Do you know that many supposed “healthy” foods contain toxins and compounds that can undermine your health and wellbeing? Truth is, many naturally occurring ingredients in produce and foods inhibit nutrient absorption and increase inflammation in the body, contributing to the risk of cancer.
Because the spectrum of symptoms is so broad, many people don’t make the connection between the foods they consume and the symptoms they feel.
Sniffling, sneezing, fatigue, anxiety and depression, feelings of stress, disturbed sleep, memory issues, headaches, joint pain, eczema, and more.
Think of (lymphatic) inflammation as the toxic load being carried in the body. If we reduce the toxic load in the body while increasing its nourishment, the results should be a stronger, more resilient immune system and a healthier, more vital body.
Reduce inflammation and increase nutrition to support cancer prevention.
Learn the common, everyday food items that may be undermining your health so that you can reduce/eliminate the offenders from your diet and the food preparation/cooking techniques that can neutralize their ill effects.
Toxins Occur Naturally in Many Foods & Produce
From Healthy Eating Politics, “The toxins in food are not limited to manmade chemicals. There are several toxins which are found in natural foods. Some can be neutralized through the proper preparation techniques of soaking, fermenting or cooking the food substance, others are poisonous in any form.” Also, consider Plant Paradox.
Antinutrients Interfere with Absorption
From Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life, “Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds found in a variety of foods — especially grains, beans, legumes and nuts — that interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They can even get in the way of the digestive enzymes, which are key for proper absorption.”
Food Sensitivities Vary by Individual
And “… keep in mind, in sensitive individuals and when eaten in very high concentrations, even “good antinutrients” can inhibit digestion of copper, iron, zinc and vitamin B1, along with enzymes, proteins and starches found in plant foods. It all depends on someone’s unique reaction, so it’s key that you tune in to your own reactions to different foods so you can adjust your diet accordingly.”
Food Sensitivity Testing
Consider having food items muscle-tested or tested by your functional health professional for sensitivity in your body.
For any item you (suspect you) are sensitive to, Google: “foods rich in [______]” or “foods that contain [______]”. Then reduce/eliminate these food items.
Keep in mind that testing each item in the list with some frequency over time is a good way of determining what your body is reacting negatively to at any given time, and that your sensitivities may change with time and worsen with aging.
List of Foods with Toxins or Antinutrients
Below is a list of some food toxins that may cause sensitivities, inflammation, and potential gut or health issues. For details on each, click to expand any item in the list. Be advised: Unless you are a subscriber to Dr. Axe, you will have to copy each URL/link address and paste it into your browser to see the articles whose links are included herein.
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There are at least 23 Effects of Alcohol on Your Body. While Body & Soul says “just one drink a day can drastically increase your risk of cancer”, light to moderate consumption can contribute to conditions that consumers may not recognize: agitation, anxiety, arthritis, cancer, diarrhea, dementia, disturbed sleep, feelings of stress, gut dysbiosis, memory loss, organ diseases, including heart and liver, osteoporosis, pancreatitis, skin conditions, stomach problems, sleep issues, stroke, sweating, weight gain and more. Learn why alcohol is much more than just “empty calories” at: DrinkAware.
Alkaloids, Solanines and/or Chaconines (in nightshades)
Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are popular nightshades that contain alkaloids. Consider alkaloids in nightshades and their impacts on health.
Regarding potatoes, a toxic alkaloid is found in high concentrations in the green patches on and just under potato skins and eyes. From Healthy Eating Politics, solanine has both fungicidal and pesticidal properties, and it is one of the plant’s natural defenses.
The human body converts solanines into a poison called solanidine. Solanine poisoning is primarily displayed by gastrointestinal and neurological disorders. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning of the throat, heart arrhythmia, headache and dizziness. Hallucinations, loss of sensation, paralysis, fever, jaundice, dilated pupils and hypothermia have been reported in more severe cases.
Experts say that a hundred grams of raw potatoes contain between 2 and 13 milligrams of solanine. Experts believe that doses of 200 milligrams of solanine eaten at one sitting may cause problems.
You can avoid solanine and another similar toxin called chaconine by avoiding green potatoes. Exposure to light or stress (or even aging) causes a potato to synthesize a green pigment called chlorophyll. Light, stress, and aging also cause the potato to produce chaconine and solanine.
The appearance of chlorophyll is a warning that something is wrong with the potato. You should also avoid eating potato peels. About 30% to 80% of the toxin content of a potato is in its peel. Fortunately, these compounds are not well absorbed by the gastrointestinal system and are soon eliminated in the feces.
