Scientist Has Warning About Deadly Popular Instagram Trend

by : Francesca Donovan on : 31 May 2018 21:34

Instagram is, at times, a highly-curated hive of villainy and vanity, the likes of which will never cease to amaze.

We’ve witnessed the dangerous fashion ‘trends’ which encourage body dysmorphia as well as endless challenges, from the mundane Mannequin to the tiresome Tide Pods.


As insipid as some of these trends may be, the latest is literally poisonous:

Brought to you by clean-eating bloggers – ironically – it’s now cool to decorate your goji berry and chia seed smoothies with potentially deadly plants, apparently.

Disclaimer: Don’t actually do this. Even for decoration. It’s so dumb.


Botanist James Wong is calling out the pixellated hypocrisy:

The white flower you can see perched so prettily on top of the smoothie, made and photographed by clean-eating blogger Marie Reginato, is a cultivated Narcissus variety.

The whole plant contains a toxic substance called lycorine, Wong told UNILAD, adding, ‘Its evolutionary function is to repel attack from herbivores.’


Wong detailed the side effects of eating this flowering plant, including ‘nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and in higher doses even convulsions, liver damage and cardiac arrhythmia’.

While it doesn’t sound like a walk in the park, it gets worse, Wong explained:

They also contain oxalates which are microscopic, needle-like crystals which can cause severe irritation and burning, in particular around the lips, lining of the mouth and throat.

Daffodil pickers often experience painful skin lesions from coming into contact with the sap, and this is on the much thicker skin of the hands and arms.

It’s excruciating.


Narcissus plants are one of the most common sources of accidental plant poisoning in the UK, often mistaken for onions due to the similarities in their bulbs, Wong warned, adding ‘erring on the side of caution is absolutely crucial’.

In other words, don’t believe everything you see on social media:


So, don’t go adorning your allegedly healthy food with the poisonous plants.

Wong says to do so is ‘akin to putting dishwasher tablets or moth balls as a food garnish and claiming they are just decoration’.

Yet, they’re scattered daintily throughout the food porn pages and pages of Instagram posts, peddled by Reginato, of San Francisco, alongside her ‘healthy…alternative vegan’ message.

Wong has observed other bloggers featuring ‘extremely dangerous’ lantana flowers to decorate their culinary concoctions.

Max Pixel

He told UNILAD:

Eating these is a frequent cause of livestock death in some parts of the world from acute liver failure.

As cows are significantly larger than people, the likely lethal dose isn’t very high at all.

Wong said he realised things were serious when he found other bloggers using Madagascar periwinkle flowers ‘which contain a large amount of a toxin used in chemotherapy’.


It can be a potentially deadly ‘game of Russian roulette’.

Admittedly, Marie includes a line at the bottom of each post explaining the plants are ‘purely for decoration’, with a small love heart emoji for her 74,400 foodie followers.

However, Wong dubbed this a ‘common excuse… based on poor understanding of botany and, let’s be honest, food safety’.

Adding the disclaimer did not exist before he pointed out the danger, Wong elaborated:

Plants exude sap from their cut or damaged tissues and it is precisely the cut end that is in direct contact with the food.

Even slightly crushed or bruised petals, which would likely go unnoticed, would do the same thing. The toxins in this plant are also highly water soluble, so it would be very easy for them to leach out and enter the food.

It should also be pointed out that (perhaps unsurprisingly) toxic products should be kept far away from food, not presented on top of it.

As edible flowers are so often used in food decoration and as non-toxic garnishes on posh plates of food, Wong added it’s particularly irresponsible to put unknowing followers at risk.

Marie Reginato, whose business 8th and Lake was named one of The Best Healthy Food Accounts by MindBodyGreen, is by no means the only culprit.

Wong, as a botanist and public personality, sees dangerous cases of adornment ‘all the time’, he tells UNILAD.

Wong, who’s fighting the good fight for healthy food consumption, said:

I’d say roughly one in 20 ‘edible flower’ posts I come across contain flowers that are not actually edible.

In some rare cases, the flowers are in fact pretty deadly.

This is highly irresponsible as young, impressionable people often turn to these bloggers for advice on healthy eating.


While debunking these food myths, James stresses ‘this is not unique to any one blogger and it is not personal’, adding, ‘I love a gorgeous Instagram shot as much as the next person, as long as no one is likely to get sick’.

Wong believes it’s possible the ‘clean eating’ trend is causing people to adopt unhealthy attitudes towards food and plants.

He elaborates:

The idea that things that are considered ‘natural’ are safer than things that aren’t is a common claim.

This can lead people to thinking that anything natural is safe.

In reality however this is just a romantic cultural idea and not backed up by reality. There is nothing more ‘natural’ after all than being poisoned by a plant.

Wong said there’s an irony to the dangerous situation:

Ironically such bloggers are often quick to label common, safe foods like dairy, gluten and sugar as ‘toxic’ while adorning their creations with actual toxins.

I have pointed this out to bloggers in the past and usually get responses like, ‘Google says it was OK’ and ‘It’s just for the photo’.

He stressed the false reality of Instagram, saying:

None have offered to take down the images, despite knowing how dangerous this advice is.

It only goes to show how many are actually eating the creations they post.

However, these kinds of unrealistic highly curated photographs could well be feeding into documented cases of food obsession and even orthorexia, a disorder involving pathologically health eating.

Eve Turow Paul, a food culture expert, told UNILAD:

​[Food] obsession can be detrimental when it turns into something like orthorexia.

Orthorexia is a paranoia about eating healthy food propagated by the constant barrage of food photos online and the persistent revelations about the dangers within the foods we’re eating today.

Turow Paul continued:

It’s far more complex than saying ‘it’s social media’. Today, food is a sign of social status, education, sophistication.

You can observe this with food photos – people expressing their value system, how much money they have, their education, all in a photo of a meal.

After all, healthy eating isn’t always clean-cut or pretty enough for Instagram.

James’s advice? He says:

Enjoy the pretty shots. Remain sceptical about health claims, particularly if these are contrary to public health advice, such as that of the NHS.

Don’t be afraid to ask them to back up health claims by citing evidence – and by evidence I mean a good quality, peer reviewed academic paper or link to a site like the NHS, not their own blog, a Facebook meme or a Wikipedia article.

Meanwhile, if you’re thinking about eating more consciously, watch this:

Above all, if you aren’t sure something is edible, just don’t eat it!

UNILAD has repeatedly contacted Marie Reginato for comment.

If you have a story to tell, contact UNILAD via [email protected]

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Francesca Donovan

A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you've never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.

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