Picture the scene: you’ve just made a sandwich packed with your favorite ingredients and taken a bite. After you’ve savored the first mouthful, though, you notice a few spots of fuzzy green mold on the bread. Then fear begins to take over as you wonder what the fungus is doing to your insides. So, what are the real implications of ingesting mold by accident? Well, the answer may actually come as some surprise.
And mold is probably more common than you think, too. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Safety Inspection Service explains, “Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. No one knows how many species of [them] exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps 300,000 or more.”
“Most [molds] are filamentous – threadlike – organisms, and the production of spores is characteristic of fungi in general,” the service continues on its website. “These spores can be transported by air, water or insects.” The best conditions for mold to grow, then, are when its surroundings are humid and warm, and alarmingly it can materialize in any size or shape.
Mold on food items won’t always look the same, however, as it can be dusty, furry, black, white, gray, green or yellow. And in 2020 Dr. Carla Gervasio – who specializes in Oriental medicine – explained to Shape magazine that its spores don’t just grow on food. They can be in the air, for instance, as well as on the countertops where we prepare our food and even on the sponges with which we clean our dishes.
Edible items are where you’re most likely to spot mold, however – particularly when they are spoiled. And, of course, the length of time it takes for food to become unsuitable for consumption depends on whether it’s been labeled perishable, semi-perishable or non-perishable.
Perishable goods such as meat, fish, fruit, milk, and some vegetables begin to spoil almost instantly unless they are adequately stored. Semi-perishable items such as eggs, carrots, potatoes, onions and beans, on the other hand, can stay edible for several weeks if kept in a cool, dry pantry. And as the name suggests, non-perishable nuts, pulses and cereals can stay in good condition for much longer periods of time.
Don’t chance cooking up a meal with rotten food, however, as it could prove dangerous. During the spoiling process, you see, the product experiences chemical and physical changes as a result of the heat, light, moisture and air to which it has been exposed. And, worryingly, these conditions are often good ones for microorganisms to grow in.
To make sure that our food lasts long enough to enjoy it safely, many of our favorite grocery products have chemical preservatives added to them. These not only help ensure that an item is in its best condition, but they can also help the food look fresher for a greater period of time.
For example, antioxidants such as butylated hydroxytoluene slow down the process of fatty, oily foods like margarine going rancid. Humectants, meanwhile, absorb the water in products such as shredded coconut, with this aiding in keeping any moisture content consistent.
Antibiotics are even added to food, as tetracyclines combat the growth of dangerous bacteria in fish, chicken and various canned items that could otherwise make someone sick. And the preservatives used to curb mold’s development are known as antimycotics. These include sorbic acid and sodium propionate, and they are added to fruit, cheese, and bread as well as many fruit juices.
However, some preservatives used for aesthetic purposes have proved rather controversial. For instance, sodium nitrate and simple nitrite are both used in meat curing as they help prevent the development of bacteria which could cause botulism – a condition of the nervous system. That said, these substances are also added because they give bacon and ham its appetizing reddish-pink coloring.
And the food industry argues that the natural brown color of many cured meats would deter people from buying them, as they may look otherwise unappealing. Some critics believe, though, that our modern level of cleanliness and access to refrigeration makes adding preservatives to food largely unnecessary.
But in our everyday lives, how do we recognize a food item that has spoiled? Well, the first guideline is the expiry or sell-by date on the packaging – and if you’ve gone past the expiry, it’s recommended that you steer clear. Sometimes items that haven’t reached this date may have already gone bad, in fact. A tell-tale sign here would be a change in color – like white bread becoming yellow or green vegetables going black.
So, if food has a foul odor or just doesn’t smell the way it should, it may have begun to go rot and therefore shouldn’t be eaten. That’s also the case if your produce is sticky or slimy or has any kind of film over it. And if a fruit or vegetable has become blemished, wrinkled or unusually soft, it, too, is normally beyond saving.
