Three everyday groceries that can harm you

May 8, 2018 by Karl Gruber, Particle

Little things found in your pantry can harm you in unexpected ways.

Are you reading this article over breakfast? Then look deep into your bowl and quiver, because everywhere you look there might be something with the potential of harming you. Let's take a deeper look at three of them …


In ancient times, this spice was valuable. Very valuable. In fact, it was the most valued commodity after gold and silver at one point, used to preserve foods and even thought to ward off the plague. Back in those days, nutmeg trees grew only on the so-called Spice Islands—today called the Banda Islands. Nutmeg trade, along with that of cloves, ignited a fierce battle between various European countries, which ended with the trade of a little piece of land known today as Manhattan in exchange for control of the Banda Islands and their precious nutmeg trees.

Today, nutmeg is a common ingredient in many holiday treats. But too much of this festive spice can have you feeling less than jolly. Nutmeg contains a chemical called myristicin, a well known psychoactive drug. About three teaspoons of ground nutmeg are likely enough to kill you. Smaller amounts are known to cause hallucinogenic effects as well as symptoms like headaches, nausea and dizziness, dry mouth, bloodshot eyes and memory disturbances. But it's not all bad. Nutmeg is currently used in medical research to treat things like parasitic worms, colon cancer and chronic pain.

Beyond spices, do you have a sweet tooth? Then you might need to curb your taste for this popular sweet treat.

Sweet liquorice

Liquorice, used to make those black funny-looking candies, comes from the root of a plant called Glycyrrhiza, which literally means 'sweet root' in ancient Greek.

Famous for its natural sweetness, it has been used for ages in a large number of applications since ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times. In ancient China, for example, it was one of the most commonly prescribed ingredients for the treatment of gastric ulcers.

More recently, a 2016 study even found anti-cancer properties in liquorice extract. Other studies suggest it can help improve dental health and reduce inflammation.

But just don't overdo it. A recent study showed that a 45-year-old woman developed high blood pressure after drinking six cups a day of liquorice tea over several months. A little-known fact about liquorice is that it has a significant effect on blood pressure due to the action of glycyrrhizin in the kidney. This is the chemical responsible for the sweetness in liquorice.

OK, so easy on the nutmeg and the . Now, beware of this .

Yellowfin tuna

Too much of this go-to lunch snack could leave you in deep water. A 2017 study measured persistent organic pollutants (POPs) levels in yellowfin tuna from around the world. POPs are toxic chemicals that have been produced in different industries, from agriculture to industrial manufacturing and disease control. Today, they are found all around the environment where they affect wildlife both on land and at sea.

The study found that fish caught near industrialised areas, like the northeast Pacific Ocean and northeast Atlantic Ocean, had POPs levels up to 36 times higher compared to fish captured in more pristine waters such as the west Pacific Ocean. Such high levels of exposure to POPs have been linked to different health problems, like cancer, type 2 diabetes, obesity and male reproductive health. It has also been linked to early menopause in women.

To avoid exposure to POPs such as those that accumulate in the flesh of fish, be mindful of the fish you eat. Make sure to ask where the fish was caught and avoid any fish coming from heavily industrialised parts of the world.

Poisonous pantry favourites are one thing, but all in all, you should think twice about the things you eat and drink. A good place to start is this recent review from The Lancet on health and pollution.

And remember, you can have too much of a good thing.

Explore further: Pregnant women should avoid liquorice, new study confirms

Related Stories

Pregnant women should avoid liquorice, new study confirms

February 3, 2017
A new Finnish study supports food recommendations for families with children in that women should avoid consuming large amounts of liquorice during pregnancy. The limit for safe consumption is not known.

Not all holiday spice is nice, says toxicologist: Cinnamon, nutmeg and marshmallows abused for cheap thrills

December 19, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Watch your kitchen cupboards this season as thrill seekers look to common holiday baking ingredients for a rise – cinnamon, nutmeg and even marshmallows are the primary ingredients in an increasingly ...

Some great holiday foods for weight loss

December 13, 2017
(HealthDay)—Many of the foods most associated with holiday meals can actually be good for you and, because they're filling, leave you feeling satisfied with small servings.

Toxin-contaminated fish oil loses anti-cancer benefits

September 7, 2017
Weighing the health risks and rewards of eating fish and taking fish oil supplements is a tricky task. Fish oil, rich in healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, can protect against certain types of cancer, but many types of ...

Recommended for you

Students more likely to eat school breakfast when given extra time, new study finds

August 18, 2018
Primary school students are more likely to eat a nutritional breakfast when given 10 extra minutes to do so, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern University.

Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health

August 17, 2018
Eating carbohydrates in moderation seems to be optimal for health and longevity, suggests new research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Like shark attack and the lottery, unconscious bias influences cancer screening

August 17, 2018
What do shark attack, the lottery and ovarian cancer screening having in common? It turns out our judgments about these things are all influenced by unconscious bias.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.