Cyanide in Common Foods: Should You Be Worried?

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cyanide in almonds

Many common foods and even dietary supplements contain low levels of naturally occurring cyanide. Should we limit these foods and cut out these supplements?

The short answer: not really.

We’ve talked about arsenic in apple juice, but lately I’ve been seeing folks fretting some about cyanide in food and in dietary supplements. Foods like almonds, spinach, and lima beans contain low levels of a cyanide compound, and there’s a type of vitamin B12 supplement that contains cyanide as well. In large doses, cyanide is a dangerous poison that deprives our body’s cells of oxygen and can cause death.

When you’re talking about a dangerous dose of cyanide, it generally means between 50 and 200 mg of hydrogen cyanide. So, which foods contain cyanide, and is it an issue?

Cyanide in Food

Cyanide occurs naturally in food, and it’s totally normal for humans to ingest small amounts of it each day. Our bodies can handle cyanide in low doses. It’s when you hit that 50-200mg level that things can get worrisome. If almonds and spinach were deadly, we wouldn’t eat them, right? Here are some common foods that contain cyanide:

  • almonds
  • tapioca
  • millet sprouts
  • lima beans
  • soy
  • spinach
  • bamboo shoots
  • cassava roots
  • apple seeds
  • peach and apricot pits – these actually do contain dangerous amounts of cyanide, so when you’re eating stone fruits, don’t eat the pits. I’m sure you were planning to otherwise!
  • cherry pits

Cyanide is much more dangerous when it’s inhaled than ingested. Smoke, for example, contains high levels of cyanide. When it comes to fruits, veggies, grains, and legumes, you don’t really need to fret about cyanide. Just don’t eat those tempting peach pits!

Cyanide in B12 Supplements

A 1000 microgram pill of the vitamin B12 supplement cyanocobalamin contains 20 micrograms of cyanide, and according to dietitian Jack Norris, “the amount of cyanide in cyanocobalamin is considered to be physiologically insignificant.” That’s micrograms, versus milligrams. There are 1000 micrograms in a milligram, which puts the amount of cyanide in a typical B12 supplement well below toxic levels.

What do you guys think? Do you worry about cyanide in your B12 supplements or in the food you eat?

{Image Credit: Almonds photo via Shutterstock}

Written by Becky Striepe


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  1. If sweet almonds are pollenated by pollen from a bitter almond tree which can occur natually the resulting almond is bitter. Consequently a purchase of almonds can contain a small proportion of bitter almonds. These are easy to distinguish by taste but it is significant that the lethal dose is between 8 and 32 bitter almonds so be careful if eating almonds by the fistfull. Some sources contain quite a few whereas in other sources I’ve never encountered a bitter one

  2. Hydroxocobalamin, the type of b12 cyanide is attached to in cyanocobalamin, is used in high doses to treat cyanide poisoning. Not only is the cyanide in cyanocobalamin negligible, but once ingested the hydroxocobalamin nullifies it.

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