Still, you probably fall under one of two camps when it comes to spotting mold on your food. You may be the kind of person who simply cuts the offending section off a piece of bread before eating the rest of the slice anyway; alternatively, you may throw out the entire carton of strawberries if just one looks a little rotten. But which of these tactics is correct? Well, it depends entirely on the food in question.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service notes that mold has roots and branches that grow like threads and can penetrate deeply into food items. This means that, more often than not, the safest course of action is to avoid eating moldy food entirely. But if you really want to take the risk, some produce is safer to eat when spoiled than others.
According to the USDA, harder foods such as some cheeses, vegetables, salami and firm fruits can be eaten even if they’ve become moldy. As long as you make sure to cut at least an inch around and below the mold, that patch can be removed and then consumed as normal. Ensure that the knife you use doesn’t touch the mold itself, however, to reduce the risk of spreading it and then cover the item in new plastic wrap afterward.
By contrast, bread, baked goods or soft fruits should be thrown out if any mold at all is discovered, and that similarly applies to yogurt, canned goods, jams or uncooked meat and poultry. These foods all contain a higher level of moisture than others, making it easier for the mold toxins to spread more thoroughly.
And if you’re of the belief that toasting bread can actually kill the mold bacteria on it, the USDA says otherwise. You see, bread is actually extremely porous, which means that mold roots can take hold deeply – and so your loaf should be thrown in the trash if it’s visibly spoiled in this way.
How can you stop your food from going moldy in the first place? Well, firstly, you should always keep any perishable items in the refrigerator. Food should also be covered when it is being served, or at the very least it should never be left uncovered for more than two hours. Finally, always be sure to maintain high standards of hygiene in your cupboards and your fridge.
It should be known, though, that mold can grow on food in almost any environment. Yes, while it spreads quickest in humid, warm places, it is also perfectly capable of hanging on in colder climates. This means putting something in the fridge won’t negate the risk of mold entirely; rather, it will simply slow the process down.
Yet there are some mold-limiting steps you can take when shopping for groceries. For example, the USDA advises avoiding purchasing large amounts of food at once. You should also try not to buy any bruised produce such as discolored fruit, as bruising is an indicator of a disruption to the cellular makeup of the product – leaving the door open for mold to grow.
But what if there’s mold on the tasty sandwich you’ve just prepped for yourself? Well, experts claim that there’s usually no reason to worry if you’ve consumed this type of fungi by accident. In May 2020 Providence Saint John’s Health Center gastroenterologist Dr. Rudolph Bedford told Women’s Health, “You’re not going to die from eating mold.” He added that as long as your immune system is in good working order, you should be capable of digesting the substance in the same manner as any other food item.
Yet while Bedford also acknowledged that you may feel unwell after ingesting mold, that’s not down to any dangerous toxins; rather, it’s because it tastes so horrid. He said, “The stomach is a harsh environment, so, for the most part, most bacteria and fungus won’t survive. It’s very uncommon that you’re going to get sick from mold.”
Even so, Bedford advised that if you do become ill after eating mold, you should see whether you eventually suffer from more than just a bad stomach. If you are regularly vomiting, for instance, then you should contact your doctor, who is likely to prescribe anti-nausea pills or a medication to clean out your digestive system by inducing diarrhea.
Bedford also told Women’s Health that while he has never encountered a patient in his 30 years of practice who has died from ingesting mold, this doesn’t mean there aren’t people who are at a higher risk than others. An allergic reaction to mold can lead to respiratory problems, after all – although, according to the gastroenterologist, these issues are very treatable and usually temporary.
Maria Yuabova – a New York City doctor of nursing practice and nurse practitioner – went into more scientific detail with Shape. She told the publication in January 2020, “When the immune system works well, and healthy gut flora is abundant, molds will have no negative impact on the health and wellness of that individual.”
“In the case of people whose immune systems are weak, ingested fungal spores could cause more severe issues,” Yuabova went on. “When fungal invasion becomes systemic, the fungus can invade the digestive tract, upper respiratory tract and brain. Those cases become more serious.” Those with allergies, asthma or a chronic condition of some sort should contact their doctor, then, if they’ve eaten mold.
