10 Poisonous Foods We Eat Every Day

March 28, 2011

These ten fruits and vegetables (and the occasional legume) are a part of our everyday diet - and contain chemicals or compounds that are toxic to humans and other animals. From one of the most-consumed foods in the world to an apple a day, here are the top 10 poisonous foods you encounter every day...

Lima Beans

Photo by kthread on Flickr

10. Lima Beans Also known as butter beans, lima beans contain a compound known as linamarin, which essentially becomes cyanide after an enzymatic process - but don't worry! Before they are made available for general consumption, the canned version of these legumes are processed to remove the toxin. Buy 'em dried? Make sure they are fully cooked (at least 10 minutes!) and should never be served raw.

Cassava Root

Photo by CIAT on Flickr.

9. Cassava/Manioc Root A South American native (also known as Yuca), cassava root is a starchy tuber and the third most-consumed food in the world. While both the sweet and bitter varieties contain cyanide, the latter contains higher levels which makes it naturally pest-repellent and thus, the preferred crop. Soaking the root in water can help kick start an enzymatic process that will liberate the cyanide, but the subsequent liquid becomes toxic as a result. Unprocessed, a pound of bitter yuca can kill a cow - and certainly a person.

Nutmeg and Mace

Photo by quinn.anya on Flickr

8. Nutmeg From the tree Myristica fragrans, the only tree to produce two spices (nutmeg and also, mace). While the chemical in nutmeg is not poisonous, it is a psychoactive neurotoxin which can cause vomiting, dizziness and hallucinations. But have no fear - the amount needed to cause a serious reaction is more than you'll find in the average pumpkin pie...

Kidney Beans

Photo by Bob Peters on Flickr

7. Kidney Beans Like other legumes (remember those lima beans?) kidney beans also contain a potentially lethal toxin - phytohaemagglutinin. Ingesting only a few beans can land you in the hospital and a whole handful will send you straight to the morgue. The toxin is easily neutralized when the bean is boiled for at least 10 minutes - but the toxin can become up to 5x more toxic at 175 F (just off boiling) than if eaten raw. Translation: if you throw raw kidney beans into the slow cooker for some chili, you may want to cancel dinner... Want to avoid the problem? Use canned beans, which are pre-treated and safe to eat.


Photo by mynameisharsha on Flickr.

6. Almonds Another natural source of cyanide! This time, all of the ingredients are present but not activated until the seed (the almond we know and love) is injured - i.e. crushed by teeth. But again, nothing to worry about - domesticated almonds do not contain this natural defense mechanics.

Photo by The Ewan

5. Tomatoes While tomatoes (the fruit) are non-toxic, atropine is present in the stems and leaves. While only one death seems to have been attributed to atropine poisoning, ingestion can cause dizziness, headaches and indigestion. Advice? Avoid tomato-leaf tea.


Photo by louis bennett on Flickr

4. Stone Fruits: Cherries, Apricots, Peaches & Plums The pits (or stones) of these stone fruits also contain cyanide. Swallowing a whole pit or two won't do a lot of damage, but much like almonds, the toxin becomes exposed when the seed is crushed or damaged - or chewed upon, making children and pets particularly vulnerable. Every year, a handful of deaths (in children and adults) are attributed to an over-indulgence in fruit pits - yikes!

Photo by Skånska Matupplevelser

3. Rhubarb Have no fear - your grandmother's strawberry rhubarb pie is still safe! The red stalks are perfectly fine, it's the dark leafy greens that are not so innocent. While the compound (oxalic acid) won't kill you, it can cause dizziness and kidney failure, coma and seizures. To be fair, you will have to eat more than the occasional leaf to have results like these - but think twice (or about a dozen times) before using the delicious-looking greens in a soup or salad.


Photo by FotoosVanRobin

2. Potatoes Ordinarily, this staple crop is harmless. However, potatoes and other members of the Nightshade family naturally contain solanine. Solanine has natural fungicidal and pesticidal properties (an obvious natural defense) and, in potatoes, develops when exposed to light - another reason to store your spuds in a cool, dark place. Once they begin sprouting or green patches appear, you may want to think twice before eating. Even after cooking, solanine is fairly potent and can cause nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, and vomiting, as well as cardiac problems and dizziness. Hallucinations, paralysis, fever, hypothermia and death have also been reported as symptoms of more severe cases.


Photo by La Grande Farmer's Market on Flickr

1. Apples Like stone fruits, apple seeds contain that pesky compound - cyanogenic glycosides - which, through an enzymatic process, turns into cyanide. While the seeds of an apple or two won't cause you any harm, there have been known deaths as a result of over-eating. While those seeds may not grow into trees in your digestive tract, they may cause a few less far-fetched health problems... Source: Environmental Graffiti



Leandra's picture

I get a slight dizzy feeling when eating fresh fruits, specifically strawberries. Could this be why? I have often wondered why this happens.

Janice Harper's picture

Gives new meaning to Van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters."

But let us not forget that the greatest toxins are not in the foods themselves as much as the chemicals that are sprayed on the foods. While trace amounts may not hurt, a diet rich in chemical toxins accumulates over time and can be far more health threatening than too many fruit pits!

Shincp's picture

Wow amazing info,
i never think some ordinary daily food have little 'devil'
very interesting and make me more caution when cooking hahaha
thank you for sharing the article
once again it's so amazing info

News Feed: March 29, 2011 - The JBF Blog's picture

[...] Poisonous foods we eat everyday. [Foodista] [...]

Florian Brody's picture

The music to go with this blog entry is Ugly Casanova: "Here's to Now" out of the movie 180º South http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVHxMn8trOk

Actually, I was thinking
Said everything out loud
'Cause apricot seeds carry arsenic
That we don’t worry about

Sitting on your doorstep
Waiting for you to come home or come out
Well apple seeds have cyanide
That we don’t care about

Angela@spinachtiger's picture

Great information. And a good reminder about pesticides. Well done.

Leon's picture

Very interesting post! Glad to know that some of my favorite foods are not poisonous if cooked!

Marc Pacchioli's picture

Excellent post on natural toxins in food we eat. Bruce Ames , Berkeley Biochemist, concludes that 99.9% of toxins we consume are natural. Check out this Hubpages article for some more details on natural plant chemicals. http://hubpages.com/hub/Secondary-Plant-Metabolites-Vital-Nutrients-for-a-Healthy-Diet-Natural-Chemical-Arsenal-or-Both

Thirsty Thursday: Rhubarb Lemon Martini's picture

[...] honor of Orange and Lemon Day and on the heels of our earlier discussion on poisonous produce, this rhubarb themed cocktail seems like a perfect springtime treat. Light and [...]

grgral32's picture

OMG! I'm dead already!