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Toxicol Sci. 2014 Oct;141(2):329-34. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfu137. Epub 2014 Jul 11.

Reduced foodborne toxin exposure is a benefit of improving dietary diversity.

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Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824 Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824.
Environmental Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland 21205 Environmental and Occupational Health, Pharmacology & Chemical Biology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261.


Naturally occurring foodborne toxins are common in subsistence diets of low-income human populations worldwide. Often, these populations rely on one or two staple foods for the bulk of their calories, making them more susceptible to chronic intake of certain toxins. Exposure to common foodborne toxins is associated with diverse conditions such as cancer, immunotoxicity, growth impairment, and neurological deficits. Interventions focused solely on reducing toxin levels have proven difficult to sustain. Using case studies of two foodborne toxins, aflatoxin and cassava cyanide, this article addresses the heightened risk of particular diseases from eating monotonous diets based in maize, groundnuts, and cassava: common in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. We also discuss the potential role of increased dietary diversity in counteracting these diseases. Increased dietary diversity can reduce consumption of toxins and increase intake of nutrients that could counteract the toxicity of such chemicals. In Qidong, China, a population that previously consumed a monotonous maize-based diet and increased dietary diversity since the 1980s has experienced a dramatic reduction in liver cancer mortalities. That liver cancer decreased as dietary diversity increased is the catalyst for the hypothesis that dietary diversity could have a direct impact on reducing health effects of foodborne toxins. Future research, agricultural development, and food policy reforms should take into consideration the multifaceted benefits associated with improved dietary diversity. Collaborations between toxicologists, nutritionists, and policymakers are important to development of sustainable interventions to reduce foodborne toxin exposure and promote health through increased dietary diversity.


aflatoxin; cassava cyanide; diet; foodborne toxins; global health; nutrition

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