Some of the foods we eat every day are dangerous to our health, and not in an “eating too much of one thing is bad for you” kind of way. No, they’re probably worse — though eating too much of them will certainly make you sick or even kill you — because the majority of them are poisonous. Do you think you know what they are?
Considered a health food, beans are used in salads, on rice, and in soup. They also tend to be a staple in vegetarian diets, as they’re packed with nutrition, including fiber, protein, carbohydrates, folate, and iron. But as part of their natural defense, they also contain large amounts of lectin — proteins that, in plants at least, can act as a “potent insecticide.” For humans, this means that we too can get sick.
Kidney beans, for example, contain the toxin phytohaemagglutinin, which can cause extreme nausea followed by vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea within three hours. While boiling the beans for at least 10 minutes will neutralize the toxin, cooking it at just under boiling will make it worse. Just to be safe, it could be best to eat canned beans instead of packaged ones.
For tips on cooking beans safely, look here.
Commonly thought of as a nut, almonds are actually a seed. And if that wasn’t already a surprise, many raw almonds aren’t actually raw. That’s because bitter raw almonds contain naturally occurring cyanide — yes, the same ingredient used in spies’ poisonous pills. In fact, cyanide has even been described as having a “bitter almond” smell.
Crushing, biting, chewing, or damaging almonds in any way will activate the cyanide. Eating as little as four to five bitter almonds will cause light-headedness, nausea, and abdominal cramping, according to a 1982 case study on a 67-year-old woman. Unknowing of the bitter almonds’ effects, she consumed 12 more, causing severe abdominal pain in 15 minutes, and subsequently collapsed in her bathroom. Though she survived, she came very close to dying.
While bitter almonds are illegal to sell in the U.S. — sweet almonds, the other variety, are much safer — other countries may not have such laws in place. It might be safer to stay away from almonds while overseas.
Apples, Cherries, Peaches, and Plums
Sticking to the same theme — that cyanide is bad for you — it’s probably best to avoid eating the pits of so-called stone fruits, which include apples, cherries, peaches, plums, and apricots. Like almonds, their pits or seeds contain cyanide that’s activated when they are crushed, chewed, or damaged in any way. While eating one whole pit might not induce any reaction, more than that might. It looks like eating the apple whole might not be so good for you after all.
Pies and crumbles will never be the same if you incorporate anything but Rhubarb’s signature red stalks. The leafy greens at the end of them, however, are filled with the compound oxalic acid and possibly Anthraquinone glycosides, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While they won’t cause death, they’ll still do some damage — at the very least causing dizziness, a burning mouth, and stomach pain, and at the worst causing kidney stones, seizures, and coma. Avoiding these leaves are easy though. Just be wary of where you dispose of them — pets are susceptible to their poisoning, too.
Just like rhubarb, potatoes should be enjoyed for the reasons they’ve been had all these years. The spud is great when baked, mashed, or fried. But its leafy greens and stem contain solanine, which is “very toxic in small amounts,” according to the NIH. While regular potatoes are fine, those that have green under the skin or have spoiled should be thrown out, and the sprouts as well. Effects of solanine include delirium, diarrhea, fever, and as they worsen, hallucinations, hypothermia, shock, and paralysis.