Spit Out Your Seeds! The Bizarre Truth of the Fabled Poisoned Apple

By Aya Sato

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away… right? Well, it turns out that apples have a spooky secret, as foretold by the Grimm classic.  But evil queens aren’t to blame for your poisoned apples — a type of natural toxin was actually already in there.

Stone fruits are fruits with seeds and pits in them, like cherries, apricots, peaches, plums — and apples. These “stones” contain a naturally-occurring compound called amygdalin, which is a sugar and cyanide-based molecule. It’s thought that this compound acts as a pesticide the fruit-bearing plants have evolved to protect their seeds from insects.

“This cyanide toxicity,” says Jolyn Wirshing, Director of the University of Nevada, Reno Department of Dietetics, “Prevents cells from using oxygen. It basically employs the molecular form of asphyxiation on anybody who ingests it — all the way down from insects to humans.”

But fear not! Cyanide toxicity only begins to damage the human body at around 0.5 to 3 milligrams to body weight. You’d really have to munch hard on those seeds for the compound to take effect.

“So, if we’re talking about apples…” says Wirshing, “We’re looking at about maybe 18 apples. So, if you’re ever making a smoothie, it’s recommended that you don’t include the seeds or pits of the fruits.” That means, unless you’re planning on eating two whole bags of apples or destroying your blender with pits, you’re not in any danger of being poisoned.

So go ahead and enjoy your lunch — but remember to spit out your seeds!

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