Many of us are in the dark about the toxins lurking in some of our most beloved household staples – while this doesn’t mean you have to ditch your favourite snacks, we have a few tips to keep you munching safely. We’ll be unpacking a few of the unsuspectingly-toxic foods around us and what it means for your health.
Red kidney beans
These nutritious beans are known for their exceptionally high fibre content – coming in at a whopping 47% of the recommended daily intake per cup – along with their iron, protein and manganese content. They’re known to contribute to a healthy heart, brain and gut – so you’re probably wondering how they could possibly be dangerous. Well, it’s all in the cooking method. If you’ve bought dried kidney beans, it’s essential to follow the instructions – undercooking these tiny powerhouses can lead to a range of health issues. This is because of their phytohemagglutinin content – this is a toxic protein which can cause damage to the gut on consumption, along with inducing symptoms like abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and headaches. Dried kidney beans should be soaked for hours – preferably overnight – and boiled for over 10 minutes in order to be safe for consumption, though researchers recommend boiling them for a minimum of 30 minutes to be sure. The Food and Drug Administration in the US has found that cooking your dried kidney beans below boiling point for less than 10 minutes can increase their toxicity by a whopping five times. Yikes. This is one occasion where you’ll want to stick to the books!
Note: Canned kidney beans have been precooked, so there’s no need to boil these! We’re referring to the dried varieties here.
Nutmeg is one of the most versatile spices in the culinary world – from festive desserts like gingerbread to savoury classics like lasagne, this stuff has a special place in most of our spice racks. But did you know that nutmeg can be toxic when consumed in excess? This is because it contains a narcotic known as myristicin, and while the small amounts you’ll find in most recipes are safe, it’s worth noting that just 2 teaspoons of this stuff can induce symptoms of toxicity. This could include nausea, vomiting, an irregular heartbeat, hallucinations and dizziness, with these symptoms setting in around 1-6 hours after consumption. This stuff may contain a narcotic, but don’t try to get high on this stuff – it’ll kill you first. Excessively large amounts of nutmeg can even lead to organ failure. So, stick to the amount set out in the recipes and don’t go overboard with this spice!
These popular seeds – yep, that’s right, cashews are a seed, not a nut – have something in common with poison ivy; the plant that causes itching and burning after contact, along with being toxic when consumed. The shared compound between this notorious plant and cashews is a chemical known as urushiol. The shell of a cashew is coated in an oil known as anacardic acid – which is closely related to urushiol – and it’s the reason you’ll never see cashews sold in the shell the way you would with pistachios or peanuts. Commercially-sold cashews are heated at high temperatures to kill any residue of this toxic stuff, and as such, the products you’ll find on supermarket shelves are safe for consumption – even the ones listed as “raw” are heated for safety. This is because if the cashews were truly raw, they could potentially prove fatal to those who consume them.
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