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Memories of the 28th Century

Dangerous Foods

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Today I was offered potentially dangerous foods twice, and I walked past a usually dangerous plant twice also. It occurred to me again that humans consume lots of things that are dangerous, some toxic and some usually leading to disease. Humans eat all sorts of strange things that they might be better off avoiding. There are the obvious ones like almond of apricot, cherry pits, peach pits and leaves, puffer fish, etc., but there are people who eat strange and clearly dangerous foods. One that comes to mind is castor oil. Castor oil is used as an emetic, but an overdose could kill, and during WW II Mussolini’s secret police use it as a torture; there’s a slightly humorous description of that use in The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco. The difference between a medical use and a lethal use is the dose, or so they say. But there are vegetables that have no medical use that are pretty toxic. One that I don’t understand why people eat it is Poke Weed, and there are people who eat Poke Salad, because the young leaves of some varieties are edible sometimes, but they taste bad, and are indistinguishable from varieties that are definitely toxic. Almonds are delicious, and the amount of toxin is very small, so I can understand people gambling on the related plants apricots and peaches, especially since those aren’t always dangerous, only most of the time.
While I’m thinking about seeds of fruits, apple seeds come to mind. They actually taste kind of good, if you eat a few, but they can kill in quantiles that a normal person might eat; about a cup is usually lethal; they contain cyanide.

When I started this, I was thinking about beans, and all beans have some level of toxins. There are many. I just did a search for bean toxins and got a list of seven foods that could kill (see link below) you; although I kind of doubt that kidney beans could kill; although they have toxins that are potentially lethal. See the article “Eating Raw or Undercooked Beans is Dangerous” (link below); the article explains that beans contain lectins, and lectins are thought to exist to discourage animals and other pests from eating the raw beans.” Lectins act by giving one diarrhea, so it is rare that people will die from the lectins, because they are eliminated so quickly, but someone in poor health who ate a large amount of red kidney beans might become dehydrated. This article doesn’t go into detail about green beans, but those should be cooked for a long time also; al dente green beans could be trouble.

The article “7 Everyday Foods That Just Happen To Be Poisonous” Lists the usual suspects, and the list topper is Blowfish, which some people eat, even though it can be deadly.

Other common toxins to avoid are phytoestrogens, any of several compounds that mimic estrogen. Just how bad it can be is in question. Apparently some small animals have reproductive problems after eating them, and they may be partly to blame for problems in amphibian populations, but there are doubts as to whether they are dangerous to humans. Apparently studies have found no effect in males from eating plant sources of phytoestrogens, but the results are not as clear for women. Some studies have found no problems, while others have found increased tumor growth in women with cancer. I have read that eating soy can alter a woman’s menstrual cycle. While soy beans are generally thought of as the highest in phytoestrogens, the chart indicates that flaxseeds have greater concentrations.

There are many other foods that may cause some toxic reaction, and some may even kill some people. Individuals have different tolerances to various chemicals, so something that makes you sick may do nothing to most people, and vice versa. There also are some varieties of the same species that could have different effects. For example, rape seed oil was generally avoided, because it contained 50% erucic acid, and wild seeds also contain high levels of glucosinolates. Glucosinolatesare what gives mustard and other vegetables a sharp flavor; this made rapeseed oil less desirable as an oil. Rape was genetically modified to decrease those components, and it is now called Canola. As I understand it, rapeseed oil is edible, but the flavor is not very good. There probably are other altered plants of this sort, but I can't think of them.

If you are planning to get rid of some acquaintances, then you might have them over for dinner and start with Poke Salad, the main course can be blowfish, and for dessert (if the blowfish isn't enough) you could have peach pie that includes the peach almonds and some peach leaves as a garnish.

There are many plants that produce toxins in various concentrations. It has been pointed out that the dosage is the difference between medicine or food and poison, but I can't think of any reason to eat any part of the Poke Weed. Then there is Oxalic acid, which is found in many plants but most notably in rhubarb. In Rhubarb the concentration varies in different parts of the plant; the stalks have rather low concentrations, while the leaves have the highest concentrations. I was told when I was young that one should never eat the leaves, because they are poison. Apparently there is controversy now about the ill effects of oxalic acid. The sources that I have seen say that it precipitates calcium, thus causing kidney stones, but there seems to be some disagreement about how the process goes on, and it appears to vary from person to person. It might take a few pounds of Rhubarb leaves to make trouble for me, but my mother might have been right when I was five years old; it might have been possible or to eat enough to produce negative effects.

Links for additional information
Interesting list with a few items that I didn't think of

Chart of phytoestrogen content, scroll down for combined chart

Rapeseed and Canola

Another food to have only if it has been suitably treated

Oxalic acid info