7 Surprising Foods That Might Contain Mold Toxins, According To A Functional Medicine Expert
When you think of reasons you should avoid particular foods, certain factors likely come to mind, including food intolerances, pesticides, or GMOs. For most patients in my telehealth functional medicine center, mold is usually not on their list. But mycotoxins—toxic compounds produced from mold—in food are worth paying attention to and may be a hidden trigger for ongoing symptoms and chronic health problems.
Why is mold problematic?
Let's back up for a second. Mold is a fungus that exists anywhere there is moisture; so basically, it's everywhere—in the air and vents, under the floor, and in your walls and carpet. Some mold is OK, but when you're exposed to too much toxic mold that releases mycotoxins or mold toxins1 (such as stachybotrys, aspergillus, fusarium, and citrinin), it can trigger inflammation. It's also worth noting that mycotoxins aren't the kind of mold you see growing on expired yogurt or forgotten leftovers; they're not actually visible to the naked eye.
It's important to know that some people are more sensitive to mold than others. Most people have healthy detox and methylation pathways to clear out mold, but some people, especially people with a family history of autoimmune issues, may have more of a challenge flushing them out.
In my experience working with patients, I've found mycotoxin exposure can trigger inflammatory issues and mimic symptoms of other health problems (think chronic fatigue), which means a lot of people miss this piece of their health puzzle. While I often recommend that my patients test for mold in their home, car, or workplace, I sometimes find that diet is a major factor—particularly when a person's home test comes back clean.
And sure enough, when I dive a little deeper into their health history and run urine and blood mycotoxin labs (note: these aren't yet recognized by the CDC, but I've found them useful in my work), they often reveal a diet high in mycotoxins. So, if any of the above applies to you, you've hit a health plateau, or you'd just like to be particularly cautious about what you eat—consider proceeding with a bit of caution when it comes to these potentially moldy foods.
Potentially moldy foods in your diet:
Rice is a staple in many cultural dishes and is commonly used in place of wheat in a variety of gluten-free substitutes. Although rice is extremely versatile and generally well tolerated, it is also one of the foods that may be contaminated with mycotoxins.
What to do: To minimize your exposure, choose organic brands of rice and rice-based products whenever possible.
What to do: If you're concerned your body isn't feeling its healthiest, consider skipping dried fruit, and opt for fresh or frozen berries.
High in healthy fats and protein, nuts make a great snack for all kinds of nutrient-conscious eaters. But some nuts (particularly peanuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, and walnuts) are also more likely to contain mold.
What to do: I generally advise opting for raw organic chia seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, and pecans, which tend to be the lowest mold. The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends buying your nuts as fresh as possible4 and discarding any that look moldy, discolored, or shriveled.
If you want to be extra cautious with your nut consumption, consider soaking and dehydrating them before eating, as this helps to break down the mycotoxins and neutralize their effects.
What to do: I recommend always choosing salt-cured meat to inhibit the growth of any mold. Also, look for organic, grass-fed meat whenever possible to ensure the animals weren't fed moldy feed.
What to do: Of course, the occasional drink shouldn't be an issue. But if you'd like to play it safer, I advise sticking to white wine and tequila when choosing what to sip on a night out, as these have the lowest levels of mold toxicity. As for red wine fans, I recommend looking for organic, biodynamic wine from Europe, where they tend to have stricter guidelines that test for many kinds of common molds.
What to do: I recommend limiting your corn intake to only organic, whole food sources and avoid any products made from conventional corn, if possible.
It's important to be cognizant of mycotoxin exposure—both in your external and internal environment. In my experience, the above foods can have an impact, particularly for people who are extra sensitive to mold toxins. That said, maintaining a healthy, diverse diet4 can be very helpful—not only for mitigating mycotoxin exposure but also for supporting overall nutrition.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., 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.