As part of io9's ongoing attempts to make you a hollow, timid shell of the person you used to be, we try to illuminate all the ways the world is trying to kill you. We've gone over death by asteroid, vampire, and virus, and have finally gotten to death by grocery list. Find out the toxic elements in all your favorite foods.
That's right. Your number one comfort food is trying to off you. That's what you get for mashing it. Potatoes contain small amounts of a kind of chemical called solanines in their stems, leaves, and eyes. These chemicals are a natural fungicide and pesticide that the potato uses as defense. As the spuds get older, they accumulate solanine, which turns them a green color. Every potato contains about 8-13 milligrams, and about 200 milligrams can make people sick. Eating a lot of old potatoes, or making potato leaf tea, can make people to hallucinate, turn hypothermic, feel nausea, and to develop neurological problems. Amazingly, there are still occasional cases of death by potato.
Cashews contain urushiol. Doesn't sound very deadly - more like a minor orc in Lord of the Rings - but it's found in something feared by campers everywhere. Poison Ivy contains urushiol, and everyone knows what it does. Now imagine eating it. Cashews are only bad for you if you eat a huge amount, but urushiol reactions do happen to workers in plants where cashews are processed all day.
The stems or rhubarb are cooked to add a little something to a pie. The leaves are cooked to get that inheritance you've been waiting for for all these years. Rhubarb contains oxalates in manageable levels in the stems. In the leaves, they are deadly, especially if cooked with soda to make them water soluble. Rhubarb leaves are also believed to contain some kind of special, unidentified toxin. That toxin hasn't been studied, since most experts agree that one kind of deadly poison is enough to tell people to stop eating a food without further examination.
7. Egg whites
If you're going to eat that egg white omelet, (And really, you shouldn't, because what's the point? Is your life really so bad that you have to punish yourself with that? What did you do? Poison your grandmother with rhubarb? Even she would've wanted you to allow yourself a yolk or two.) make sure it's cooked. Egg whites contain trypsin inhibitors, which stop you from being able to digest protein and lead to a slow, miserable death. Lima beans contain these, too. So if you're really that guilt-ridden, you can make undercooked egg white and lima bean omelets every day and see which kills you first; the trypsin inhibitors or the ennui. I'm guessing it will be the ennui.
6. Whole wheat and rye bread
If you get tired of those omelets, you can supplement your diet with whole wheat or rye. These contain phytic acid, which is so horrible that it is called the 'anti-nutrient'. It stops you from taking in calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. The acid contains an insoluble salt that binds to these nutrients, making it impossible for you to digest them.
5. Kidney beans
Phytohaemagglutinin is a nasty little number that can make cell membranes too permeable, letting all sorts of undesirable elements in and making someone lose control of their body and bodily functions. This is why the first signals of such poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea. The chemical also triggers cell mitosis. These symptoms can pop up after just a few beans have been consumed. Cooking at over 100 degrees destroys the toxin, but kidney beans are so suspect that it's recommended that they are soaked for at least five hours before cooking, and that the water they're soaked in be thrown away.
4. Almonds, cherries, apples, apricots, and many other seeds
The fruit mentioned isn't dangerous, but it houses a danger. The seeds of all of these, when ground up or even bruised, produces hydrogen cyanide. Yes, the pill that they gave spies to kill themselves if they got captured might have been made from ground-up almonds. Another word for hydrogen cyanide is prussic acid. History buffs will recognize it as a poison asked for at a chemists by Lizzie Borden, presumably to kill her parents. She was denied, because an era that sold heroin over the counter thought prussic acid was too dangerous to give out. That's why she turned to the ax. She might have just tried baking them an almond cake.
And not just in the way you think. Shiitake and white button mushrooms contain large amounts of carcinogenic compounds when they're raw. Mice grow tumors more often if they've been fed on mushrooms.
2. Every green thing you've ever eaten
Cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach are all murderers. Also peaches, strawberries, and pears. Cauliflower. Bamboo shoots. All these contain goitrogens, which take out your thyroid and prevent iodine uptake. They cause enlarged thyroids over time. Soy also has it. In short - don't eat anything good for you.
1. Castor Beans
You might think you don't eat these, but you do. They're most famous for being in castor oil, but they're also in most sweets like chocolate and processed candies. So what? So they contain ricin. Ricin is a deadly poison. It is so deadly, that it was given to assassins during the Cold War. They would have umbrellas which, when jabbed against someone's leg, would fire ricin pellets. About 0.2 milligrams is enough to kill someone within four days. It dissolves completely - when properly administered, and leaves little to no trace. So the next time someone gives you a box of chocolates, it could be that they're trying to kill you on a day too sunny to carry an umbrella.