Food Toxicants

Food Toxicants


Toxicants are the harmful compounds that may be produced by the living body itself or may be added to food during the processing procedures. Those produced by the living body e.g by plants as a result of natural defense mechanisms are known as natural toxins while those added to the food during processing may be the artificial ones. The natural toxins are not harmful to the organism that produces it but may cause harm to the others at the consumer side. Natural toxins may also include the fungus, moulds etc. the toxins are responsible for causing the diseases in people who consume the toxicants contaminated food. In this article the discussion will be about the naturally occurring and the artificial toxins causing damages to health through food.

Natural toxins:

Natural toxins are those naturally produced by the living entity. They may cause certain illnesses when consumed. These may include:

Aquatic bio-toxins:

The toxins that are produced by the algae are known as algal toxins. These toxins are more likely to occur and affect the oysters, mussels and shellfish other than fish. Algal toxins can also contaminate the drinking water and may also remain in these sea-foods. When these foods are consumed, these cause certain complications in humans such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Mental convulsions

These bio-toxins are not destroyed by cooking or other process e.g freezing. As these have no taste and colour so these can easily go into the living body without being checked.

Cyanogenic glycosides:

These toxins are produced by the 2000 species of different plants that are being used as food in different regions of the world. Some of these plants important as food include; sorghum, almond, stone fruits etc. The consumption of these toxins may increase the levels of cyanide in the human beings consuming them. High concentrations of cyanide may induce in human beings as:

  • Rapid respiration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Stomach pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Mental convulsions

Death can also occur when high cyanide levels are unable to be detoxified.


Lectins are that type of toxins common in beans. Red kidney beans especially contain its rich amounts. Even if 4 or 5 raw beans are consumed, these can cause severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Lectins can be destroyed when the beans are soaked and then boiled.


Mycotoxins are usually produced by different types of moulds. Moulds that produce the mycotoxins can contaminate the food at any stage e.g before or after harvest or during storage due to unfavorable climate conditions and humidity. These can survive the processing methods of food. Mycotoxins has also been associated with causing death and other illnesses such as:

  • Cancer
  • Immune deficiency


Furocoumarins are the toxins produced and released in response to stress that may be the physical damage to plants. These mostly occur in plants such as carrots, parsley, citrus fruits as oranges, lemon, lime and grapefruit etc. These toxins when consumed can cause;

  • Skin allergies
  • Digestive system problems

Muscimol and muscarine(toxins in mushrooms):

Mushrooms are found to be contaminated with special type of toxins as  muscimol and muscarine. The consumption of these toxins can cause the following ailments as:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mental confusion
  • Salivation

Solanines and chaconine:

Solanines and chaconine are produced by the solanacea family of the plants that include tomatoes, potatoes and egg plants. They are usually lower but high concentrations can be found in bitter tasting peels, green parts and also in green tomatoes. These are also produced in response to stress in plants. Their amount can be reduced by preventing the stress factors responsible for their production.

Artificial toxins:

The toxins that are produced in food during processing or after that are known as artificial toxins. These include:

Vegetable and oils:

Corn oil, sunflower oil and soya-bean oil etc are the refined vegetable oils. When these are consumed in excess, these usually cause harm. As these are highly refined ones so they usually give no or zero calories. These oils are usually rich in omega-6 fats. When there is over-consumption of these fats and the balance between the omega-3 and omega-6 is disturbed, it can cause cancer especially in women, the breast cancer.

Bisphenol-A (BPA):

It is a compound found in the plastic containers. The foods such as bottled water, canned food items can be found contaminated with BPA when it leeches into the food materials.  High BPA levels can cause:

  • Sterility
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes


Trans fats are the most unhealthy fats and even a little amount of them can cause problems. These should be completely omitted from the diet pattern. These are mostly present in the commercialy fried and prepared foods. These are also produced by hydrogenating the unsaturated oils into solid fats. Trans fats usually cause inflammation thus increasing the risks of CVD’s.


So, in a nutshell toxins are harmful compounds that should be checked and reduced while eating the foods containing them through different methods.

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