Fruits, nuts and vegetables are good for us, right? As it turns out, some of our favorite snacks and ingredients actually contain natural toxins and overflow with pesticides.
Even some of what we consider the healthiest foods can be dangerous if they aren’t prepared correctly or bought organically. Here are a few potentially toxic foods to keep in mind next time you stroll through the grocery store.
Almonds have become a hip seed to include in dishes or snack on at work, but even “raw” almonds have actually been steamed. Within these delicious seeds is cyanide, which can be deadly when ingested in large amounts.
But when the seed is introduced to a heat source, it neutralizes the poison. Although selling completely raw almonds is illegal in some countries, including the U.S., make sure your almonds are pasteurized when you eat them internationally.
An apple a day should still keep the doctor away, as long as you’re careful. The juicy, white inside of an apple isn’t poisonous, but apple seeds contain cyanide, and can be dangerous when ingested in large amounts. But as long as you throw out the core, more often than not, you should be fine.
The real danger with apples comes from the skin. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that apples have the most pesticides on average of any other fruit or vegetable. This is one fruit certainly worth splurging on organic, if you can.
Like almonds, cashews are actually seeds that have to be pasteurized in order to be safe to eat. Cashews contain the chemical urushiol, which is the same toxin you find in poison ivy.
If high amounts of urushiol are ingested, it can cause the same effects one would get from poison oak or ivy, and can even be deadly. Although cashew poisonings are rare, workers who handle the seed in manufacturing have been known to experience side effects from the poison.
This rosey fruit works as a scrumptious snack or delectable dessert, but be careful with the cherry pit. When the pits are chewed, crushed or damaged, they automatically release hydrogen cyanide.
Symptoms after ingesting a burst seed can include headache, dizziness, confusion, anxiety and vomiting. If your bag of cherries has been smashed, toss them out. And teach your kids to spit out cherry pits immediately, and to never chew on them.
We’ve all taken too big a bite out of a chili before. That burning sensation starts on your tongue and moves down your throat; you start sweating and desperately trying to cool your mouth down. What causes that heat in chilies is called capsaicin.
It is a strong chemical used as a paint stripper or for protection as pepper spray. Of course, a few chilies is fine for you, but capsaicin in large doses can be fatal. Chilies were also found by the EWC to have high amounts of pesticides in them, so consumed with caution.
The EWC does an annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, which looks at the levels of pesticides in common non-organic fruits and vegetables. A single grape contained an average of 15 different pesticides, landing grapes the No. 3 spot on their “Dirty Dozen” list. When possible, buy organic grapes to keep all the chemicals out of your system.
Potatoes are a staple ingredient in many cultures, but this starchy food is one of the most toxic in your pantry. But potato salad can be good for you. The stem, leaves and potato itself are all potentially poisonous. Keep the stems and leaves out of the house entirely.
Also, watch for green spots on potatoes, whether on the skin, eyes or sprouts. The greenish color indicates high levels of glycoalkaloid poison, which can cause weakness, coma and even death. Although potato poisoning is rare, make sure to toss any potatoes that are starting to turn green just in case.
Strawberries land the No. 2 spot on EWG’s 2014 “Dirty Dozen” list for good reason. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that a single batch of strawberries can contain up to 13 different pesticides.
Although the main pollutant, methyl iodide, was banned in the U.S. in 2007, farmers still use a number of chemicals to grow this scrumptious summer berry, which have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption and developmental problems in children.
But strawberries are full of antioxidants, so instead of cutting them out of your diet entirely, look for organic berries at the grocery store.
Although tomatoes are a popular food around the world, the stems and leaves of the plant are extremely poisonous. The chemical glycoalkaloid has been known to cause upset stomachs and nervousness, and is even used for outdoor pest control.
But don’t start throwing your tomatoes out just yet. The actual fruit shouldn’t contain any glycoalkaloid, at least not enough to cause you any harm. Just make sure the leaves and stems don’t make it into your next batch of salsa.
The Bottom Line
For the most part, if you shop organic and learn how to prepare these foods properly, you and your family shouldn’t be at risk of poisoning from these delectable foods, whose benefits largely outweigh their negatives.
But it’s interesting that these common and popular household foods contain such extreme toxins. It makes one wonder what other common things in our lives contain dangerous chemicals or pollutants that can harm our health.
What daily foods or products have you detoxed from your life because of health risks?