You should know, too, that symptoms of a bad reaction to the ingestion of mold can be similar to those of food poisoning. That’s according to nutritionist Lisa Richards, who is the creator of the Candida Diet – “a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet that promotes good gut health and eliminates the sugars that feed a candida overgrowth.” For reference, her advice focuses on balancing the bacteria in your gut.
Richards told Shape that it’s best to simply ride it out if you inadvertently eat some mold. She continued, “If you notice gastrointestinal symptoms, [however], it’s a good idea to add a probiotic into your health regimen and follow a fairly bland diet to help replenish the healthy bacteria in your gut.”
And you may even have ingested mold without realizing it and lived to tell the tale. Brie, camembert and a variety of blue cheeses all have penicillium cultures added to them, with these creating the tell-tale blue-gray or dark blue veins. Other molds used in cheesemaking include P. candidum, roqueforti, P. and glaucum.
These substances are often key to certain cheeses’ unique texture and flavor, as they eat the sugar and proteins in the milk used in curdling. The method of aging blue cheese then creates levels of density, acidity, moisture and oxygen flow that prevent the growth of dangerous molds with harmful toxins.
And while blue cheese also contains extremely high levels of sodium – making it typically saltier than other forms of the dairy-based product – it can have health benefits if consumed in moderation. For starters, blue cheese is typically less fatty and has more nutrients than its counterparts.
The Penicillium roqueforti mold used in the creation of blue cheese can help lower cholesterol by combatting the bad parasites and bacteria that can increase levels of the lipid in the body. This fungus even obstructs the angiotensin-converting enzyme, helping better control blood pressure.
And that’s not all. The mold in blue cheese also works in an anti-inflammatory capacity – thus reducing the risk of diseases such as arthritis and inflammation of the bowel. It may similarly contribute to the lowering of plaque levels in our arteries, strengthen the immune system and combat sinus and food allergies.
What’s more, blue cheese is brimming with minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and magnesium as well as vitamins A, D and B12. And that’s good to hear, as magnesium is great for reducing muscle stiffness and, in conjunction with calcium, strengthening bone density. Meanwhile, vitamin B12 helps the nervous system and plays a big part in cell metabolism and the formation of red blood cells.
And according to a 2018 article by the website Health Fuze, every ounce of blue cheese possesses on average six grams of protein – which can contribute to the growth of bones, cartilage, muscles, hair, skin and blood vessels. The dairy product can also improve cognitive function by encouraging the regeneration of brain cells – making it ideal for the elderly and growing children.
Finally, if the penicillium used in blue cheese is ringing a bell in your head, that’s likely because the word reminds you of penicillin. This, of course, is still one of the most commonly used antibiotics all over the world and was actually originally derived from the penicillium mold. Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming unintentionally made the discovery in 1928.
Specifically, Fleming found that the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus was prevented from growing in a culture he was preparing, as his concoction had been accidentally contaminated by Penicillium notatum. Intrigued by this phenomenon, he went on to isolate the penicillium mold and cultivate it in fluid form. And after going through this process, Fleming noted that the resulting substance had the ability to kill many of the bacteria that commonly infect human beings.
Then, thanks to British biochemist Ernst Boris Chain and pathologist Howard Florey from Australia, penicillin was purified by the late 1930s, with an injectable form of the drug arriving soon after that. And as you may know, penicillin is still used today to treat diseases today – including meningitis and throat infections.
So, eating mold – accidentally, of course – isn’t as bad for you as you may have assumed. But while that prospect may seem unappealing, perhaps you’re more won over by the idea of lemon water. People all over the world are drinking this concoction, in fact – and for good reasons.
If you usually reach for a cool soda or beer on a hot summer’s day, however, then you’re certainly not alone. But perhaps you should be switching your choice of beverage to lemon water – something that millions are thought to sip every day. Why? Well, although it’s an acquired taste, lemon water is becoming increasingly popular across the planet – and that’s perhaps because of the surprising impact it has on the body if you drink it for a week straight.
