7 Foods Most Likely To Contain Mold + What To Eat Instead


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.

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:

1. Rice

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.

2. Coffee

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.

3. Nuts

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.

5. Alcohol

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.

7. Corn

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.

Next Steps

It’s important to be aware of the food we are eating 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.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

Photo: unsplash.com

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  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Mycotoxin Fact Sheet WHO May 9, 2018. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mycotoxins
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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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Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.