How Many Bananas Would You Have to Eat in Order to Die from Radiation?
Too much of a good thing can be bad for us. Water, which we need to consume on a regular basis if we want to survive, could be our downfall if we imbibe too much of the stuff. Yes, you can literally drink yourself to death. This is known as “water intoxication” and it happens more often than you might think. Plenty of natural foods can pose a danger if we consume too much of them, and especially if we haven’t cooked them. While there are lots of poisonous mushrooms out there, famed mycologist Paul Stamets warns us about eating too many mushrooms that haven’t been cooked well. We know that some fruit pits can be bad, or that too many potatoes of a certain kind can cause havoc, but today we’ll concentrate on our little yellow friend, in this episode of the Infographics Show, How many Bananas would you have to eat in order to Die from Radiation?
Word Atlas tells us that the most popular fruit in the world is the tomato. Yes, we know most people regard this red beauty – pronounced “to-MAH-to” in the UK – as a vegetable, but technically it’s a fruit. The Oxford English dictionary tells us we get it mixed up because it’s generally used for cooking in savory dishes.
Anyway, World Atlas explains that the second most eaten fruit across the world is the banana. There is hardly a place where it isn’t enjoyed, with the annual consumption being about 114.13 million metric tons. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization also tells us bananas are the most widely consumed fruit, with exports in 2014 amounting to almost $11 billion. In third place was watermelon and then apples. According to ‘The Packer 2017 Fresh Trends’ report, bananas were the most eaten fruit in the USA, but then it had tomatoes as the most consumed vegetable, not fruit.
Right, so we know most people are fond of eating bananas. Now to the point, how bad can they be for you? Well, you might already know that eating too many of them can give you a stomachache. Generally, they shouldn’t, but if you are eating bananas that are not very ripe, the amount of starch in the banana can cause gas, just like all starchy foods can. Health websites also say some people are simply banana intolerant, and that is why certain people feel abdominal pain when they eat them. You can handle the stomach pain, but can too many bananas kill you?
The BBC, usually regarded as a quality source of news, asked a seemingly ridiculous question in 2015. That was, “Can eating more than six bananas at once kill you?” The BBC points out that this question became popularized after it was brought up by UK television celebrity Karl Pilkington when talking with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. While the latter two write and perform comedy, the former is better known for his absurd and sometimes short sighted worldview. Nonetheless, Pilkington was actually on to something.
While the body needs potassium, too much potassium can be bad for us. Pilkington believed that potassium was the problem, but a scientist in the BBC report stated that you’d have to eat about 400 bananas a day for anything slightly bad to happen, and that 6 a day is actually good for you.
Snopes also picked up on this, and asked a scientist if there is an unhealthy number of bananas one could eat in one sitting that might cause banana overdose. They said that indeed 18 grams of potassium ingested quickly could be dangerous for the kidneys, but that would mean someone gouging on around 42 bananas in one sitting. Nobody would do that, and we suggest you don’t try.
But bananas pose another danger, in a way. They are radioactive. There is naturally occurring radioactive isotopes in the fruit and that’s why we have something called the “Banana equivalent dose (BED).” This has been used to measure radiation in the body. Bananas do contain radioactive isotopes, so much so that they have been known to set-off radiation sensors used at US ports where smuggling of nuclear materials could occur.
According to another BBC report on the radiation-banana issue, “The standard measure of the biological effect of radiation is the Sievert.” But that’s a massive dose, and a banana only contains about one tenth of a millionth of that. But you can still measure radiation doses in bananas. Sounds crazy, eh, and why would anyone do that? Well, mostly because it’s a nice way of checking how much radiation one is exposed to. You could use a banana to check radiation levels in the body compared to other food sources close to a site where it’s thought foods may have been contaminated with radiation, such as milk. Still, critics of the measurement have said this doesn’t take into account how much of the banana-radiation is absorbed by the body after it’s eaten. In fact, experts say your body will just get rid of the excess radioactive isotope, Potassium-40. But, could you still die from radiation poisoning if you ate an incredibly large number of bananas?
Ramzi Amri, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Med/Mass General Surgical Oncology, tried to answer that question. His answer, “Yes, you will certainly die from radiation poisoning if you are able to eat 10 million bananas at once.” He also said that if you ate 274 bananas a day for seven years you’d have chronic symptoms. This would naturally be impossible, and if you tried it, is likely that your stomach would rupture well before radiation was any kind of threat.
There have never been any cases of radiation poisoning from eating too many bananas. On the other hand, we suggest you don’t eat a mountain of apple seeds lest you become the victim of cyanide toxicity. You’d also have to grind the pits up in your teeth to make them effective.
Cherry, peach, and apricot pits can also cause us harm, so watch out for them. The UK’s Independent reported in 2017 that a father of three almost died in the hospital after he decided to try the pits in the cherries he was eating. The young man wasn’t aware of the possibility of cyanide poisoning. He ate three pits in all. He told the press after eating the first one he decided they were actually very tasty, and so had another two pits. “It tasted similar to an almond but with a cherry flavor to it. I didn't think anything of it, just thought it was a seed, so I ate it and continued to eat more of it,” the man told the press. He then started to burn up and feel rather unwell. He was then rushed to hospital. Bananas, it seems, are the least of our fruit-based worries.
We’ll leave it on that note. Have you ever felt unwell from eating too much fruit? Let us know in the comments!