As its name suggests, lemon water is a very simple combination of just two basic and easily attainable ingredients, and making it is as easy as pie. Simply pour a glass of clean, safe-to-drink H2O – tap water in most developed countries is fine – and then carefully squeeze about half the juice from the yellow-colored fruit into the liquid.
And as well as being easy to make, the drink is also relatively cheap – particularly if you live in a warm enough climate to grow and maintain your own lemon tree. That’s likely at least part of the reason why it’s such a popular thirst-quencher in Asia. But the effects of the sour concoction may account for its increasing ubiquity, too.
Yes, as we previously mentioned, drinking lemon water can have quite the dramatic impact on the human body. And while some of these changes are more or less immediate, others are reported to take hold after only a week of consuming the beverage several times a day.
So, what exactly does lemon water do to us? And what happens if you go the distance and incorporate this drink into your life for at least seven days? Well, content marketing guru Bill Widmer has revealed some of the things you can expect if you choose to take on the lemon water challenge.
In a piece for the website Lifehack, Widmer picked out some problems that the juicy concoction is alleged to flush away. And, apparently, one of these issues is tiredness. The expert wrote, “If reaching for a cup of coffee every few hours is becoming your norm, you should really consider drinking lemon water for a week to cleanse your system.”
Widmer even suggests forgoing your joe altogether, adding, “While the first two days are going to be a little tough due to caffeine withdrawal, by the end of the week you should start feeling a lot better than you have in a while. Stop reaching for your coffee mug and start squeezing lemons to get more energy in your day.”
The second thing Widmer covered was getting sick. He noted, “If a runny nose and constant cough occur every other week for you, lemon water can help! The natural vitamin C in lemons will help your immune system fight off viruses and bacteria. Drinking more water will also help cleanse your system and remove bad toxins from your bloodstream.”
And according to the marketing specialist, lemon water may even help you stick to that diet. “Thanks to lemon acid and pectin, infusing your water with this fruit will help your stomach feel fuller for longer periods of time,” he explained. “Pectin is a natural chemical found in many [types of] produce, so feel free to combine lemon with some water to give your stomach a little more substance to digest. You can have lemon water before any meal to keep you from feeling overly hungry.”
Even if you’re eating in moderation, though, you may still experience tummy troubles. Fortunately, lemon water can help those, too – or so Widmer has claimed, anyway. He explained, “Drinking lemon water for a week can cleanse your system of toxins and other harmful bacteria, and [it] also has a similar molecular structure to your stomach’s digestive juices. Lemon water will trick your liver into creating bile, which helps move food throughout your digestive tract. This is why any indigestion, bloating or gas is alleviated with the consistent consumption of this drink.”
The next item on Widmer’s list was the bane of many a teenager’s life: acne. He revealed, “Lemon produces antioxidants [that help] prevent your skin from breaking out. Additionally, lemon helps your body produce collagen, which is known to smooth out wrinkles in the skin and promote skin elasticity. Drink lemon water for a week, and you’ll see some major changes in your face!”
And if you want to get in shape, lemon water may be the key. How? Well, Widmer has clarified this, too, writing, “The acidic nature of lemon juice combined with the juice’s negative[ly] charged ions give your body a boost in energy. This energy boost means your metabolism will kick into higher gear. In addition to [giving you] a faster metabolism, the pectin will keep you fuller for longer periods of time – again helping you kick those detrimental eating habits.”
Finally, Widmer argued that lemon water helped with psychological issues – including mood swings. He expounded, “Lemon consumption has been found to reduce stress levels and improve moods. If you drink lemon water for a week, your improved energy levels will combine with the natural stress relief properties of lemon juice and result in optimum and controlled mood levels.”
So, if you’ve previously been on the fence about lemon water, those many supposed benefits may just encourage you to make the leap. But we shouldn’t just take Widmer’s word for it, as other folks have been doing some investigating of their own into the effects of the fruity beverage.
Nicole Yi knows better than many about this, too, as she once consumed lemon water for seven days straight. And in 2018 Popsugar’s former associate editor for fitness penned a piece for the site revealing what exactly she had experienced during her week-long experiment.
