It is estimated that every year, one in six Americans gets sick from food borne illness, and 3,000 adults and children die. Some of the foods that cause these illnesses are probably in your kitchen right now. Most of us are aware of the typical foods to stay away from – uncooked meat, raw eggs and the like, but did you know some very common foods contain potentially deadly toxins? We have listed them below so you can be aware of which ones pose the greatest harm, and what you can do to keep your family safe.
1. Beans and rice
Seeds and beans are known to thrive in warm and humid environments. Unfortunately, these environments are also attractive to bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli. Bean sprouts are known to be particularly risky. To be safe, pass on raw sprouts for sandwiches and salads. Eat them only when they are cooked thoroughly, for example, in a stir fry. Store raw beans and rice in cool, dry places.
2. Fruit seeds
Like apple seeds, cherry pits contain a type of hydrogen cyanide called prussic acid. Not that you would, but you probably don’t want to go eating a cup of ground cherry pits, or peach and apricot pits! How deadly is it? Highly concentrated amounts have been used in chemical weapons, insecticides and rat poison. Chances are, unless you have a fetish for fruit pits, you’ll be fine, but it’s good to be aware!
Although the stalk of rhubarb can be delicious in pies, rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which causes kidney stones. It will take 11 pounds of leaves to be fatal, but a fraction of that to make you seriously ill. Symptoms that one might experience are weakness, burning in the mouth, death from cardiovascular collapse, difficulty breathing, burning in the throat, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, or coma. If you grow it in your garden, it’s best to keep pets away.
Did you know Nutmeg is a hallucinogenic? It can also be very toxic. It’s said that eating just 0.2 oz of nutmeg can lead to convulsions, and 0.3 oz can lead to seizures. Eating one whole can lead to a type of “nutmeg psychosis,” which includes a sense of impending doom. Symptoms can include an out-of-body sensation, but more common is intense nausea, dizziness, extreme dry mouth, and a lingering slowdown of normal brain function. Nutmeg was also used in the middle ages to end unwanted pregnancies. The lowdown? It’s best to measure your nutmeg very carefully when using it in recipes.
My Nana always warned me to stay way from potatoes with a greenish tinge. She was right! Glycoalkaloids, also found in other nightshades, can be found in the leaves, stems, and sprouts of potatoes. It can also build up in the potato if it’s left too long, especially in the light. Eating glycoalkaloids can lead to cramping, diarrhea, confused headaches, or even coma and death. It’s said that just 3 to 6 mg per kilogram of body weight could be fatal. Avoid potatoes with a greenish tinge, they contain high amounts of solanine which is very harmful. Store potatoes in cool dry places, and always trim away sprouts and green areas before eating.
I didn’t know this, but there are two types of almonds – bitter and sweet. The bitter ones contain relatively large amounts of hydrogen cyanide. Eating just 7 – 10 raw bitter almonds can cause problems for adults, and could be fatal for children. In the United States it is illegal to sell bitter almonds that are unrefined, so you are probably safe here when buying from the store.
7. Raw Honey
Raw honey is often known for it’s positive health benefits, which can be many. However, unpasteurized honey can also potentially be harmful. When honey is pasteurized, harmful toxins are killed. Unpasteurized honey often contains grayanotoxin. This can lead to dizziness, weakness, excessive sweating, nausea, and vomiting that can last for 24 hours in some people. Just one tablespoon of concentrated grayanotoxin can cause these symptoms. Consuming multiple tablespoons would not be wise. You can avoid these symptoms by purchasing pasteurized honey, and not eating honey straight from the honeycomb. Remember that raw honey is a product of the pollen from various flowering plants and can contain toxins from any one of them. Avoid giving raw honey to infants under the age of three.
The stems and leaves of tomatoes contain alkali poisons that can cause stomach ailments. Unripe green tomatoes have been said to have the same effect. You would need to consume a large quantity for it to be fatal. So, not exactly high-risk, but you might avoid eating tomato leaves.
The danger in tuna is the mercury that the fish absorbs. Once in your body, mercury will either pass through your kidneys, or travel to your brain and supposedly drive you insane. The FDA recommends children and pregnant women do not consume tuna at all. While it’s unlikely that eating a massive amount of tuna in one sitting will kill you, it’s a good idea to monitor your weekly intake. Click here to visit the Environmental Working Group’s tuna calculator to see how much is recommended. Here is another great resource for info on tuna consumption in children.
The leaves and roots of cassava are surprisingly rich in cyanide. Cassava is a tropical vegetable originally from South America, but has gained popularity in Africa, particularly for its juice, which can be fermented to produce a drink called piwarry. Though not quite a household staple in America, it’s good to be aware!
Raw cashews that you purchase in a supermarket are not actually raw. They have been steamed to remove urushiol which is a chemical also found in poison ivy. This chemical can cause the same effect as poison ivy, or poison oak. High levels of urushiol can supposedly prove fatal. People who are allergic to poison ivy are likely to have a fatal allergic reaction to eating actual raw cashews.