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Should Floridians Worry About Arsenic in Our Foods and Beverages?

Recent news reports of potentially dangerous levels of arsenic in some domestic wines understandably have caused concern among Florida residents. However, the presence of arsenic, which is actually a metal, in some of the products we consume is nothing new.

A 2013 study by researchers at Dartmouth University found that some of the foods and beverages that people consume are significant contributing factors to the level of arsenic in their bodies. The arsenic levels in these products coupled with the arsenic found in drinking water are not enough to cause immediate harm or illness. However, over the long run, it can lead to cancer and interfere with a person's hormones, including ones that regulate the immune system.

According to the study, the following contain levels of arsenic so high that they should not be consumed on a regular basis:

  • Non-organic poultry products, including chicken: This is due to the arsenic-based drugs in the animals' feed.
  • Seafood, particularly that with dark meat such as tuna and salmon: This is because of the levels of arsenic that are in seawater.
  • Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale: These are widely-regarded as healthy foods. However, the sulfur compounds in these vegetables attract the arsenic in the soil where they grow.
  • Wine and beer: The source of the arsenic could be the water used to make some of these beverages or the filtration material used. That material, diatomaceous earth, contains arsenic.

It should be noted some studies (although not the Dartmouth one) have found high arsenic levels in people who eat about a half-cup of rice each day, which is the average for Americans. The participants in the Dartmouth study did not consume that much rice.

It sometimes seems like everything we consume carries some potentially-dangerous ingredients. However, it's still wise to be aware of findings like this. Connecting arsenic and other elements to illnesses may not be easy, but if a correlation can be found in multiple people, it can help pave the way for changes.

Source: Prevention, "5 Foods Loaded With Arsenic" Emily Main, Rodale News, accessed Mar. 24, 2015

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