Yi began her article by writing, “With perks [such as] digestion aid, weight loss and kidney-stone prevention, lemon water sounds like a miracle elixir. So, when I found out that the benefits of lemon water actually weren’t all hype, I knew I had to put it to the test myself.”
Yi continued, “For one whole week, I added half a lemon sliced – any less won’t yield enough vitamin C – to my water and drank it from morning till night, refilling as needed throughout the day.” And while the journalist “didn’t wake up each morning with glowing skin and a flat belly as [she had] expected,” she did notice one unanticipated benefit.
Specifically, Yi observed, “During the week of my experiment, I was surprised to see how much more water I was drinking each day. Most of the time, my problem with plain old water is that it’s too boring to drink. But lemon added enough flavor to make things interesting, encouraging me to reach for my infused glass more and more.”
Yi found that her H2O intake close to doubled, in fact, going from around 20 to 32 ounces per day over the length of the challenge. However, she went on, “This little experiment also came with an unexpected side effect: I began to feel slightly nauseous in the mornings when I drank the lemon water on an empty stomach.”
Yi continued in her Popsugar column, “I don’t typically eat breakfast — mostly due to force of habit, not because of intermittent fasting — and I refused to give up my cup of coffee for this experiment. That plus lemon water on an empty stomach until lunch was a recipe for stomach irritation. This might be due to the acidity of the coffee and the alkalizing effect of the lemon, but I can’t be sure. While it wasn’t enough to keep me from continuing, I’d definitely line my tummy with some food before trying this again.”
Summarizing her experiment, Yi concluded, “I don’t recommend drinking lemon water all day, every day for an extended period of time for the sake of preserving your teeth enamel. But if you’re seeking an easy way to reset healthy habits, try starting your morning off with a warm glass of lemon water to replenish your body and give yourself a boost of vitamin C. And if you’re just as bad as hydrating, it may be worth infusing your water with different fruits to see if it makes a difference like it did for me.”
Freelance writer Gianluca Russo similarly took on the lemon water challenge, drinking a glass of the stuff every morning for a week after rising out of bed. He also noted his newfound habit’s apparent effects in a 2019 article for the website Insider. And it seems that Russo had only positive things to report.
Russo explained how the regimen had improved his skin, writing, “First off, upon the completion of my one-week lemon water challenge, I noticed my skin was almost flawless, [with] no breakouts, no excess oils [and] no new blemishes. I also found that, to the touch, my skin was much softer and appeared to be much brighter. Essentially, the lemon juice created a natural highlight on my face.”
Russo continued, “I also found that the lemon water helped with my breath. Having been cursed with bad breath, mornings have always been a particularly difficult time for me. However, I soon found that the lemon water improved this, [as] the fruit’s citric acid helps to break down and fight bacteria in the mouth.”
After the writer had completed his seven-day routine, though, his acne reportedly began to return – suggesting that maybe the lemon water had made a difference. Furthermore, he noted, “At the end of the week, I also found I was much less bloated. Lemons are a natural diuretic and help the body let go of any extra salt it’s hanging on to. In turn, this decreases bloating.”
And while Russo didn’t manage to spot any more immediately discernible health benefits, he did suggest that drinking water may have boosted his immune system, as he hadn’t felt ill during the experiment. Even so, he admitted, “I found each day that I became thirsty faster in the mornings. I also found that if I didn’t quench this thirst, a weird aftertaste was left in my mouth.”
But while such anecdotal evidence is all well and good, what do the experts say about the pros and cons of lemon water? Well, Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist with the Association for Nutrition in England, meaning the subject is well in her wheelhouse. And she has given her thoughts on the matter in a piece written for BBC Good Food’s website.
Before analyzing the many claims that have been made about lemon water, however, Lewin outlined the basic facts about lemons themselves. She wrote, “Lemons and other citrus fruits are well known for their colorful pitted skins and tart, refreshing taste. Lemons contain citric acid and have a high vitamin C content.”
But consuming lemons for health reasons is not a new practice, as Lewin pointed out. She went on, “Lemons have been used for centuries and have been highly regarded in the past for treating scurvy – a now rare condition that can develop through lack of vitamin C. Vitamin C is often claimed to support the immune system; however, studies have been inconclusive.”
