The Top 7 Most Moldy Foods + How To Rid Mycotoxins From Your Diet
Chances are, you aren’t a fan of eating moldy food and anything with visible mold gets thrown right in the trash. But what if I told you that mycotoxins - toxic compounds from mold - can be hiding in your food? In my telehealth functional medicine center, I often see these compounds have a profound effect on the health of my patients.
While not everyone is going to be affected the same way by mycotoxins, they are definitely worth talking about. So let’s dive in and see why we should be more aware of these mold byproducts.
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What’s wrong with mold?
Mold is a naturally occurring fungus that thrives in dark places where there is also moisture. Not all mold is bad, but there are certain types of mold - like aspergillus, fusarium, stachybotrys, and citrinin - that release mycotoxins that can contribute to inflammation and ultimately trigger or exacerbate chronic health problems. (1)
Even if you are exposed to mycotoxins, they aren’t always going to result in poor health or a symptom flare up. For some people, methylation impairments or a history of autoimmune disease can make it more difficult to detox mycotoxins from your body.
But when a mycotoxin buildup does happen, it can result in symptoms similar to a lot of other health problems like chronic fatigue and brain fog. Unfortunately, this leads many people to struggle with symptoms for years even after they’ve done all the “right” things.
Since this happens so often, I make sure to have my patients test for mold in their home and work environments. But when an environment test comes back clean for mold but the urine and blood mycotoxin labs come back high, it usually means it’s time to look at diet. People are often surprised to learn that certain common foods can actually contain high levels of mycotoxins that, when eaten on a regular basis, can contribute to these ongoing health problems.
Common Mold Illnesses
There are several health risks that stem from mold exposure and consumption, here are some of the most common ones to look out for:
The most common mold illnesses are usually from respiratory infection. This can lead to or mimic symptoms of respiratory dysfunctions like asthma.
Mold exposure and consumption can increase inflammation in the brain, and affect mood regulation and sleep patterns.
This one is a no brainer. Mold toxins can weaken the immune system, leading to an array of illnesses. A common problem caused by mold exposure is Mast Cell Activation Disorder, with which patients experience extreme allergies and allergic reactions.
In worst case scenarios, mold has even been the root cause of many cancers and life threatening illnesses, sometimes even leading to death.
Treating Mold Illness
The thing about illnesses born from mold exposure, is that there really is only one effective way to treat them and that is to remove the patient from a mold infested environment, and begin the detox process through diet and exercise.
The main goal of a detox is not to restrict and starve your body of what it needs for the sake of getting rid of the unwanted bacteria. We want to build support for the immune system and the liver, and other detoxing organs, while also eliminating extra candida, yeast, and other unhealthy bacterial overgrowth in your gut.
You wouldn’t stop watering the whole garden just to get rid of the weeds right? Instead we try to overcome the unwanted troublemakers by promoting the health of the existing ecosystem.
Mold detox diet: Which foods to avoid
Like mentioned above, the first step is to remove yourself from the moldy environment whether that’s your physical location or the foods you are eating. So if you are looking to eat as clean as possible or suspect a moldy diet might be to blame for your symptoms, take a look at these seven foods:
Because rice is extremely versatile, it is often used in gluten-free foods and in many cultural dishes around the world. Most people tolerate rice well but it is worth noting that it can also be contaminated with mycotoxins.
What to look for: Always opt for organic rice and rice-based products over conventional whenever possible.
Coffee beans are one of the more likely foods to contain mycotoxins since the roasting process isn’t enough to destroy them. (2)
What to look for: Choose brands like Bulletproof and Purity Coffee that test for mycotoxins to ensure the coffee you are drinking on a daily basis is mold-free.
Nuts are a great snack option because they are high in both protein and healthy fats. However, nuts like Brazil nuts, walnuts, peanuts, and cashews have a higher chance of containing mold.
What to look for: If you do eat nuts, make sure to buy the freshest nuts possible and follow best practices of soaking and dehydrating your nuts before eating. (3) Not only is this best practice to avoid mold but it also makes them easier to digest. Also, choose seeds like chia, sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin over nuts as they have lower mold content overall. And if you’re a peanut butter lover like I am, look for brands that use only Valencia peanuts as they grow in a drier climate that is less likely to facilitate mold growth. (4)
4. Dried fruit
Because dried fruits like raisins and dates retain moisture, they are more likely to contain mold especially considering their packaging and time spent on the shelf is the optimal environment for growth. (5)
What to look for: Consider swapping dried fruit for fresh or frozen berries as a sweet treat.
While you might think that alcohol would kill off any mycotoxins, certain alcohols (6) like whiskey, beer, red wine, and brandy can actually have high mycotoxin levels. (7)
What to look for: If you want to stay as far away from mycotoxins as possible, stick to tequila, white wine, and organic red wine from Europe as they usually follow stricter guidelines and testing requirements for mold.
6. Processed meats
Processed meats can contain mycotoxins in one of two ways - either the animal was fed with feed already contaminated with mold or there was mold on the final product.
What to look for: Choose products that are grass-fed and brands that follow organic practices since they are less likely to feed their animals moldy feed. (2) Also, make sure the final product is salt-cured as salt helps to inhibit mold growth.
