5 (potentially) toxic 'Superfoods'
Updated: Jun 23, 2019
I'm a huge fan of nutrient dense superfoods and supplements to reach optimal health - but some have downsides or risks that for are not widely spoken about.
Here are the 5 you need to be wary of.
Cinnamon tends to be your go-to when you don't eat sugar and try to avoid sugar substitutes but want to get a sweet fix. Whether it's banana nice cream, apple brownies or a chia tea - cinnamon creates amazing flavour and with it's ability to stabilise blood sugar levels, there are beneficial reasons to add it to your diet.
However, there are two types of cinnamon - Ceylon Cinnamon or real cinnamon and Cassia Cinnamon which is cheaper and used extensively throughout the world... and it's probably the one available in your local supermarket. Both taste similar - but one is cheaper and toxic and the other is more expensive and non-toxic. Cassia cinnamon contains a compound called Coumarin which can cause liver and kidney toxicity in doses more than 1-2 teaspoons per day.
It's critical you know you are purchasing the correct cinnamon, even if you're paying more for it, especially when including cinnamon in children' food.
2. Cacao Powder
This superfood is so glorified that it has rituals in its name and groups like the Cacao Club that honour it's many amazing properties. I love it and use it regularly but cacao powder has to be the superfood that irritates me the most. Yes it has nutrient density and high levels of magnesium but it also contains high levels of heavy metal cadmium. This is a particular risk for children and it is essential that they are not having chocolate flavoured protein powder or chocolate or cocoa based treats everyday.
Despite being in the health field for a couple of years and learning all about the benefits of cacao - in all that I had read and learnt, I had never been educated on the risk of cadmium. It wasn't until I received mould-free cocoa from the US which had a California Proposition 65 warning label on it. Obviously I was shocked - I'd gone to all the trouble to get mould-free cacao to prevent health issues only to be warned it was toxic but I also knew that this is the same warning that has come under under criticism for overuse, (including that entering Disneyland may cause cancer).
However, when I researched the cacao cadmium risk - despite not being spoken about, mentioned in superfood or nutrition books - the toxicity from cadmium in cacao is very real. So real that your supplier should be testing their batches, and it's critical you research and buy from a brand that does. When I contacted my supplier they were able to provide me with the latest test results and calculations based on body weight as to the maximum amount of cacao an individual should have. However, none of this is mentioned on any website or packaging. When I applied a child's body weight I was shocked to realise that this meant only a small amount of cacao per week. If you'd like these calculations please send me an email.
So - enjoy and use cacao but make sure it's in moderation. I recommend to my clients that they don't purchase chocolate protein powder so they're not exposed every day and that they vary their treats (especially with children) to include only one batch of cacao based treats per week. A daily winter hot cacao is also out - a couple of times a week is fine.
3. The Chlorella Paradox
Touted by every nutritionist and health guru as the ultimate detoxifier and included in detox protocols, chlorella actually posses a huge risk to mercury toxic people and can make them significantly worse.
Chlorella is a nutrient dense green algae - which as a phenomenal amount of nutrients. However, it's molecular structure has a single thiol group meaning it can bond to heavy metals. If you're not heavy metal toxic, it's great to include in your diet, especially after having some after a mercury heavy fish (see my post-fish power ball treat) or from time to time to absorb heavy metals and have them pass out of you rather than have your body absorb them.
However this single thiol group means Chlorella comes with two risks. Firstly if it is grown in a toxic environment, such as an industrial area in China, it can absorb heavy metals and actually be giving you a dose of heavy metals when you take it. It would have to be the ultimate irony when your detoxer is actually giving you a dose of heavy metals. This is why knowing the source and ensuring your supplier tests for heavy metals is critical - Australian or Taiwanese instead of Chinese is a good first step in your selection process.
Secondly, although it binds to mercury it does so poorly. People suffering from mercury toxicity and/or have amalgam fillings who are seeking a detox protocol are the last people who should use it. The reason is that it only has single thiol group, meaning it will partially bond to metals within your body but won't have the strength to keep hold of them - a true chelator needs 2 thiol groups to effectively draw metals out of tissues and cells and escort them out of the body. With chlorella, the result is metals are removed from areas where your body is storing them but aren't removed from you completely - causing redistribution with potentially nasty side effects. Redistribution can be more harmful than leaving the metals where they are stored as they can be redistributed to more sensitive tissues and organs. For people with mercury fillings, Chlorella can draw mercury out of the fillings and cause it to enter your body. Quite simply, if you have mercury fillings - you should not touch chlorella.
If you don't know if you are mercury toxic or not, be mindful in your use of chlorella and take note if you feel unwell after consuming it.
If you are mercury toxic - I highly recommend low and slow detoxing using proper chelators. Low and slow is key here - which means avoiding intravenous detoxification with glutathione which attempts to shift more heavy metals than your body can eliminated at once - again leading to redistribution. Protocols that are low and slow include the Andy Cutler Protocol using DMSA and ALA (which crosses the blood brain barrier), a zeolite protocol or Chris Shade's Quicksilver protocol - all protocols on which I can advise.
Rice contains arsenic - but again, it's a silent risk that no body speaks about. Generally speaking in Western cultures where rice is part of our diet but not a staple, it's not something you need to worry about. However, if you are following a gluten free diet you are at risk of exposing yourself to too much arsenic if you relying on gluten free packaged products and aren't following an optimal gluten free diet.
Almost all gluten free packaged products are based on rice flour - whether it be gluten free pasta, biscuits or supermarket bread and if you're consuming these, together with your usual rice consumption, a few rice cakes and some rice milk - you're chronically exposing yourself to arsenic.
If you are gluten free, follow a wholefoods gluten free diet that does not rely on packaged gluten free products, except for maybe the occasional gluten free pasta. If you can, opt for products that aren't rice flour based and when selecting rice, have white rice instead of brown (cooked and cooled if possible to reduce the GI and increase resistant starch). Have cauliflower rice and lentils instead of rice sometimes and choose other milk options instead of rice milk.
Oxalates are organic compounds found in many foods which can act as an anti-nutrient and if consumed in excess and not eliminated property can lead to binding calcium and kidney stones.
Like most things, issues with oxalates can be avoided by have a diet full of variety and keeping well hydrated, which is what I recommend to all my clients. Oxalates exist in many whole foods, binding with calcium and being excreted in urine. However, too many or poor metabolism of oxalates can cause kidney stones. Problems usually arise when clients get into habits with their (or their children's) favourite food which they make continually or have every day. A good example of this is nuts. Almonds in particular are high in oxalates, so if you're having almond meal based banana bread, almond milk and almond butter in your smoothie and then snacking on almonds, you may start to have an issue.
I have also found oxalate issue when clients are trying to reach 3 cups of greens a day on a protocol such as The Wahls Protocol and aren't cooking and rotating their greens. Again, easily avoided by having them raw sometimes (opting for rocket or lettuce) and then cook (and drain the oxalate water) spinach and kale.
Like most things, genetics has a role to play and some people will be able to process and eliminate oxalates better than others. A good way to test if there are too many oxalates in your diet is looking at Oxalic Acid levels in urine of an Organic Acids Test. High Oxalic Acid has also been linked as a contributing factor in exasperating to autism.
As the old adage goes... everything in moderation. If you have a wholefoods diet, full of variety you can avoid all these toxicity issues. To read more about my principles of eating read my blog post created for The Source Bulk Foods.