When you're told that something is radioactive, your first—and probably best—instinct is to stay far, far away. Like, who wants to check out a Superfund site, just for fun? Not me, thanks. But what if that radioactive object was something you really loved, like, say, avocado toast? Could you still stay away from it? That's not a hypothetical question anymore, because it turns out that avocados are radioactive. That's according to a recent study from researchers at North Carolina State University that looked at how much radiation is emitted by food and regular household objects like smoke detectors or air filters, as well as rates of background radiation in a typical suburban environment.
The goal of this research, which was published in the scientific journal Health Physics, was to "give people a frame of reference for understanding news stories or other information about radiation and nuclear safety," according to a press release from the university. As the researchers explain, lots of household objects, including foodstuffs, are slightly radioactive because they contain potassium, which is a naturally-occurring radioactive element. Therefore, avocados are technically radioactive because of their high potassium content. That's why bananas are radioactive, too.
But the rates of radioactivity in fruits are extremely low. The researchers measured radiation in microgray per hour (μGy/hr), the standard measurement for these studies of radiation doses. Avocados released 0.16 μGy/hr, while bananas has a slightly higher dose of radiation at 0.17 μGy/hr.
Those numbers, though statistically significant, don't mean much for your health. As writer Daisy Meager explains in Vice Munchies, you probably don't have to worry about any long-term effects of eating "radioactive" avocados. "However many avocados you’ve smashed and Spiralised your way through," she writes, "you’re probably not going to morph into the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons."
Robert Hayes, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at NC State who co-authored this study, reiterated that point in a press release from the university: “If you’re surprised that your fruit is emitting gamma radiation, don’t panic ... The regulatory level for workers—which is safe—is exposure to 50,000 μGy per year. The levels we’re talking about in your household are incredibly low."
So eat as much avocado toast as you want without fear of growing an extra eye or a limb—though scientists still can't guarantee your safety from being told that you're wasting your money on brunch by middle-aged Australian men. Sorry.