RICE is about the commonest, cheapest and easiest staple food prepared not only by Nigerian households but in most parts of the world as well.
Indeed, statistics from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) indicate that half the world’s population eats rice every day, making the staple a major source of nutrition for billions of people.
But recent studies have associated the much-loved staple with rise in chronic and degenerative diseases such as cancer, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, depression, developmental problems in children, heart disease and nervous system damage. However, most worrisome are lung and bladder cancers.
While researchers have found traces of arsenic from old industrial pesticides on rice grains sold globally, a study reported in the journal PLoS ONE, showed rice has 10 times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and the European Food Standards Authority has reported that people who eat a lot of it are exposed to troubling concentrations.
According to the study, the levels of arsenic in rice vary by type, country of production and growing conditions.
Generally, brown rice has higher levels because the arsenic is found in the outer coating or bran, which is removed in the milling process to produce white rice.
The study noted that in the short term, the regular consumption of rice could cause gastrointestinal problems, muscle cramping and lesions on the hands and feet.
The researchers observed that the risk of arsenic poisoning is greatest for people who eat rice several times a day, and for infants, whose first solid meals are often rice-based baby food.
In July 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set worldwide guidelines for what it considers to be safe levels of arsenic in rice, suggesting a maximum of 200 micro grammes per kilogramme for white rice and 400 μg kg−1 for brown rice.
Also, scientists have identified rice as one of the staple diets that are genetically modified (GMOs). Others include corn, soy, cotton, papaya (pawpaw), tomatoes, rapeseed, dairy products, potatoes, and peas.
GMOs are accused of causing cancer, destroying the environment and storing up devastating health risks for children.
Controversies surround genetically modified organisms on several levels, including ethics, environmental impact, food safety, product labeling, role in meeting world food requirements, intellectual property and role in industrial agriculture.
An online journal, China Daily, reported potential serious public health and environment problems with genetically modified rice considering its tendency to cause allergic reactions with the concurrent possibility of gene transfers.
Scientists including the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) have warned that GMOs pose a serious threat to health, and it is no accident that there can be a correlation between it and adverse health effects.
In fact, the AAEM has advised doctors to tell their patients to avoid GMOs as the introduction of GMOs into the current food supply has correlated with an alarming rise in chronic diseases and food allergies.
It has been shown that eating a diet of white bread and rice could increase the risk of depression in older women, but whole grain foods, roughage and vegetables could reduce it.
According to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, refined foods cause blood sugar levels to spike rapidly – prompting the body to pump out the hormone insulin, which helps break down the sugar. But this process can cause symptoms of depression. The findings could pave the way for depression being treated and prevented using nutrition.
In a study that included data from more than 70,000 post-menopausal women, scientists found a link between refined carbohydrate consumption and depression.