Sunday, September 12, 2010

Top 11 Common, Yet Toxic Foods

Everybody knows you aren't supposed to eat things like rattlesnake, blowfish or mandrake root because it'll kill you at 20 paces. But these are foods you probably eat, love and have at least several times a week. When they're prepared or cooked improperly, they might be the thing that ends you.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't meant to deter you from eating the things you love, I'm merely here to educate. And maybe annoy you a little, that's always fun.


And now onto the countdown of top 11 most toxic, yet common foods. Why 11? Because I want to get into Doug Walker's pants.

*Pauses* What? Who said that??

Okay, I'm kidding. But you know what they say about imitation and flattery, don't you? 

*Clears throat*

 11. Mushrooms
We've all been warned against these things. They're fungi, they've been known to grow out of poop, they're slimy and gross, and can even mess with our brain chemicals...but you know what? Mushrooms can be really delicious, good for you and they're a natural muscle relaxant. There are over 14,000 different types of mushrooms in the world; out of that number, a good 3,000 of those are edible, and 700 of those have incredible medicinal properties. As fearful as you may be, remember that fewer than 1% of all mushroom types are recognized as poisonous. Out of that 1% are mushrooms like the Death Cap, which are often confused for the Paddy Straw mushroom. They contain seven different toxins and one bite can lead to a nasty death. Mr. Gottfried of Gourmet Garage said, "The death cap is doubly dangerous because people can pick it in the infantile stage before its characteristics become clear.'' There is also Gyromitra, which is often confused for Morrel; ingestion can cause seizures, tissue hypoxia and renal failure.
I found this great website from MDC Online called Safe Mushroom Hunting that differentiates between edible mushrooms and the poisonous ones, complete with images! It's really cool, you should check it out.

10: Akee
This tropical West African fruit is both delicious and dangerous, and served as food mostly in Jamaica; in fact, Akee and Saltfish is their national dish. Despite the fruit being so high in vitamins and protein, only the inner, fleshy yellow arils are consumed, and they MUST be allowed to fully ripen and open naturally before they're harvested. If the fruit is eaten before it is fully ripe, it prevents glucose from being released from the liver, quickly lowering the blood sugar and ensuring violent illness or death.  Symptoms of vomiting, seizures, and fatal hypoglycemia follow the ingestion of the unripe fruit that locals call “Jamaican Vomiting Sickness.”

9. Apricot Seeds
Don't be alarmed, but many fruits of the rose family contain cyanogenetic glycosides, which upon ingestion release hydrogen cyanide gas. These include seeds from cherries, apples, plums, almonds, and peaches. Have you ever broken open a peach pit out of sheer curiosity and like me, found what looks to be an almond? I know someone who ate one of those almonds once and said it was terribly bitter. You know what else tastes of bitter almond? Arsenic. The reason you aren't supposed to eat apple seeds is because they will get you sick for this very reason. Even ingesting too much apple juice and apple sauce will have the same effect because the factories don't core the apples before processing, they just toss them in whole and the seeds are ground up along with everything else. After many years of experimentation, I've found that you shouldn't have more than 2 cups of apple juice a day. For apple sauce, up to 2/3 Cup a day is alright. Although it would take a staggering amount of these seeds to actually kill you, it's been known to happen in Turkey, a large apricot grower, because people go on binges who don't know any better and end up fertilizing them instead.

8. Cassava
I see these things all the time at local markets but had no idea what they were or how to make them. Cassava, also called yuca or manioc is a tropical vegetable originally from South America, but has gained popularity in Africa, particularly for its juice, which can be fermented to produce a drink called piwarry. This vegetable is really high in carbs, I mean, we're talking the third highest carb-rich food in the world. It's also a really good source of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin c. What's the down side? The leaves and roots of cassava are alarmingly rich in cyanide. As a result, cassava must be cooked properly to detoxify it before it is eaten. According to wikipedia, cassava varieties are often categorized as either sweet or bitter, signifying the absence or presence of toxic levels of cyanogenic glucosides. The so-called sweet (actually not bitter) cultivars can produce as little as 20 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of fresh roots, whereas bitter ones may produce more than 50 times as much. Cassavas grown during drought are especially high in these toxins. A dose 40 mg of pure cassava cyanogenic glucoside is sufficient to kill a cow. Tapioca is made from this as well and has the same dangers if prepared improperly.

