While it certainly would not be a great idea to scare people away from eating nutritious foods that can lead to better health, a fully-informed consumer is better able to make choices that could help them avoid sickness, injury, and in extreme cases, death when eating certain foods. Fortunately, it’s quite rare that someone dies from eating the wrong thing, but even if just one person per year dies that way, would you want to be that person? Dangerous toxins and compounds may be lurking in places you would least expect them, so it’s good to know where you should exercise a bit of caution, even if you are eating something you thought could never harm you. These are some foods that can be deadly.
This vegetable is probably not one you will find in the fridge all the time but is popular with some folks who enjoy making things like jams, jellies, and desserts like strawberry-rhubarb pie. What’s tricky about rhubarb is that only the stalks are safe to eat. The leaves have a chemical known as oxalic acid in them, which is used to make things like bleach and rust removers, which gives you an idea how potent it can be. As might be expected, ingesting this stuff can cause burning in the mouth and throat, and if you eat enough, it can cause vomiting, convulsions and even death.
Who doesn’t love cherries? Well, some people probably don’t care for them, but for those that do, it’s important to avoid eating the pits. They are extremely hard and are more likely to break the teeth of people that try to crack them by biting on them, so what’s the problem then? It’s the inside of the pit, which can contain a substance that turns into cyanide when it’s crushed. The same is true for peaches, apricots, and plums. The key is to avoid eating any pits that have been broken open. Swallowing a cherry pit whole will probably not cause any problems at all, so don’t worry too much if you do that accidentally.
3. Puffer Fish
It’s unlikely that many of us will ever come across this unless we are in an Asian market or Japanese restaurant. The Japanese consider the puffer fish to be a delicacy, but the problem with this seafood is that parts of it are absolutely deadly poison! This isn’t a case where eating the poisonous bits will make you a little sick for a few days – it’s quite likely that it will be the last thing you ever do. Japanese chefs that prepare this dish are specially trained to remove all the poisonous parts of the fish but even they sometimes make mistakes that result in the death of diners.
This is probably one that few of us have heard about. It comes from West Africa and is relative to the better-known lychee fruit which is used in Asian cuisine. Once Ackee is fully ripened, it should be no problem to eat, but eating it before that time may expose you to poison that can kill. It is reported to have killed 23 people and sickened almost 200 more in Jamaica in 2011, but if you are still hankering to try it, it can be purchased in some locations frozen or canned.
5. Castor Oil
Any big fan of the hit television series Breaking Bad would probably know that castor beans can be used to make ricin, a particularly potent and deadly poison. In fact, one single castor bean contains enough ricin to kill more than 1,000 people! Although castor oil is normally prepared properly and does not contain any poison, be cautious of manufacturers that do not have a proven track record of producing a safe product. One little slip-up when working with castor beans could easily end up being fatal.
Although people are probably spending less time looking for things to eat outdoors than in years past, there are still quite a few folks that enjoy foraging in wooded areas for treats like blueberries, raspberries and other edible things that grow in the wild. Although many people are familiar with elderberry jam or even elderberry wine, it’s important to know that cooking or processing elderberries first is what makes them safe to eat. It’s not a good idea to pick them in the wild and simply eat them since they contain glycosides that can turn into cyanide when they are ingested. As always, it’s important to stick with eating things in the wild that you are absolutely sure about and not taking chances on something that “looks” like it might be tasty or bears a resemblance to something you know is safe to eat.
7. Wild Almonds
Speaking of things that are “wild,” here’s something that’s good to know for people that have this growing in their area. Wild almonds contain cyanide, which is definitely something you don’t want to be snacking on in the wild or anywhere else. These almonds require processing to neutralize the poison in them before they can be eaten. As few as 5 to 10 wild almonds can kill a child and 50 or so are likely to be fatal to an adult.
8. Lima Beans
Lima beans may be one of those things that most people either love or hate, with the haters probably outnumbering the lovers by a wide margin. While they may be healthy when cooked properly, these beans are not the type you want to be eating fresh out of the garden. Prior to being properly cooked, lima beans contain something called linamarin, which may not sound all that bad until you find out that it turns into hydrogen cyanide after it is eaten. The word “cyanide” is all you should need to hear to know that it is something you should stay far away from.
There are those of us who find it hard to imagine indulging in a little traditional holiday eggnog without sprinkling a bit of nutmeg on top, and that’s perfectly OK and is not a treat to your health. What you need to watch out for is enjoying nutmeg a little too much. In large quantities, this stuff is toxic and can result in a condition known as myristicin poisoning, which in some cases can lead to death. Again, using it to spice up eggnog or a batch of cookies is no big deal, but avoid consuming it by the spoonful. That may sound stupid, but if you have ever heard of the “cinnamon challenge,” you know that stupid sometimes happens.
Here’s something that poses no risk to most people (unless they choke on one) but can be absolutely deadly for people that are allergic. Peanuts are one of the most common food allergies known to man, and here’s what makes it even scarier: A peanut allergy can develop at any time during your life – even if you never had a single sign of it before! That’s why it is best to see your doctor if you start showing even subtle signs of a peanut allergy such as experiencing itching around your mouth after eating them.