It’s probably one of the most popular sensational headlines you’ll see in the 24-hour news cycle: This common food causes cancer! Multiple studies, including recent research from the National Food Agency in Sweden, have shown that processed rice products including rice cakes, rice crackers, and packaged rice, contain trace levels of arsenic. According to the International Agency for research on Cancer, inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic to humans. Therefore by logical association, one might assume that rice cakes can give you cancer.
However, there’s no reason to panic quite yet, because levels of contamination are usually small and vary according to the variety of rice. Most rice cakes are made with puffed white rice, which have lower levels of trace arsenic. The cause for concern, many doctors and nutritionists suggest, is low.
"We recommend that children under five don’t have rice milk as a main drink," Aisling Pigott, a spokesperson from The British Dietetic Association, told the Huffington Post. "Not because we think it will do them any harm, but because we do want to err on the side of caution and reduce the risk of potential for harm."
Other experts agree that there is little reason to panic, but that a balanced diet is still necessary to be cautious.
“If you are a person who is eating rice every day, and also snacking on rice products, then that five micrograms from rice crackers becomes significant,” Dr. Brian Jackson, director of the Trace Metal Analysis Core Facility at Dartmouth College told The New York Times. “If once a month, not so much. The idea is to eat a varied diet — and be aware of how much rice you are eating.”