7. Rhubarb
People eat the stalks rather than the leaves for good reason; the large, triangular leaves are high enough in oxalate and corrosive acid to be toxic. I also found out that cooking the leaves with soda can make them more poisonous by producing soluble oxalates, which can cause hypocalcemia with muscle weakness and even osteodystrophia fibrosa in especially large doses. When properly cooked, however, rhubarb stalks, which are significantly lower in oxalic acid, can be quite delicious; sweet, soft and tart, often made in pies and other pastries. Rhubarb has also been used as a strong laxative for at least 5,000 years.

6. Potatoes
Yeah, you read right, potatoes. Personally, I love them. They're filling, relatively cheap, and your culinary options with using them are near limitless. However, they also contain glycoalkaloids (solanine and chaconine), toxic compounds which are more prevalent in the wild potato varieties...which interestingly enough are considered rare and endangered species. There are about 93 different species in Peru and 39 in Bolivia. Most are being cross-cultivated with other species and are disappearing quickly. They are a member of the nightshade family and as I spoke of in an earlier post, cause inflammation to the human body. Cooking potatoes at high temperatures mostly removes their toxin, although headaches, diarrhea, and cramps, and in some rare cases, coma and death may still occur. One thing I should also note is that once peeled, a potato will begin to oxidize- or turn brown. This process can be prevented by submerging the peeled vegetable completely in water. If it's allowed to turn brown and consumed, it can make a person very, very ill. My father was a chef in the Navy and can attest very passionately to this, having peeled more than his share of potatoes himself.

5. Chocolate
I know this countdown won't dissuade you chocoholics out of indulging in your passion, (especially during *that* time of the month) but I urge you to take a closer look at the dangers of overindulgence. For instance, it contains the alkaloid theobromine, which in unusually high doses can be toxic to humans. The cocoa bean is loaded with caffeine, more than soda, more than even coffee. Giving it to kids is like loading them up with speed. It can cause ADHD in large amounts, and since it's always loaded with sugar as well, it can cause heart disease, hardening of arteries and diabetes. Dark chocolate especially (which I am personally addicted to) has so much potassium that it's illegal to sell more than a certain percentage of cocao within the US. Yes, potassium is an essential electrolyte, but large doses can cause your organs to shut down, and it's the preferred method of death that Dr. Kavorkian used to euthanize his patients. I will never tell you not to indulge in chocolate once in a while, believe me. It's high in anti-oxidants, restoring cells and lowering blood pressure. Just remember it's meant as a treat, and treats, like everything else are always better in moderation.

4. Coffee
I know wenchie is going to kill me for this one, but her beloved coffee has definitely earned a place on this list. First and foremost, coffee is a drug. This has been proven by countless studies, and I've even seen it on a personal level when those I know have gone a day or two without it and encountered tremors, headaches and intense cravings. Coffee is the number one cause of cancer of the esophagus. Drinking it inhibits the release of natural brain opiates that make you feel good and counteracts pain. Because it stimulates the nervous system so drastically, it causes a variety of nervous disorders, such as shaking, trembling and Restless Legs Syndrome. The caffeine found in coffee is known as "dead" caffeine; unlike bio-active caffeine found in green and black tea. After it stimulates the nervous system, it is followed by a depressed phase resulting in exhaustion, nervousness, irritability, fatigue, and often headache. It constricts blood vessels of the brain and causes decreased flow of blood which cuts the oxygen supply to the brain, resulting in gradual brain damage. It also increases your heartbeat 15% and makes your lungs work 13 times harder than normal. That information, along with plenty more can be found at this website, if you don't believe me. Once again, I will state that having it as an occasional treat won't be this detrimental, but I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a controlled substance in the future.

