Generally, nuts are considered a healthy food choice. They are rich in omega-3-fatty acids, fiber, and protein, which is why most dieters include nuts in their meal plans. Also, people who eat nuts regularly are more likely to have a healthy weight.
In addition, nuts are loaded with vitamin E, a nutrient that is good for your skin, brain, and heart. They also are loaded with phytosterols, which help regulate your cholesterol levels. In fact, studies have found that eating nuts on a daily basis is associated with reduced risk of heart disease.
However, many Nutrition Diva listeners have a doubt about aspergillus or aflatoxin in nuts and are concerned whether it is something that they need to be worrying about.
Registered Nutritionist and author of Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet Monica Reinagel said, “Some of the scariest things you may have encountered online are probably exaggerated or taken out of context. Nonetheless, these are not imaginary concerns.”
Aspergillus is a type of fungus that produces potentially harmful compounds called mycotoxins or aflatoxins, which are known to be carcinogenic.
Chronic exposure to aflatoxin could lead to liver damage or liver cirrhosis, especially in people with a history of Hepatitis B. It has also been found that inhaling the spores of the aspergillus fungus could cause lung irritation or even lung damage, particularly in people with a history of COPD or tuberculosis.
Due to these potential health effects, most developed nations have stringent monitoring for aspergillus and aflatoxins in foods. They are routinely screened. The foods are not distributed if they are found to have aspergillus or aflatoxin levels above a certain threshold.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says, “Control strategies have mostly eliminated harmful exposures in developed countries.”
However, people living in developing nations are still vulnerable to these toxins, especially in tropical regions. The WHO says, “Food insufficiency and lack of diversity substantially contribute to the susceptibility of individuals and communities to aflatoxins.”
The presence of aflatoxins in nuts is a real public health threat in most developing nations if you consider that tuberculosis, COPD and hepatitis B are more common in developing countries.
Reinagel wrote that WHO and the CDC are working hard on a number of initiatives to combat this problem, from public information campaigns to developing aspergillus resistant strains of these crops and to enhanced screening protocols. However, they have not solved the problem yet.
The nutritionist explained, “If you live in a developing nation, you can reduce your potential exposure by limiting your consumption of peanuts and other groundnuts, corn, and cottonseed oil, commodities that are most likely to be infected.” She added, “If you live in a developed nation, aflatoxin exposure is probably not something you need to be too concerned about, not only because of better screening and detection, but because these foods are less likely to be your primary source of calories. Perhaps that’s just one more argument for a reasonably varied diet.”