Don’t let these make you sick.
PUBLISHED: MAY 8, 2014
Certain innocent-sounding foods can seriously mess with your system. Case in point: Just a few weeks ago, we posted a delicious roundup of rhubarb smoothie recipes from Instagram. (Yum, right?) As we pointed out, though, while rhubarb stalks are safe to eat, certain parts of the plant can be toxic.
Rhubarb isn’t the only food that’s partially poisonous, either, says Joan McVoy, R.N., a certified poison information specialist at the Nebraska Regional Poison Center. Here’s what you need to know about rhubarb and other potentially poisonous items:
While the tart stalk is full of antioxidants and calcium—and it’s definitely fair game for pies and smoothies—the roots and leaves contain oxalic acid, a toxin that can cause nausea, vomiting, and weakness—even if you ingest it in small amounts, says McVoy. A larger serving could even damage your kidneys and liver. So the next time you crave something like rhubarb strawberry crisp, trash the roots and leaves, then wash the stalk thoroughly before cooking.
If you’ve eaten fries more than once, you know that not all potatoes are poisonous. But when raw potatoes get too much light, a toxic chemical called solanine can develop—and that can cause diarrhea and vomiting for one to six days, says McVoy. The telltale sign of solanine is a greenish tint just under the potato’s skin. Affected potatoes might also grow little sprouts. Once you hack off the growths and use a peeler to remove the green layers, the potato is totally safe to eat, says McVoy. But if you’re concerned, just throw it out. And always store your spuds in a dark, cool place.
Fruit Seeds and Pits
Chances are, you’ve heard that certain seeds and pits are dangerous. And it’s true: Apples, pears, mangos, peaches, apricots, nectarines, and cherries all contain seeds and pits with amygdalin, a toxic chemical that can turn into another poisonous substance called hydrogen cyanide, says McVoy. These can cause all sorts of problems, like headaches, seizures, nausea, vomiting, and an elevated heart rate and blood pressure. The good news: “Unless you intentionally chew or break open the seeds, it’s highly unlikely to be poisoned by them,” says McVoy. “They usually pass through your system.” So don’t even think about cutting these foods from your diet—and don’t worry if you accidentally swallow a seed or two.
While grocery store ‘shrooms are totally safe to eat, it’s almost impossible to identify harmful mushrooms in the wild. That’s because there’s thousands of different kinds—and many of these can upset your stomach, lead to diarrhea and vomiting, and damage your liver and kidneys. The really scary part? Symptoms won’t appear until days later. And despite what you may have heard, cooking poisonous mushrooms doesn’t make them any safer. Your best bet is to avoid eating wild mushrooms altogether, says McVoy.
Cassava Root or Yucca
While you might not consider cassava root a kitchen staple, the starchy root vegetables are the most consumed carbohydrates in the world, says McVoy. The thing is, the sap inside the yucca leaves and roots contains toxic cyanide, which can upset your stomach, cause neurological problems, difficulty breathing, seizures, and heart problems, she says. To make sweet cassava root edible, you have to peel and cook it. Bitter cassava root is a bit trickier to prep: You peel, chop, soak, and boil it. To be safe, buy prepared yucca when possible, says McVoy.
Fiber-rich kidney beans may take chili to the next level, but they can really upset your stomach if you eat them raw. That’s because raw beans contain a poison called lectin, says McVoy. If you must cook with raw kidney beans, soak them for five hours and discard the water. Then boil them for 10 minutes and strain for safe eating. And if you want to make things even easier? Go with ready-to-eat canned beans.
Lima beans are a great source of protein, folate, and fiber—but they contain a toxin called limarin than can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. To keep them in your diet (which you should!), cook them at least 10 minutes before eating—or stick with canned lima beans to be safe.
And If You Accidentally Eat Something Poisonous…
Don’t freak out. McVoy says to call the National Poison Control Center to talk to an expert right away. They’ll let you know if you should seek medical help.