Found in corn and plants of the Solanaceae family, including potatoes, choconine can cause digestive issues, especially when uncooked and eaten in high amounts.
Learn more from Dr. Axe’s What Are Nightshade Vegetables? How to Find Out If You’re Sensitive to Them.
“The acidity of coffee is associated with digestive discomfort, indigestion, heart burn, GERD and dysbiosis (imbalances in your gut flora).” In addition, it can: be dehydrating and demineralizing; increase stress hormones, high blood pressure and arrhythmias, homocysteine levels, and insulin resistance; and decrease serotonin levels, promoting anxiety and depression… and more. Learn about these concepts and why “Coffee is not part of the medicine required for your healing.” at Ten Reasons to Quit Your Coffee!
Google: “dairy sensitivity” for many articles on dairy and lactose intolerance, then “foods rich in dairy” or “foods that contain dairy” if you intend to reduce/eliminate dairy from your diet.
Google: “egg sensitivity” for many articles on egg, egg white and egg yoke sensitivities and allergies, then “foods that contain egg” if you intend to reduce/eliminate eggs from your diet.
Aflatoxin: carcinogenic toxins in food which is produced by the Aspergillus flavus fungus. This fungus can contaminate foods such as grain, nuts and legumes such as peanuts. Aflatoxin-producing members of Aspergillus are common and widespread in nature. They can contaminate grain before harvest or during storage. Aspergillus lives in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and rancid grains and nuts. Crops which are frequently infected include:
- Grains such as corn, sorghum, pearl millet, rice, and wheat
- Oilseeds such as peanuts, soybeans, sunflower seeds, and cottonseeds
- Spices such as chile peppers, black pepper, coriander, turmeric and ginger
- Tree nuts including almonds, pistachios, walnuts, coconuts, and brazil nuts
- Milk of animals which are fed contaminated feed
- Peanut butter contains minute quantities of aflatoxin.
Ergot: a toxin produced when the Claviceps Purpurea mold infects rye and other grains. In medieval times, outbreaks of the disease “ergotism” were common and known as St. Anthony’s fire. The name was in reference the severe burning sensations in the limbs caused by vasoconstriction of blood vessels. The vasoconstriction sometimes resulted in gangrene and loss of limbs due to severely restricted blood circulation. The neurological symptoms of an ergot infection included hallucinations and irrational behavior, convulsions, and death.
From Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life, “Known to be one of the most difficult-to-digest plant proteins, gluten is an enzyme inhibitor that has become notorious for causing gastrointestinal distress. Not only can gluten cause digestive problems, but it can contribute to leaky gut syndrome or autoimmune disease, allergic reactions, and cognitive problems as well. Gluten sensitivity is classified as a group of symptoms related to negative reactions to the gluten protein found in all wheat, rye and barley plants.
The severe form of gluten sensitivity, a true allergy to gluten, is celiac disease — but gluten can also cause other less severe symptoms in a much larger percentage of people, including joint pain, headaches, fatigue and poor memory.”
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.
GMOs come with controversy over the consequences to the health of humans and the planet.
From Healthy Eating Politics, Goitrogens are a “class of toxins in food which suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake. Long term exposure can cause an enlargement of the thyroid (goiter). Foods containing these substances include soybeans (and soybean products such as tofu), pine nuts, peanuts, millet, strawberries, pears, peaches, spinach, bamboo shoots, radishes, horseradish, and vegetables in the genus Brassica (bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, canola, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabagas, and turnips.”
From Everything You Need To Know About Histamine Intolerance & Low-Histamine Diets, “Histamine is a chemical involved in your immune system, proper digestion, and your central nervous system. In an allergic response, an allergen stimulates the release of antibodies, which attach themselves to mast cells. When histamine is released from the mast cells it may cause one or more of the following symptoms: Eyes to itch, burn, or become watery. Nose to itch, sneeze, and produce more mucus.”
For common symptoms of histamine intolerance, causes of high histamine levels, and histamine-rich (and low) foods, consider Everything You Need To Know About Histamine Intolerance.
From Healthy Eating Politics, “Hydrazines: volatile carcinogens found in many raw mushrooms, including shiitake and the white button mushrooms common to the grocery store produce section. Mice display a significant increase in the incidence of several types of tumors after they are fed uncooked mushrooms. Cooking the mushrooms destroys a third of the hydrazine compounds.”
