12 Plant toxins in your food

12 Plant toxins in your food
Vegetable Market, Bologna, Italy. Hatef Yamini © 2024


We’re told that plants are not only good for us, but also essential for our health. The experts tell us we need an abundance of fruits and vegetables. They point to scientific studies, of course, so it must be true, right? The reality is quite different from what we’ve been told and what is commonly believed.

For their part, consumers have dutifully followed the advice to eat more plants, as evidenced by the growth of the plant-based food market.

The global plant-based food market is expected to reach 77.8 billion U.S. dollars in 2025. Further growth is expected. The forecast projects that by 2030 the market will have more than doubled. For 2022, the model expects a market worth 44.2 billion U.S. dollars.
— (Nils-Gerrit Wunsch. Global plant-based food market size 2020-2030. Statista, Mar 26, 2024)

Naturally Occurring Plant Toxins

What is not commonly known, is that plants also contain toxins. Plants use these toxins as insecticides and fungicides to protect themselves from predators. In some cases, the toxins are deadly to humans. Most of the time, the bioaccumulation of the toxins lead to adverse health effects and most people have no idea they’re slowly poisoning themselves with their favorite green smoothie.

“The prevailing bias is that plant foods and the compounds they contain are appropriate, beneficial, and even necessary for health—and so they can’t possibly be bad for us. Our simplistic adoration of plants systematically ignores a vast amount of contrary evidence.”
— Toxic Superfoods: How Oxalate Overload Is Making You Sick--and How to Get Better by Sally K. Norton

Index of Naturally Occurring Food Toxins of Plant Origin

In their book, “Analysis of Naturally Occurring Food Toxins of Plant Origin,” Nollet and Ahmed identified 20 naturally occurring plant toxins in five major groups.

The Five Groups

  1. Cyanogenic glycosides
  2. Furocoumarins
  3. Lectins
  4. Glycoalkaloids
  5. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids

Plant Toxins to Avoid

  1. b-Thujone
  2. Prussic acid
  3. Hypericin
  4. Goitrogens
  5. Erucic acid
  6. Furanocoumarins
  7. A-Amysale Inhibitors
  8. Lectins
  9. Anti-Thiamine alkaloids
  10. Oxalates
  11. Cucurbitacins
  12. Phytates and phytic acid
  13. Hypoglycin ackee fruit
  14. Safrole
  15. Myristicin
  16. Japanese star anise
  17. Cyanogenic glycosides
  18. Glycoalkaloids Solanines and Chaconine
  19. Cyasin
  20. Sanguinarine