If you look at any ingredient list, corn is in almost every product in some form or another whether it be popcorn, cornstarch, or corn syrup. However, since this crop is highly susceptible to mold it makes choosing corn products a little more difficult. (8)
What to look for: Since you can’t avoid all corn, the best practice is to choose organic corn products as much as you can over conventional, processed corn.
When in doubt: If the food is processed or high in sugar, it’s more likely to be a candidate for mold exposure.
What foods help detox from mold?
1. Organic and Grass Fed Meats
Meat is still essential to a healthy diet for many individuals. In avoiding processed meats, make sure that the chicken or beef you buy is pasture raised, grass fed, and organic.
2. Wild Caught Fish
Fish is also a great staple to a healthy diet. Similarly to beef and chicken, make sure that your fish like salmon and tuna is wild caught rather than farm bred.
3. Leafy Greens
A no brainer right? Kale, spinach, romaine, and cabbage are incredibly good for you and low-risk for mold growth. Always make sure you get your vegetables from the best sources possible to ensure their nutritional value and carefully wash and prepare them.
We all know how important veggies are in a healthy diet. The most impactful in a low mold diet are root vegetables like carrots and radishes, vegetables in the gourd family, and lots of greens like broccoli, cucumber, brussel sprouts, and asparagus. Basically, if it’s a richly colored vegetable you are in the clear.
5. Healthy Fats
In avoiding processed and fast foods, make sure not to completely restrict fat in your diet, it is still an important component of your health. Instead aim to use things like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter, avocado, and even coconut milk.
6. Raw Nuts and Seeds
Seeds are tiny but still very impactful! Include raw pumpkin, chia, sunflower, and sesame seeds in your recipes, and grab some raw almonds or pecans for a healthy snack.
7. Herbs and Herbal Teas
Choose herbal teas carefully, avoiding black tea and mate. Make sure to add some of these herbs to your recipes for a healthy boost: Parsley, cilantro, basil, chives, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, tarragon, etc.
8. Alternatives for those with a sweet tooth
If you have a relentless sweet tooth, we would suggest using pure maple syrup, raw honey, and whole stevia leaf to sweeten up your recipes in place of sugar.
On the same note of reducing sugar intake, if you are a fruit lover, always make sure it is fresh, cleaned and prepared carefully, and eaten in moderation. There are some lower sugar fruits you can lean toward like melons, berries, citrus, and kiwi.
One last thing is that carbs do break down into sugars in your body system, so if you are a bread lover, try out some gluten-free grains instead.
How to boost your body’s detoxing abilities
There are a few other healthy habits that can improve your body’s ability to detox, that when coupled with your mold detox diet should give you optimal results.
Supplies in the Home
There may be several items in your home that are full of toxins and chemicals that don’t serve your body well. These can include cleaning supplies, hygiene products, and even laundry detergents. We recommend cleansing your home of supplies high in chemicals and searching for cleaner products to take their place.
If you aren’t sweating daily, that may be a culprit in the buildup of toxins. Sweating is the body’s natural way of cleansing itself from chemicals, bacteria, and even heavy metals. It can also regulate your body temperature creating an overall better environment within your body systems. It also helps clear the mind which ties perfectly into the next item on this list.
The mind to body connection is so much more powerful than we sometimes give it credit for. It is important to care for your mental and emotional health by taking time each day to journal, meditate, pray, whatever your preferred mind cleansing rituals may be. Make time for your favorite activities and self care routines.
How long does it take to detox from mold? It’s important to be aware of the food we are eating and habits we have on a daily basis and understand how certain foods and exposures might affect us. Not everyone’s health case is going to be impacted the same way by mycotoxin exposure considering some people are just more sensitive to mold toxins. By eating a diverse diet of clean, whole food sources we can help avoid an overload of mycotoxin exposure while also getting in a variety of healthy nutrients that will help support overall health.
For further reading on mold, check out my articles on the top signs of mold exposure, exactly where mold can be hiding in your home, and what you can do to overcome mold toxicity issues.
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- Bennett, J W, and M Klich. “Mycotoxins.” Clinical microbiology reviews vol. 16,3 (2003): 497-516. doi:10.1128/CMR.16.3.497-516.2003
- Mohamed E. Zain, “Impact of mycotoxins on humans and animals.” Journal of Saudi Chemical Society vol. 15,2 (2011); 129-144 doi:10.1016/j.jscs.2010.06.006
- Mycotoxin Fact Sheet WHO May 9, 2018. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mycotoxins
- Arya, Shalini S et al. “Peanuts as functional food: a review.” Journal of food science and technology vol. 53,1 (2016): 31-41. doi:10.1007/s13197-015-2007-9
- Wei, Dizhe et al. “Survey of Alternaria Toxins and Other Mycotoxins in Dried Fruits in China.” Toxins vol. 9,7 200. 26 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3390/toxins9070200
- Mateo, Rufino et al. “An overview of ochratoxin A in beer and wine.” International journal of food microbiology vol. 119,1-2 (2007): 79-83. doi:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2007.07.029
- Peters J, van Dam R, van Doorn R, Katerere D, Berthiller F, Haasnoot W, et al. (2017) Mycotoxin profiling of 1000 beer samples with a special focus on craft beer. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185887. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185887
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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