Saturday, January 25, 2014


Out of hundreds of plant foods consumed by man, one cannot imagine that some among them can be poisonous. But from time to time there are reports indicating that a few plants can harbor toxic metabolites produced by the plant to fight for its own survival. But it is doubtful whether a healthy individual can ever die because of eating plant foods considered edible. Still for those with compromised health conditions these foods can be fatal, if consumed in large quantities. One of the redeeming features is that most foods containing traces of toxic chemicals are processed or cooked which removes or reduces them to safe levels. Here is a report which highlights the occurrence of such foods in nature which are consumed regularly in one or other parts of the world with practically no fatality. 

"Fruits and vegetables are unquestionably essential to a healthful diet.
But there's another side to some of these plants that, thankfully, most people never see: the tiny amounts of toxins within them. The minute amounts of poison found in many seeds, leaves and roots are the result of the protracted arms race between plants and the animals that try to eat them. It's the reason why you've never shelled a cashew (the shells might make you break out in a poison ivy-style rash) or eaten green potato fries (read on for details). Most of the time, the human body manages to dispose of the toxins with minimal effort. But every now and then, an edible plant can be a problem. The recently revisited case of Christopher McCandless, the subject of Jon Krakauer's best-sellerInto the Wild, reminded us of this plant duality. In 1992, McCandless was found dead in the Alaskan wilderness. Because he had so little fat left on his body, the coroner concluded that he'd died of starvation. But the 24-year-old may have died from eating the seeds of the wild potato (Hedysarum alpinum), an edible plant. As Krakauer explained on All Things Considered last month, the plant's seeds contain a neurotoxin that is harmless to healthy people but can cause paralysis in a nutrient-starved body like that of McCandless, who was already lean and weak from months of trying to live off the land. Turns out, people eat plants like that all the time. Over the centuries, humans have come to recognize the dangerous side of these dinner options, and have often found safe preparation methods to get around them. Odds are, you've eaten them before without a second thought. Here's a look at just a few commonly eaten plants that can sometimes turn their defenses on us":

Whether this report is trying to scare people out of their wits or just a cautionary guide for taking precautions is not clear. But the facts mentioned deserve attention and those who regularly eat the foods listed, will be better advised to be alert to this danger. With many varieties of same crop such as potato available in the market, how can the consumer know which one has higher toxic content and avoid them? Economic compulsions some time compel people to eat certain foods like Kesari dal (Lathyrus pulse) which can cause paralysis if not properly prepared before cooking. Similarly Tapioca or Cassava or Manioc is a staple food in Kerala in India and in some African countries as people there are habituated to this food. Probably governments in these places must ban cultivation of those crops/varieties which are high in some of the toxic substances and rigorously enforce the ban. 


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