3. Hot Dogs
The problem with kids is that their taste buds are so sensitive that they often dislike all but the blandest and most processed of foods. It's easy to give into them, if just so they don't starve to death, and I've never met a kid who didn't go absolutely gaga over wieners. I loved them myself when I was younger, and will still indulge in a properly burnt frank from a BBQ once in a while. But gawd, they have to be one of the grossest, most questionable foods in the whole world. Do you know what goes into them? Really? Giant machines purée meat into batter, then into a fine emulsion and then vacuums out any air before producing long rolls of cellulose tubing that are tied, cut and packaged. It's a stomach-churning procedure that makes me never want to eat them again. Aside from how they're processed and stored, there are other dangers lurking about. Pregnant women are 20 times more likely to contract listeriosis from undercooked hot dogs and deli meats than normal, which could kill their baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics says hot dogs are also a choking hazard to children and should come with a warning label. About 17% of food-related asphyxiations in those younger than 10 are caused by hot dogs. On the flip side, I did find out that hot dogs aren't made of leftover scraps, pig snouts or the cow hooves; they are specially selected cuts of real meat, albeit fatty meat loaded with salt and preservatives, that are probably healthier than the chicken nuggets (which mostly contain fat, bone, tissue and bread fillers) you served to your kids last night. As long as your hot dogs are properly cooked and cut up into bite-sized pieces, you can serve them occasionally and everything will be alright.

2. Shellfish
Bivalve Mollusks such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops are filter feeders and can accumulate high levels of toxics including domoic acid, produced by microscopic algae. The toxins responsible for most shellfish poisonings are water-soluble, are heat and acid-stable, and are not inactivated by ordinary cooking methods; in high dosages, they can lead to death.  Aside from illnesses, Hepatitis A, Norwalk virus, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and Vibrio vulnificus all have been transmitted through shellfish ingestion. Native Americans are known to have warned early settlers to avoid shellfish during the summer months. This is because toxic outbreaks often are associated with algal blooms of single-celled dinoflagellates, which can cause a red-brown discoloration of the water. This is known as red tide, and is favored by warmer weather. This phenomenon has led to the general teaching in North America that shellfish are safe to eat only if harvested in a month containing the letter "R." Could I go the rest of my life without shellfish? Probably, but it's so delicious and good for me, I don't want to. The trick is to only buy your seafood from reputable dealers, markets, or grocery stores. Never eat it raw, even at your favorite sushi joint. You can learn more about how to avoid shellfish poisoning here. Above all else, make sure this too is an occasional treat, as too much shellfish can also cause gout, and nobody wants to deal with that.

And now... the number one most toxic, yet every day food in the entire world is.....


1. McDonald's
 Let's face facts, you and everyone you know have probably eaten there at least once. This multinational corporate giant is everywhere, it's almost impossible to escape. We don't often have time to cook or sit down at a normal restaurant, so we run in and grab something quick off the dollar menu. Maybe a bit more often than we'd like to admit. But the more I learn about this company, the way it's run, the food it puts out and what this food will eventually do to my body, it has made me swear it off forever.

First of all, the company's main focus isn't on food, it's on real estate. They buy up every available lot simply because it's harder to escape that way. McDonald's is one of several giant corporations with investments in vast tracts of land in poor countries, sold to them by the money-hungry rulers (often military) and privileged elites, evicting the small farmers that live there growing food for their own people. They say they use recycled paper, but only a tiny per cent of it is. The truth is it takes 800 square miles of rainforest just to keep them supplied with paper for one year. McDonald's and Burger King are two of the many US corporations using lethal poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rainforest to create grazing pastures for cattle to be sent back to the States as burgers and pet food, and to provide fat-food packaging materials that end up as litter anyway.

The food itself can hardly be classified as food at all. It's JUNK; high in fat, sugar, MSG, animal products and salt (sodium), and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals. This kind of diet has been linked with cancers of the breast and bowel, high blood pressure, liver spots and heart disease. Monosodium Glutimate, or MSG is highly addictive and has been known to cause brain damage, cell death as well as ADHD and autism in children. Shall I even broach the obesity issue that's linked directly to McDonald's food? Not only is it complete junk for your body, all that fried oil that never digests and messes up your arteries and liver, but they encourage you to eat it fast too. Most locations have signs up giving their guests a 20 minute sitting limit. That means you have to gobble up all this junk as quick as you can, adding digestive problems to the long laundry list of issues you'll have just from the food itself.

This absolutely has earned the number 1 spot on my most toxic foods list, because I would rather eat each and every food on the list a hundred times than go for a McNasty burger ever again. If you've never seen the documentary, SuperSize Me, I suggest you do so. You can see it in several parts on YouTube for free.
For those who live in the US and can see on it Hulu, the link to the entire film is here.

I know this countdown was more preachy than entertaining, but at the very least I hope you learned something. Besides, I haven't been in much of a humorous mood lately. Maybe that'll change after December 1st when I get my life back. Who knows? Until then, I'll see you at the dinner table, bitches.

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