Toxic Substances

Toxic or antinutritional substances found in some legumes include alkaloids, cyanide poisons, enzyme inhibitors, saponin, and goitrogen, the last causing an enlargement of the thyroid gland. More serious still are the lectins or haemagglutinins (blood clotting agents) that may cause vomiting, diarrhea and severe abdominal pain, and lathyrism, which can produce mild to severe neurological disorders. Unpleasant but nontoxic substances that occur in certain legumes include stachyose and raffinose carbohydrates, which cause flatulence. Most of these unwanted substances can be removed by appropriate washing and cooking methods prior to consumption.

Dwight G. Smith

See also: Agriculture: traditional; Fruit crops; Fruit: structure and types; Nitrogen fixation; Organic gardening and farming; Sustainable agriculture; Vegetable crops.

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