So, does getting a regular supply of vitamin C through lemon water prevent you from contracting a cold? Well, while Lewin cited a study that suggested this isn’t the case, this investigation nevertheless found that the vitamin “may shorten the duration of symptoms [as well as halve] the common cold risk in people exposed to short periods of extreme physical stress – for example, marathon runners.” Lewin added, “Lemons also contain protective antioxidants called flavonoids.”
The nutritionist also took a look at the supposed benefits of lemon water that have been touted by writers such as Widmer. “Headlines have linked drinking lemon water to many other health claims, including weight loss, improved digestion, ‘alkalizing’ effects on the body, improved skin and detoxification,” she wrote. However, Lewin went on, “The research, especially human studies, to support these health claims is minimal.”
It’s not all bad news for those convinced of lemon water’s advantages for health, though. As Lewin attested, “Some evidence has linked vitamin C and flavonoids to improvements in skin. Vitamin C is known to help the body produce collagen, which contributes to the integrity of skin.”
And although it contains naturally occurring sugars from the fruit, lemon water is viewed by Lewin as a good bet for quenching both thirst and hunger. She wrote, “It’s possible to mistake thirst for hunger, so if you have been advised to lose weight, try having a glass of lemon water first when you feel hungry to see if you’re really just thirsty. If you usually opt for fizzy or sugary drinks, lemon water would be a lower-calorie and lower-sugar alternative.”
Naturally, then, as lemon water is predominantly made up of H2O, it is also excellent for hydration. Lewin stated, “Dehydration is common and can present with headaches, dizziness and tiredness. It’s important to make sure that you consume enough fluid while exercising or in hot weather. The [British National Health Service] advises drinking six to eight glasses of fluid – ideally water – a day.”
Lewin additionally acknowledged the assertions that the beverage can assist with stomach issues, writing, “Some people find drinking a glass of lemon water, particularly first thing in the morning, aids digestion.” Yet she stopped short of suggesting that the drink was a miracle cure, saying instead that any positive findings to this end were “mainly subjective, and reports are anecdotal.”
Furthermore, Lewin questioned the legitimacy of the claims that lemon water should be consumed immediately upon rising. She opined, “The effects of lemon water will not change regardless of whether you drink it first thing in the morning or last thing at night. If you like the taste of lemon water, it could be a good choice for first thing in the morning, as we often wake up a little dehydrated – especially if you’ve had alcohol or salty food the night before.”
And the nutrition expert denied that lemon water assists in the detoxifying process. She revealed, “There is currently no evidence to suggest that lemon water has an alkalizing or detoxing effect on the body. The liver is responsible for eliminating toxins from everything we eat, drink and are exposed to in our environment, so no amount of lemon water is going to ‘detox’ our bodies. There is also no truth to the claims that lemon water balances pH levels.”
A number of these findings were backed up by Joe Leech, who in a May 2020 article for Medical News Today similarly questioned the veracity of some of the claims made about lemon water. Leech hinted, however, that the flavonoids in the fruit could potentially reduce inflammation, while lemon’s citrate may heal or prevent kidney stones.
Yet the writer was largely skeptical about some of the perceived benefits to consuming the drink, writing, “There are many other health claims surrounding lemon water, but most do not have any scientific evidence to support them.” He also refuted suggestions that lemon water could aid substantial weight loss, effectively alkalize the body, help fight cancer or, perhaps most bizarrely, raise IQ.
So, we’ve covered the potential positives to sipping lemon water, but are there any drawbacks we should know about? Well, perhaps just one. In her article for BBC Good Food, Lewin highlighted the consequences that long-term lemon water drinking could have on our teeth, explaining, “Fruit juices and acidic liquids can impact the enamel of teeth, so it is best to dilute concentrated lemon juice with water or drink through a straw.” Altogether, then, while lemon water is not quite the magic potion many would have us believe, it is a perfectly healthy and refreshing thirst-quencher that can be safely consumed as part of a balanced diet.