There’s no denying that if you want to live a long and healthy life, adopting a healthy diet is key. After all, studies have shown that a healthy diet and quality eating patterns can reduce your risk for premature mortality significantly. But like most things in life, there’s a catch. Under the right set of circumstances, even some of the foods we view as healthy can become potentially dangerous if you eat too much of them, or if they’re not prepared correctly.
But which healthy foods are capable of potentially posing a toxic threat, and what’s the best way to make sure you’re only eating foods that are safe to consume? And how and why does this happen in the first place? We spoke to several nutrition experts and a medical doctor to help answer these questions.
“There are a few reasons why the food we may think is good for us could actually harm us,” Dr. Beth McCampbell, MD, a physician at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, tells Eat This, Not That! “Common causes are undiagnosed or unrecognized food allergies, or when a food allergen is inadvertently or unknowingly ingested by someone, food that has spoiled or is not properly cooked, or food that is only safe if eaten a certain way. If you are pregnant or immunocompromised, you may be more susceptible to infections, so there are many foods that you shouldn’t eat that would normally be relatively safe.”
Brown rice may be considered a nutrient-dense whole grain, but this fiber-filled pantry staple may also contain inorganic arsenic. And according to Consumer Reports, consistent exposure to arsenic can increase your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as skin, bladder, and liver cancer.
“Foods that contain brown rice can really add up when it comes to the carcinogenic heavy metal arsenic, since arsenic builds up in the otherwise healthy, fiber-filled, and antioxidant-rich outer layers of the grain,” say the Nutrition Twins, Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, CLT, and Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT, CLT. “These layers are stripped off white rice during processing, so brown rice has 80% more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice.”
“Arsenic is found in rice cereal, rice pasta, rice cakes, and rice drinks,” they add.
The key to consuming these brown rice and brown rice-based products without worrying about it is to simply be mindful of how much you consume, and eat them in moderation.
“Brown rice is healthier than white rice in many other ways, but you don’t want to overdo it,” the Twins say. “So be sure to get variety, since arsenic is likely to build up if you, for example, drink rice milk and eat brown rice every day.”
Mussels, oysters, clams, scallops, crab, shrimp, lobster, and the like may pose a toxic threat to your health depending on what these shellfish consumed while still in the sea, and this contamination risk is especially prevalent in shellfish that inhabit mild or tropical waters. As the CDC notes, “Toxins originate in small marine organisms (dinoflagellates or diatoms) that are ingested and are concentrated by shellfish.”
Symptoms of shellfish poisoning can include gastroenteritis, dizziness, disorientation, lethargy, short-term memory loss, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and in more serious cases, respiratory difficulty, seizures, coma, and even death. One of the more notable shellfish poisoning outbreaks occurred in Prince Edward Island, Canada, in 1987. This resulted in over 100 people falling ill after eating contaminated mussels; there were even a few fatalities.