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What Isn't Poison?

Updated on August 8, 2008

Did you know that there is arsenic in tomatoes? Arsenic is a known poison. So does this mean that we shouldn't eat tomatoes? The answer is: it depends. How much arsenic is there in each tomato? How many tomatoes do you eat a day? How much do you weigh? Dosage could be an important issue.

Did you know that some people have a strong allergic reaction to peanuts? Some even die when they ingest minute quantities, quantities so small that ordinarily we wouldn't know they were there. Did you know that food allergies can develop over time, so that something you weren't allergic to yesterday may be highly toxic for you tomorrow? Does this mean that nobody should ever eat peanuts, because even if they are benign today, they could become deadly tomorrow? Did you know that drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication and even death? Is there nothing that is safe? If all these commonplace foods can kill, is there anything that isn't poison?

All Foods Contain Chemicals

On occasion I've seen this claim made on behalf of a particular food: "Contains no Chemicals." This always makes me laugh. All foods are made up of chemicals. What else could they be made of?

What such a label is trying to suggest is that man-made chemicals are bad, and the other kind aren't really chemicals. It's true that we have to watch out for man-made toxins, but it's not because they are chemicals. It's because we seldom know exactly what the introduction of a new substance into the food we are accustomed to eating will do.

People who stick to the traditional diet of their ancestors may not know why the diet is good for them, but they rely on the experience of past generations. In a sense, those past generations were the guinea pigs who tested out the safety of the traditional diet.

In the modern world, new substances are introduced frequently, and we cannot rely on tradition to determine what is toxic and what is benign.

Variations in Sensitivity

Even with a known poison, such as arsenic, levels of sensitivity vary considerably from individual to individual. According to the Ontario factsheet linked below, sensitive individuals begin to display signs of poisoning at an oral intake of about twenty micrograms per kilogram bodyweight per day, whereas other people can ingest over 100 micrograms per kilogram of weight per day and suffer no ill effects.

You can't decide what is safe for one person based on what is safe for another. Levels of sensitivity vary not just for unsual food allergies, but even for known toxins that are generally understood to be dangerous for all.

There are genetic factors that pre-dispose some people to fare poorly with a particular kind of diet, while others might thrive eating the same foods.

Genetic Pre-Disposition to Obesity

Which brings us to the topic of carbohydrates in the diet. It is not that a diet high in carbohydrates is necessarily bad for you. Whether it is bad depends on who you are.

I knew a fellow once who seemed to live on sugar. He drank Kool Aid, ate sugary foods, and was lean as a bean post. He was highly energetic, and even when at rest, he wasn't able to keep from fidgetting. He got excited easily, and he would jump up and down every time he was making a point. His muscle to fat ratio was such that he couldn't swim, because he didn't have enough fat to keep him afloat. But he did enjoy diving!

This person was on a high carb diet, and he was just fine. But that's not most of us. Most of us do better to avoid high quantities of simple sugars, because we don't have that kind of metabolism.

There are even people who would do better to cut all sugars out of their diet. Recent evidence by Japanese researchers points to the possibility that inactivity and/or a diet rich in sugars is not the cause of obesity. Instead, some people are genetically pre-disposed to have a low metabolism -- one that does not burn much energy. These people start to gain weight when they are children and just as active as anybody else. They consume normal quantities of the average kinds of food, and they engage in normal activities and they gain weight. It is only after they become overweight that their activity level decreases.

Follow the link below to learn more about this.

One Man's Meat is Another Man's Poison

In the comments section to my hubpages article "Which Carbohydrates do we need? (And why do we need them?)" I was surprised to find the statement that fruits contain the "highly poisonous substance" fructose. Yes, fructose is a sugar found in fruit. And it is true that people with diabetes, or those suffering from a very low metabolism, had better avoid sugars altogether. For them, fructose might as well be a poison. But it is not a poison for everybody -- at least, not in the same dosage.

All nutrients are chemicals. All nutrients are drugs, if by drugs we mean chemicals that can affect our physical and mental well-being. That's why having a controlled substances act does not make sense, and having the FDA label some foods as drugs and others as not drugs is counterproductive.

