Do You Know the ‘Other’ Natural Toxins in What You Eat?

Do You Know the ‘Other’ Natural Toxins in What You Eat?

We’re in physical contact with the world twenty-four hours a day, and whatever we touch, touches us. It is a cool reminder of just how connected we are to everything around us. The problem is that not everything we touch is healthy for us. This includes toxins — any chemical or mixture that hurts your body or the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a toxin as any chemical or mixture that may be harmful to the environment and your health if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin.[1]


The manmade chemicals and pesticides that end up in the food we eat are finally getting attention! But did you know there are many toxins that naturally occur in nature – including food (and yes, even superfoods)? While some natural toxins are obvious (everyone’s going to happily avoid snake’s venom), not everyone is going to double check their cinnamon for high levels of coumarin, a toxic substance that can cause liver damage in some sensitive people.

Here’ the problem with natural toxins. Most companies won’t have your back. For example, you would think that the companies selling cinnamon would check for coumarin levels. The FDA warns against coumarin found in fake vanilla flavoring products from Mexico, but there is no regulation on the naturally occurring coumarin cinnamon.

Accepting that most companies will not take the extra step to ensure your safety is a big first step to taking personal control of what you eat and what goes into your body.

Coumarin is really just another example (of so many!) where price and quality fight each other. While expensive cinnamon made from Ceylon has low amounts of coumarin, its cheaper alternative, cassia cinnamon, has larger naturally occurring amounts in it. No surprise, this cheaper version is what you’ll find in processed, mass market cinnamon-flavored products where the cost is all that matters, not your health.

“True,” or Ceylon cinnamon is expensive, so most breads, sticky buns and other products in the United States use dried cassia bark or cassia cinnamon.

A study on cinnamon-flavored food and food supplements in the United States conducted by Ikhlas Khan and colleagues found that cassia cinnamon was one of the most common flavoring agents used in foods and beverages.

“As found in this study, coumarin was present, sometimes in substantial amounts, in cinnamon-based food supplements and cinnamon-flavored foods,” they say.

The more expensive Ceylon cinnamon contains very little coumarin, the naturally occurring substance that has been linked to liver damage in people sensitive to the substance. It is cassia cinnamon that can contain larger amounts. No matter to food manufacturers. The bottom line will almost always win.

It’s an interesting balance, the fact that plants contain so many nutrients that are needed for human growth and health, yet they can also contain certain harmful or toxic substances.

These naturally occurring toxins in what you eat are usually defense mechanisms for survival. They can help defend against insects or even different diseases. They are all designed to keep the plant alive and to protect them from pests and diseases.

Everyone’s body will respond to these toxins differently based on their unique level of sensitivity.

History and science have taught us many ways to limit the impact of the toxins in what you eat through proper preparation. For example, gyromitrin, a toxin contained in false morels (a mushroom), are water soluble or volatile. But put them in boiling water and they’ll decompose. That’s the great news!

If you select, handle, and prepare your foods with intention or do your research when eating new foods, much of the food’s natural toxic substances can be neutralized or avoided.

Food operators are responsible for the safety and conformity with requirements of the foods that they sell and market. But recent news reports and studies have shown that is not happening at an acceptable level.

You have to take control of what goes in your body yourself and only buy from companies that you trust. (Tweet it!).

Below is a list of natural toxic substances in food to be aware of.


  • arsenic (found in rice due to growing practices; found in cruciferous vegetables, especially Brussel sprouts, which are susceptible to absorbing it from the ground. A study from Dartmouth University found foods containing arsenic are the main way people are exposed to this toxic metal.)
  • biogenic amines, found in fruits and vegetables
  • caffeine which is a natural insecticide in coffee, tea, and cocoa
  • coumarin, found in cinnamon
  • cyanoglycosides, found in fruit seeds and stones and in cassava
  • lectins, found in beans
  • glycoalkaloids, includes solanine in potatoes and tomatine in raw tomato. Gogi Berries also contain solanine.
  • goitrogens, found in cruciferous vegetables (can interfere with thyroid function)
  • gyromitrin, found in false morels
  • myrotoxins, mold found in certain foods including coffee and nuts such as peanuts
  • nitrates, found in many vegetables, including celery
  • prussic acid, found in apples, prunes, and peaches (impairs our use of oxygen)

You should monitor how you feel when eating these foods and practice mindful moderation and commit to variety in your diet! Eating the same foods daily allow toxins that would otherwise be present in trace amounts to build up and create a harmful toxic load on your body.

Remember, the definition of a toxin is something that is harmful to your health if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. That includes what you eat. The useful parts of our food make their way into our blood stream and then to our cells.” (SuperLife, 159). Read more on the nutritional stress caused by what you eat and are exposed to – and learn how your body miraculously is designed to deal with it (until we overload it) in my book, SuperLife. Read the chapter Life Force Number Five: Detoxification.

Here are four keys to eliminating stress on your body from the natural, “other” toxins in foods.

  • Be proactive in learning about the foods you are consistently eating.
  • Focus on VARIETY! I cannot stress this enough. Your body can absolutely handle trace amounts of natural toxins in foods, BUT if you eat the same thing over and over again, day after day, it will build up and create a toxic load. Bonus: When you include a wide, variety of foods in your diet not only do you limit toxin exposure, you load your body with an equally wide variety of nutrients!
  • Avoid the man-made toxins by switching to a SuperLife diet, full of fresh, clean, nutritious foods.
  • Eliminate the processed foods that are a legal, invisible “toxin” that harms your health.

The short version: Even when you try to eat healthy, it can be easy to remain exposed to natural and man-made toxins in what you eat. Have a relationship with your food and know what you are eating! When you take control of what goes in your body it has an incredible effect on your long-term health.


  1. Yan-Hong Wang, Bharathi Avula, N. P. Dhammika Nanayakkara, Jianping Zhao, Ikhlas A. Khan. Cassia Cinnamon as a Source of Coumarin in Cinnamon-Flavored Food and Food Supplements in the United States. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2013; 61 (18): 4470 DOI: 10.1021/jf4005862


About SuperLife:



Darin Olien’s health and wellness company, SuperLife, headquartered in Malibu, CA, shares resources and breaking research that demystify health, fitness, nutrition, and longevity into simple daily actions. Olien’s fad-free, super simple rules of healthy eating and living create life-long wellness and the opportunity to live a SuperLife – the greatest expression of life possible!

About Darin Olien:

Nicknamed “The Indiana Jones of Superfoods,” Darin Olien is a widely recognized exotic superfoods hunter, supplement formulator, and environmental activist who travels the planet discovering new and underutilized medicinal plants. He works closely with thousands of international farmers, growers, and manufacturers to get high-quality, fair-trade superfood and herbal commodities out to market. Since 2005 he has sourced more than 300 foods and ingredients from around the world, working directly with the people of Peru, Bhutan, the Amazon region, the Himalayas, the South Pacific, and many other countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

Olien is a renowned authority on nutrition, hydration, and the potency of foods and herbs, which he writes about in his new book, SuperLife: The 5 Forces That Will Make You Healthy, Fit, and Eternally Awesome. The book offers resources for simple lifestyle changes that create long term-health. It is a fad-free, myth-busting, individualized approach to health developed from Olien’s 20+ years of travel and research around the world.

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