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Fruits like cherries and apples are widely consumed across the globe. Apples are one of the most popular fruits on the planet, being eaten relentlessly by people to avoid the proverbial doctor, while cherries are used in a variety of beverages, pies, cakes, candy and dozens of other delicious uses!
Little do most of us know that the seeds of some sweet fruits actually contain dangerous compounds that can be harmful to us if we eat them in excess.
Stone fruits, such as cherries, apricots, plums and peaches, have really hard seeds or “pits” in their centers. We rarely swallow them, let alone bite into them, particularly after devouring all that tasty fruit (mainly because they’ll break our teeth). There’s always a chance, though, that one fateful fruit will come with a crushed pit, which is when you need to be careful. The same goes for apples and pears, so it’s wise not to chew up too many of their seeds. Why? The seeds and pits of these particular fruits contain amygdalin (a cyanogenic compound), which your body can convert into cyanide – a potent toxin.
Before we get into the next section, and since some of you may be panicking right now about your years of apple eating, just remember that experiencing any harmful effects by eating these seeds is highly unlikely. For you to be in any real danger, the sheer number of fruits or seeds you would have to consume to get enough cyanide into your body would be impressive.
How It Works
When you bite into one of these seeds or swallow a crushed one, the amygdalin you just ingested travels to your gut, where an enzyme called beta-d-glucosidase (which may also be released from the seed itself) converts the amygdalin into glucose, benzaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide (HCN).
Cyanide inhibits a very important enzyme that affects the mitochondria of our cells. The inhibition of this enzyme, namely cytochrome-c-oxidase, results in the termination of cellular respiration. Since mitochondria are the powerhouses of our cells and respiration is the process by which energy is produced for use in the body, termination of this process will eventually result in our death. Again, this would be a huge amount of cyanide, and highly unlikely from cherry pits of apple seeds.
So, biting into a few of these seeds isn’t enough to harm you, and in fact, when swallowed whole, they’ll pass through your system releasing barely any cyanide. That being said, you should be smart and avoid chewing on too many of these fruits’ seeds and pits.
Enjoy as many apples as you want, but don’t chomp on the seeds if you can avoid it!