Can foods be toxic?

Can foods be toxic?

The fact that vegetables, lean meats, and good fats are more nutritious than fast foods and sweets is indisputable. However, most of us are unaware that a number of the foods we have put on a health pedestal have the potential to cause as much harm to our health as they do good.

Superfoods are a super-trend

We have been ‘schooled’ on the health benefits of consuming antioxidant-rich foods, such as blueberries, broccoli, kale, popularly known as ‘superfoods’. Sadly, many of the claims around superfoods are as empty as the calories in a doughnut.  They either lack scientific evidence or are backed up by lab-based studies, so it is unlikely that the observed results are reproduced in the human body and in the real world to the same effect. What’s more, one needs to eat an excessive amount for the potential consequences to come into effect, which could result in the opposite of the desired effect.

When good foods turn bad

A surprising number of ‘health-foods’ contain naturally occurring toxins, or toxins that are formed during the production phase. As these toxins occur in low concentrations, the liver and kidneys can usually rid them from the body. The potential of an adverse reaction arises when these foods are over-consumed and factors such as allergies and medications can put some people at higher risk than others.

Health-foods and their toxins

Scientific research has demonstrated a link between the antioxidants and nutrients found in kale to both health benefits and disease prevention. As with all cruciferous vegetables, kale contains a high concentration of a mineral-binding compound, oxalate (oxalic acid), which may bind to vital minerals such as calcium in the gut, thus preventing their absorption (but not always).  Kale also contains a high dose of vitamin K, which promotes clotting, thus it helps to prevent hemorrhages. On the flip side of the coin, too much may not be a good thing for those taking blood-thinning medication. In addition, high concentrations of pesticides may be present in kale.

Brazil nuts hold superfood status, a credit to their high concentration of selenium. A powerful antioxidant, selenium has been linked to a lower incidence of several chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and several types of cancer.  Just one Brazil nut provides the recommended daily dose of selenium. But eating too many can be dangerous because selenium consumed above 400mcg per day may cause a toxic effect. Although it’s very rare, people who develop selenium poisoning suffer from mild symptoms, such as hair loss and dizziness.

Almonds, tapioca, lima beans, spinach, apple seeds, and cherry pits all contain cyanide. Apart from cherry pits, which have a dangerous level of cyanide, achieving cyanide poisoning from eating these foods is unlikely but still a watch-out.

In summary, several healthy foods have the potential to also cause adverse effects. Many things, even water, can cause serious health problems. Quite simply, therefore, the best strategy to maintaining nutritional balance is to live by the motto: nothing in excess, everything in moderation.