Industrial seed oils
Many industrial seed oils (soybean, canola, safflower, corn, cottonseed, sunflower, etc.) are considered toxic, due to over refining and rancidity, while organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed avocado, olive and coconut oils are considered to add to good health. Consider Dr. Axe’s Top 8 Healthy Cooking Oils (Plus, the Ones to Avoid Entirely).
Isoflavones and Flavonoids
From Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life, Isoflavones” are a type of polyphenolic antinutrient found in highest levels in soybeans that might cause hormonal changes and contribute to digestive issues. In smaller doses and when beans have been properly prepared, this can also be beneficial, but it’s usually recommended to avoid soybeans because isoflavones are capable of exerting estrogen-like effects. For this reason, they’re classified as phytoestrogens and considered endocrine disruptors — plant-derived compounds with estrogenic activity that might result in harmful changes in hormone levels.”
Flavonoids are another group of antinutrients found in “healthy” sources, including tea, coffee, wine and certain other whole plant foods. Unfortunately, even positive antinutrients can inhibit mineral absorption to some degree but are relatively harmless (and even beneficial) as long as you don’t overconsume them.
Foods with a high flavonoid content include onions, blueberries and other berries, black and green teas, bananas and all citrus, red wine, and dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa).
From Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life, lectins are found in high quantities in beans and wheat, which reduce nutrient absorption and can cause indigestion, bloating and gas for many people. One of the most nutritionally important features of plant lectins is their ability to survive digestion by the gastrointestinal tract, which means they can penetrate cells lining the digestive tract and cause a loss of gut epithelial cells, damage the membranes of the epithelium lining, interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption, stimulate shifts in the bacterial flora, and trigger autoimmune reactions.
Lectins can cause GI upset similar to classical food poisoning and immune responses like joint pain and rashes. Improperly prepared raw grains, dairy and legumes like peanuts, and soybeans have especially high lectin levels.
From Healthy Eating Politics, lectins: toxic protein compounds found in most foods, but in heavy amounts in many seeds, grains and legumes. Large amounts of lectins can damage the heart, kidneys and liver, lower blood clotting ability, destroy the lining of the intestines, and inhibit cell division. Cooking neutralizes lectins to some extent, and digestive juices further destroy them. People living at high altitudes, where water boils well below 212 degrees should cook lectin containing foods in pressure cookers to avoid lectin poisoning. Lectin toxins in food are found in:
- Grains, especially wheat and wheat germ but also quinoa, rice, buckwheat, oats, rye, barley, millet and corn, and all products made from them (oils, vinegars, alcohols, flours, etc).
- Legumes (all dried beans, including soy and peanuts and the products made from them).
- Dairy foods, if the cows producing the milk are fed grains instead of grass (this would include most commercial milk products).
- Plants in the Nightshade family, including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.”
- From Healthy Eating Politics: The lethal toxin Ricin is made from castor beans, which contain large quantities of a particularly deadly lectin. Raw black beans contain enough lectins to kill rats in one week.
This article discusses in depth the health effects of lectin consumption.
In addition, this paper discusses the ability of lectins to bind to insulin receptors on your cells, enabling the transport of glucose into the cell, much like insulin does. The import of this is that even vegetables and nuts, which are staples in a low carb diet, can stall weight loss if they contain active lectins which mimic insulin.
From Leptin Rich Foods and their Side Effects, leptin is a hormone made and secreted by fat-storing cells. It regulates energy usage and expenditure, glucose and fat metabolism, and neuroendocrine and immune function. Leptin decreases fat production and hunger and many thought that it would be effective in treating obesity. However, obesity is accompanied by leptin resistance, meaning leptin does not work well in the body.
Some people have become leptin-resistant (like becoming insulin-resistant) through continuous overexposure to a diet high in sugar, grains, and processed foods. As sugar gets metabolized in fat cells, they release surges in leptin. Over time, the body can become resistant, just as it can become resistant to insulin.
Leptin resistance is extremely common in overweight and obese people and is similar to insulin resistance in diabetics. Leptin resistance occurs because leptin transport into the hypothalamus — the area of the brain that controls appetite — shuts down to prevent overload of leptin messages. The result is high circulating leptin levels, but no leptin reaching the brain where it can have a regulating effect on appetite. As a result, hunger messages prevail and lead to overeating and weight gain.
To re-establish proper leptin (and insulin) sensitivity, a whole food diet that emphasizes healthy fats and avoids blood sugar spikes with targeted supplements can enhance insulin and leptin sensitivity so that the brain can once again hear the feedback signals from these hormones.
