought the vegetables pictured below (along with apples which are also in season currently, including some very interesting varieties–including antique varieties) grown here in the Hudson Valley):

(I could have bought good mushrooms that were locally grown, but had bought the shitakes in the picture at the two-store natural foods chain Sunflower Natural Foods Market.)

(I had noticed stirrings at another farm stand on E. Market St. on the outskirts of Rhinebeck but would not get back before their likely closing time. They are also a local entry to watch and marvel at, if only on occasional days. More things are open on Sundays in the village because it’s a market day.)

If I eat all of the things in the picture or maybe even what’s in that picture times 100, I am on the Fuhrman 6-week plan (more or less)–careening for my ideal weight if I were not there already by sticking to unlimited amounts of certain kinds of foods–all of them plant-derived, except for mushrooms, which are fungi, of course. In a moment, I bring in some foods that are also allowed, but only in limited quantities.

Now I add water; I use filtered.

I begin water-sauteing. If I were to use oil instead, I would be off the 6-week plan. (Fats in my diet are from whole-seed and whole-nut sources (or avocados), which are all allowed (and required) but only in limited amounts.)

I finish off with pasta made from lentils only. Lentils are in the legumes group, which are among the types of food that are required in minimum amounts. Legumes are also not limited. Pasta made with whole grain would be acceptable but in the strictly limited category.  (By the time I finish, I have supplemented quickly with some frozen spinach leaves from a huge supermarket package. I have also added no-salt, organic, canned tomatoes, as the base for the sauce–a concession to convenience and seasonal limitations.) Here is a picture of the dish on the plate.

The 6-week diet plan is explained in the book Eat to Live, by Joel Fuhrman. A second edition of this book came out not too many years ago. There are of course other plans that use similar dietary principles, emphasizing plant-based foods in what would be insanely large amounts in plans that fancy themselves more balanced.

Finally, just for fun and to add to the nutrition, I finished off with nutritional (edible) yeast, which to me tastes a lot like tangy cheese–making it a perfect pasta topping! This product is available in natural foods stores; I use a mail-order version from Fuhrman’s website, which comes in a package that reminds one of supermarket grated Parmesan cheese. There is no reason any nutritional yeast is necessary.

Fuhrman’s brand is not fortified with vitamin B12, but many are. As many will know, B12 is one of the handful of nutrients not found in any plant in significant amounts, so as a vegan I must use a supplement or foods that essentially contain a supplement. Dr. Fuhrman’s plans can be done without being a vegan, but I had wanted to be a vegan for a long time when I started his plan about 10 years ago. For nonvegans, most Fuhrman plans would be doable with a tiny amount of chicken or fish added to a dish like the one above.

So that is a day that illustrates my approach, which leans toward locally (Hudson Valley) grown produce; is vegan; and remains close to Dr. Fuhrman’s “nutritarian” 6-week plan, which really does almost seem to melt weight off in the initial weeks and keep things stable thereafter. I hope you take a look at his book for the details. Some may find a more compatible approach in one of his other books.