Some gluten free foods have been found to boast worrying concentrations of arsenic, as revealed by the analyses of flour, cakes, bread, pasta and other foods made with rice.
Gluten free foods first came into existence to provide cereal and bread products for people suffering from celiac disease - a condition that affects about one percent of the population in the western world. People with the disease have an immune system that wrongly targets gluten - a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley - launching attacks on the small intestine that can interrupt the digestion process.
Strangely, the gluten-free product movement recently picked up steam across the globe when people also started buying gluten free products as a healthy food choice. Some argue that this selection is part of specialized diets designed to avoid certain kind of bread products, but it is speculated that a good deal of non-celiac consumers are buying the products out of ignorance and an understandable fear of additives - despite the fact that gluten is not an additive.
With demand up, so is supply, and more gluten-free rice-based products are hitting the shelves. This is no doubt a boon for celiac disease sufferers, who now have a large variety of meal options. However, a new study published in the journal Food Additives & Contaminants says it's also dangerous, as more of these products have been found to contain worrying levels of arsenic, a toxic and carcinogenic substance.
Arsenic is found naturally in the Earth's crust, and it is often absorbed with water by rice plants.
These levels are low enough where they are not a threat to standard consumers, but study co-author Ángel Carbonell says that people who exclusively eat gluten-free products - namely celiac sufferers - might be slowly poisoning themselves.
"These figures show that we cannot exclude a risk to the health of people who consume these kinds of products," Carbonell said in a statement.
He and his colleagues argue that current arsenic limits set by the US and European Union do not accommodate for celiac disease sufferers, as current limits assume the average citizen is eating less rice-product than these niche consumers.
"What is needed is for health agencies to legislate to limit the levels of arsenic that cannot be exceeded in rice-based foods intended for consumers who suffer from celiac disease," Carbonell said.
The authors also call for clearer labeling, as the quality and even location of rice can affect its arsenic content.
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