Vitamin B17, also called amygdalin or laetrile, is a controversial natural compound because it contains molecules of cyanide. Cyanide gas is deadly in high doses, but the small amounts of cyanide found in B17-rich foods are essential for health. Vitamin B17 appears in abundance in nature but not in many foods commonly eaten by most people. B17 tastes bitter, so foods or parts of foods that are rich in B17 often are avoided or discarded. The amount of B17 in food varies quite a bit according to soil quality and climate, so it’s difficult to assign specific amounts.
The natural compound amygdalin was discovered and recognized as part of the B-vitamin family in 1830, although it’s not commonly referred to as a vitamin by modern nutritionists, biochemists or scientists. It’s called amygdalin when it’s found in nature or laetrile when it’s purified and concentrated and used medicinally, often to treat cancer. It is not endorsed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a cancer remedy or cure. Because amygdalin is not recognized as a vitamin by mainstream medicine, it does not have a recommended dietary allowance and no deficiency symptoms are currently recognized. Foods rich in amygdalin often are referred to as nitrilosides by nutritionists and herbalists. Nitrilosides include a variety of seeds, nuts, grains, sprouts, tubers, legumes, grasses and leafy greens.
Seeds, Nuts and Grains
The seeds of apricots -- contained in the kernel -- are the richest source of vitamin B17, according to the “Textbook of Nutritional Medicine.” Other fruits that contain seeds rich in B17 include peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, cherries and prunes; however, most people discard the kernels or pits. The seeds of apples, grapes and berries such as blackberries and Swedish lingonberries are also very good sources of B17. Bitter almonds are the nuts with the most B17, but cashews and macadamia nuts are also good sources. Millet, buckwheat and barley are decent grain sources of B17.
Sprouts, Tubers and Legumes
Bamboo sprouts are rich sources of B17, whereas alfalfa, garbanzo and mung sprouts are lesser sources. Tubers such as cassava are quite high in B17; yams and sweet potatoes contain much lower amounts. A number of legumes contain B17, but none are rich sources. Examples include fava beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, green peas, lima beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans and lentils.
Grasses and Leafy Greens
Many grasses are excellent sources of B17, but very few people eat them. Johnson grass, Tunis grass and arrow grass are good examples. Alfalfa and eucalyptus leaves are rich sources of B17, whereas beet greens, spinach and watercress contain moderate amounts.
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition; Benjamin Caballero, et al.
- Textbook of Nutritional Medicine; Melvyn Werbach and Jeffery Moss
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.