10 surprisingly toxic common foods
While mushrooms available in most supermarkets should be pretty safe to eat, mushroom fans need to be careful about what species’ they are consuming as many varieties can be highly dangerous and even fatal. Around 100 species of mushrooms are said to be dangerous to humans, with symptoms ranging from headaches to seizures or even death. In 2010 a small variety of mushroom called the Little White was blamed for an estimated 400 deaths in China.
Chillies are renowned for their heat, which is what makes them so popular. However, it is actually the chemical that causes this spiciness (capsaicin) which can cause toxic effects such as stomach pain, itchy skin and, in extreme cases, death. For most people eating chillies will do little harm, however capsaicin is best eaten sparingly so make sure to take it easy and avoid any chilli eating challenges!
It is impossible to dispute that rice has many great health benefits. However, like with most things, it may be best eaten in moderation due to its reportedly unsafe levels of arsenic. One study has suggested that one in five packs of American long-grain rice contain potentially harmful levels of the toxic substance, while others have reported concern for the levels of arsenic in rice milk and baby rice. While there is relatively little risk of the odd bowl of rice causing any long lasting harm, the consumption of high levels of arsenic has been linked to cancer.
Perhaps one of the most immediately dangerous toxic foods on this list is also one of the most surprising, and that is the common store cupboard spice, nutmeg. Although, like many of the foods on the list, nutmeg does have reported health benefits, it can also be extremely dangerous when taken in large doses. Containing a toxic substance called myristicin, moderate proportions of nutmeg can cause hallucinations, while larger doses can cause convulsions, palpitations, nausea, dehydration and death.
Although it is advisable to buy as much organic fruit and veg as you can, in reality this is hard to do on most people’s budgets. When making decisions over whether or not to go organic, it is important therefore to note that some foods have a higher concentration of pesticides than others, and apples are one of the fruits that top this list. Because apples are vulnerable to insect infestations and growths, growers are liable to coat the fruit in chemical pesticides and fungicides, some of which will absorb into its flesh. To minimise health risks, try to buy organic apples wherever possible, or at least remove the skin before eating.
We may be constantly urged to eat more oily fish, but research has suggested that consuming farmed salmon may not be the best way to do it. A study found that 13 different toxins – including PCBs, which have been classed as a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – are at much higher levels in farm-raised salmon than in wild salmon. Due to the possible health dangers of consuming these toxins, it is advisable to either reduce your portions of farmed salmon (guidelines are for a half to two portions a month, depending on where the salmon is from) or switch to the wild variety.
Although eating microwave popcorn is not believed to be particularly harmful, it has been found that butter flavoured versions of the snack contain a dangerous chemical (diacetyl) in the flavouring which releases toxic fumes when microwaved. While this has mainly affected factory workers so far – with many developing a lung condition dubbed “popcorn lung” – one consumer is now known to have also developed lung problems due to this toxin.
However, this is clearly a case of moderation being key, with the sufferer admitting to eating microwave popcorn at least twice a day for 10 to 12 years. Unless you are eating your popcorn in similar quantities, it is most likely safe to consume popcorn at home, just be careful to avoid the fumes when opening the bag.
Potatoes may look innocent enough, but did you know they actually come from the same family as poisonous plant the deadly nightshade? Although they are not quite as dangerous as this family member, potatoes do pose certain risks to our health due to them containing toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, the most worrying of which is solanine which affects the nervous and digestive systems, causing headaches, weakness, confusion, diarrhoea and vomiting amongst other things.
Poisoning from potatoes occurs very rarely but fans of the popular vegetable should take measures to protect themselves by avoiding potatoes with sprouts – which tend to have a higher concentration of glycoalkaloids – and those which have turned green. Although the green colour of the potatoes is harmless in itself, it does indicate that the potatoes have been exposed to light, which can also encourage solanine levels to rise over the safe level for consumption.
Not only are peanuts one of the most common food allergens, but the popular bar snack may also be dangerous to those who don’t suffer from allergies. Peanuts are particularly best avoided by those with kidney or gallbladder problems as they contain oxalates which can crystallise and cause kidney and gallbladder stones.
However, even for the rest of us peanuts can be toxic due to their susceptibility to mould and the frequently occurring presence of aflatoxin – a highly toxic carcinogen – that is produced by a fungus called Aspergillus flavus invading the nuts. If you simply can’t resist snacking on peanuts, try to purchase ones produced in arid areas – such as New Mexico -where the soil is dry and the risk of aflatoxins is lower.