Bananas are radioactive. That tidbit of information has likely crossed your path before. The yellow, phallic fruit is filled with potassium, a naturally radioactive element. So iconic are bananas as a source of radiation that they inspired their own unit of measurement, the banana equivalent dose, which is roughly 0.1 microsieverts of ionizing radiation.
But did you know your coffee is radioactive, too? It’s true. In fact, on a weighted basis, the average coffee powder is roughly three times as radioactive as bananas! If you feel like you’re glowing and abuzz after your morning brew, it may not be due to the caffeine…
Other foods are radioactive as well. Carrots, white potatoes, red meat, and lima beans all contain roughly the same amount of potassium per kilogram — and thus radiation — as bananas.
However, all of these foods pale in comparison to the mighty Brazil nut. Not only does this tasty nut deliver significantly more potassium than bananas, it also contains a surprising amount of radium — more than 1000 times as much as most common foods. The radium builds up in the nut thanks to the brazil nut tree’s incredibly extensive root system.
So does this mean that lovers of Brazil nuts are at risk of their jaws falling off just like theRadium Girls of a century past?
Actually, you’ve little to worry about from the radioactivity in your food. Even at the often obscene levels that Americans drink coffee, there’s no danger whatsoever. And for reference, you’d have to consume between one and two million kilograms of Brazil nuts to reach a potentially lethal dose of radiation. It goes without saying that you’d succumb to a bursting stomach before radiation poisoning.
As an unseen threat, radiation understandably evokes fear. But consider this: humans — and indeed all animals — have lived on Earth for many, many millions of years, and on our beautiful blue-green planet, we bathe in radiation every day thanks to the great ball of fire in sky that endows the Earth with life. The Sun shoots down radiation each and every day in the form of powerful, warming light, and yet we go on living. That’s because all surface-dwelling animals have evolved exquisite bodily mechanisms to mitigate and repair radiation’s damage.
On average, background radiation causes DNA molecules inside 100,000,000 million of your cells to suffer double-strand breaks every hour, meaning both links in the DNA double helix are severed. When this happens, the genetic information encoded inside can get garbled. But despite this daily breakdown of DNA, we don’t fall apart or automatically develop cancer.
The simple fact is that life itself is radioactive. That isn’t scary. It’s just life.
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)