Rice’s popularity has tumbled, with the national preference for protein leading to the closure earlier this month of Durham’s Rice Diet facility, where for 70 years Hollywood stars and regular folks tried to shed pounds by eating white rice and fruit.

According to the USA Rice Federation, rice use decreased by a whopping 15 percent between 2011 and 2012.

What else could go wrong for rice? Well, the FDA recently announced rice contains arsenic. The average levels of inorganic arsenic in grain rice tested ranged from 0.1 to 7.2 micrograms per serving.

Still, the FDA says there’s no reason for consumers to worry, and at least one local dietitian agrees.

“The takeaway is it’s really not a risk unless you’re pregnant, breast-feeding or an infant,” says Janet Carter, Sodexo dietitian at MUSC and Heart Health program manager. “It’s kind of like when everyone was getting all excited about lead in tuna.”

Carter agrees with the FDA recommendation that eaters minimize their potential arsenic exposure by diversifying their diets with various grains.

She says much of the concern expended on arsenic would be better spent on the overall quality of children and adult’s regular nutritional habits.

“They’re just saying don’t eat two cups of rice a day,” Carter says, using a hypothetical measurement to make her point about moderation. “If a child was coming to me and saying ‘I’m eating two cups of rice a day,’ I’d be worried about it from a weight-management standpoint.”

The FDA is now planning to study the potential health consequences of long-term exposure to very low amounts of arsenic in rice and rice products.

Spokeswoman Shelly Burgess says the agency hopes to issue results in draft form next year.

Burgess reiterated that “rice is an important and nutritious staple for many people, and the arsenic levels that the FDA found in the samples it evaluated were too low to cause any immediate or short-term adverse health effects.”

“I think people hear arsenic and they get really nervous, but it’s not that big of a concern,” Carter says.

If a child had a choice between eating a package of salty, nutrient-poor ramen noodles or a cup of white rice, she adds, “I’d rather they eat the rice, even with the possibility of arsenic.”

Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.