You can overdose on anything: vitamins, minerals, sugars, fats, even water. I suppose that death by fiber is also possible. You can overdo anything.

There is only one way to get the correct dosage for your particular situation: know thyself. Toxicity levels for each substance vary from individual to individual. One man's meat is another man's poison.

There is no such thing as a "safe" food. All substances we ingest have the potential to help or harm us, depending on the quantities involved, and the overall context of the individual.


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    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks, Norma Girl.

    • profile image

      norma girl 6 years ago


    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Frieda, thanks! Glad you dropped by.

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 8 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Don't know how I skipped over this but apparently I did. No chemical's indeed. Chemicals are definitely in everything we injest, lol. You're right about that. I did NOT know about tomatoes. Interesting. Who would have thunk. Great info as usual, aya. Thanks.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 9 years ago from London UK

      will definitely do:)

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Compu-smart, thanks for the support, but go easy on the praise. The important thing is to be self-reliant. Don't take my word on anything, least of all your specific situation, which I am not competent to evaluate. Research all claims, and think carefully whether a suggestion made by anyone is helpful in your case.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 9 years ago from London UK

      Copied and pasted in to my docs!!

      Thank-you Aya, That was kind of you to offer this help which is more than my doctors have advised me!! I have more food for thought but much healthier!!

      Your an angel :)

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Perfumer: Thanks for the input.

      Compu-smart: I don't want to scare you any further, and, of course, it is better to eat bread than to starve, but on the whole, bread is not the best choice. Bread is a human invention of long-standing, and it has allowed our population to burgeon, but it doesn't have that much to offer us nutritionally, beyond its long shelf-life.

      Fruit is good if eaten fresh, but very few humans subsist on an all fruit diet. We need dietary fat in order to live healthy lives. If you are a vegetarian, make sure you at least add nuts to your diet. If not vegetarian, find some meat that you really like. It doesn't have to be beef. It could be fish or chicken, rabbit or venison, or even snails, if you are so inclined. There must be some form of fat you like -- you just have to find it!

      If you breathe slowly, it sounds as if your metabolism might be slow, too. If that is true, a high carb diet is probably not the best for you.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 9 years ago from London UK

      Hiya Aya!, Tell me about it!,

      I have been thinking about why this is the case and the only conclusion i have come to is, I remember watching a very reputable documentary that explained that the very air that we breath that keeps us alive is killing us, just as much as the food we eat, to keep us alive! It kills parts of our bodily innings! (cant think exact wording!) I also always breath extremely slow and when i now compare my breathing timing compared to others mine is about 4-5 times slower from the few people I compared myself to!!, It must be something subconscious!! Maybe this article has discovered the answer to this obvious problem!! wow!! more food for thought!!


      I find bread, and fruit the easiest to consume, and sometimes and very occasionally chocolate! Other than this, i would be quite happy not eating anything ever again!!


    • perfumer profile image

      perfumer 9 years ago from California

      Very informative hub Aya.

      Thank you!

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Bard of Ely: Well, if the climate isn't hospitable to growing a garden, then what do the natives eat?

      compu-smart: That is odd! Don't you have ANY favorite foods that you actually like?

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 9 years ago from London UK

      Aya, lol, I understand the intention!, I actually have a food phobia and am and dont know any one who is similer to me in the fact I dislike eating! I have no idea what has caused this and I always eat to live, unlike many who do enjoy the opposite!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Unfortunately to grow your own you need a garden, which countless people don't have. I only have a small balcony and here that is pretty normal although at the same time there are miles and miles of abandoned farmland. It can't be used without water though and it reverts to desert scrubland.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Compu-smart, thanks for the comment. Hey, maybe we can use this site as an appetite suppressant! That wasn't the intent, of course. It just takes a little common sense to sort out what is good for each person to eat. One size does not fit all. Each of us is different.

      Bard of Ely, yes, I agree: way too many preservatives and unnatural sweeteners. But the solution is simple: grow your own or buy fresh.

      As for toothpaste, you could go with baking soda.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Excellent hub but what I get annoyed about is the known to be harmful additives that we don't even need or have a healthier substitute for, eg instead of aspartame, stevia is a far better choice for a non-sugar sweetener and toothpaste without fluoride if you can still find any! Foods and drink of the past really was healthier because it didn't have all these poisonous additives!