In “The Leptin Diet: How Fit is Your Fat,” Byron Richards suggests that eating excessive carbohydrates and snacking may be your biggest hurdles to re-establishing leptin sensitivity. High carbohydrate foods that contain simple starches like white flour and potatoes, along with highly processed foods containing sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, all contribute to decreased leptin sensitivity. Eating large meals or eating too frequently can also lead to a decrease in leptin sensitivity.
Eating foods that balance leptin levels can help to reestablish leptin sensitivity and turn leptin’s signals to the brain back on. According to Byron Richards, having protein for breakfast is one step you can take to begin to restore leptin sensitivity. Richards also recommends fiber-rich foods and leafy greens. The book World’s Healthiest Foods also recommends fish as a food that helps to regulate leptin levels in the body.
From Healthy Eating Politics: Most people with food intolerances have digestive issues with wheat and dairy products. The common factor between these foods seems to be the opiate-like substances produced when the proteins from these foods are broken down during digestion. These opiate substances act on the body’s internal opioid receptors, and can alter the perception of pain and affect respiration, digestion and mood. These opiate substances are found in the following proteins:
- Casomorphin (milk)
- Gluten exorphin (wheat gluten)
- Gliadorphin/gluteomorphin (wheat gluten)
- Rubiscolin (spinach)
Consider Low Oxalate Diet to learn more and to see the lists of oxalate content in foods. Beware – high oxalate consumption can contribute to leaky gut.
Phytates and phytic acid
Phytates and phytic acid are listed #1 in Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life. From Healthy Eating Politics, they are “compounds found in many foods, but especially soybeans, whole wheat and rye. In the human gut, phytic acid acts as an anti-nutrient. It reduces the absorption of valuable minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc by binding the minerals into an insoluble salt.
Relatively high concentrations of phytic acid occur in the following foods: whole grain cereal foods (wheat, rye, rice, oats), nuts and seeds, soybeans, other types of beans, potatoes, artichokes, blackberries, broccoli, carrots, figs, green beans and strawberries. Soaking or sprouting the grain foods will neutralize much of the phytic acid, except in soybeans, which must be cooked for more than 10 hours at very high temperatures to remove the anti-nutrients.”
From Healthy Eating Politics, psoralens are “natural toxins in food products such as celery, parsley and parsnips. These compounds sensitize the skin to the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, and as such are said to be photocarcinogenic. They are not destroyed by normal cooking procedures (boiling or microwave)… Psoralens are used to treat pigment disorders of the skin and other skin diseases such as psoriasis and nonmelanoma skin cancers.”
From webMD.com, “Salicylates are chemicals found in plants and are a major ingredient in aspirin and other pain-relieving medications. They’re also naturally in many fruits and vegetables, as well as in many common health and beauty products.”
For salicylate sensitivity symptoms and content by food item, consider Salicylate Foods – Sensitivity, Intolerances and Food List.
From Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life, “Similar to lectins, saponins affect the gastrointestinal lining, contributing to leaky gut syndrome and autoimmune disorders. They’re particularly resistant to digestion by humans and have the ability to enter the bloodstream and trigger immune responses.”
Not only does excess sugar consumption impact metabolism and blood sugar levels, it also contributes to an acidic pH, feeds unhealthy flora and cancer, and contributes to obesity, diabetes and many chronic disease states.
Google: “sugar health risks,” then “foods high in sugar” and “sugar content in fruits” if you intend to reduce/eliminate sugar from your diet.
Learn how fructose (fruits) bypass insulin secretion, whereas glucose metabolism invokes an insulin response.
Listed #3 in Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life, tannins “are a type of enzyme inhibitor that prevent adequate digestion and can cause protein deficiency and gastrointestinal problems. Because we need enzymes to properly metabolize food and usher nutrients to our cells, molecules that inhibit enzymes can cause bloating, diarrhea, constipation and other GI issues.”
From Healthy Eating Politics, trysin inhibitors are “toxins in food that reduce the availability of trypsin, an enzyme essential to protein digestion and metabolism for humans and animals. They are found in abundance in soybeans, and in lesser amounts in raw egg whites and lima beans.”
From Dr. Axe’s 10 Antinutrients to Get Out of Your Diet … and Life, “Trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors are found in most grain-containing products, including cereals, porridge, breads and even baby foods. They seem to be degraded well by heat processing and cooking but can still cause problems like mineral deficiencies for young infants, children and anyone with reduced pancreatic function.”
Wheat, even organic
Click here to learn why wheat is inflammatory and perhaps worse than GMOs.