    • compu-smart profile image

      Compu-Smart 9 years ago from London UK

      Lots of food for thought here aya!! Funny enough, i have now totally lost my appetite!!

    • level1diet profile image

      level1diet 9 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      Yep, fructose is a great illustration of your thesis.

      A great point that you made about over simplifications, balance and perspective.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Level1diet, thanks for the added references on fructose and the clarification. I notice that more and more foods intended primarily for children are being sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and this seems like a very bad move.

      But as for the big picture, it's not as simple as some would like it to be. Fructose, while necessary for life as we know it, can also be lethal ... like many substances.

    • level1diet profile image

      level1diet 9 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      Aya, there is a detailed examination of the role dietary fructose plays in health or diease, available at

      The study is called "Fructose, insulin resistance and metabolic dislipidemia", originally published on February 21, 2005, in the peer-reviewed scientific journal: Nutrition & Metabolism. It was written by Heather Basciano, et al, from the University of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. 

      The exhaustive report examines exactly how fructose is used by the body, and how large concentrations are converted into VLDL and free fatty acids to increase "intromyocellular insulin resistance" which leads to the metabolic syndrome (including high LDL, high levels of small dense LDL, high circulating fibrinogen, persistent inflammation, elevated CRP, hypertension, atherosclerosis, and so on; ultimately producing type-2 diabetes, then heart attacks, cancer or strokes.

      However, you are right. The levels of fructose found in most fruits, that are accompanied in the whole fruit by powerful antioxidants, polyphenols, flavinols and high fiber content, are proven healthy in most people, even in diabetics generally. Interestingly, the concentrated juices of sweet fruits is often not healthy as a frequent drink, especially for children. Children can experience 'failure to thrive' -- slow growth rates, when milk is replaced by orange or apple juice, for example.

      The sugar fructose, far from being always a poison, is in fact a fundamental part of the oxidation process and one of the steps in energy production inside all human cells. So it is that small portions of fructose in the diet itself serve to catalyze and 'speed up' other carbohydrate and fat burning in the human body. Only when that catalytic process is swamped by excess fructose beyond immediate needs does fructose become dangerous for human beings. 

      Drinking several ounces of pure fructose in a BIG GULP 32 ounce soda from the local convenience store is a case in point. Measure the VLDL cholesterol after this fructose ingestion, and then the 4 to 6 hour insulin resistance caused in the large skeletal muscles and that tells the story.

      So, you're right -- there is a wide variation, and a wealth of detail relating to the real way nutritional compounds work in our systems. 

      Things are, unfortuntely for those who want easy answers, not as simple as we wish them to be.

      Fructose, while dangerous in super large quantities as we find in sodas and some candies, is certainly NOT poisonous.

      Without fructose-6-phosphate in the glycolysis metabolic pathway, all human energy metabolism would cease and the human race and most other animals would die out forever.

      There is another excellent scientific discussion of fructose on Wikipedia at:

      So, as you say, one man's poison is often (but not always) another man's meat (or fruit)!

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 9 years ago from The Ozarks

      Thanks for the comment, Level1diet. Understanding "normal variation" is important in nutrition, as well as many other areas.

    • level1diet profile image

      level1diet 9 years ago from Albuquerque, NM

      Thanks Aya for quoting and nicely sumarizing my essay on diabetes' first cause and genes.

      I especially like your assessment that people become fat BEFORE they slow down their exercise and activity levels, usually when they are very young.

      This realization should finally help us all understand that there is simply a 'normal variation' between different families and even racial groups that may make one group more or less able to process carbohydrates and tend to gain weight, after which they become less active, and then gain even more weight, which leads to insulin resistance and a repeating, automatic chain-reaction of ever increasing obesity, ever decreasing activity and then more deadly related health issues like heart disease, strokes and cancer. Thanks for helping people understand this process.

      There is hope. We can reverse this disease-process by increasing activity above what would be required for 'normal' people, even though it is painful, and by changing the proportion and types of foods we eat.

      Thanks very much for your support in this important work!


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