Apricot seeds or kernels are a controversial health food and purported cancer preventative and cure. The seeds are high in monounsaturated fat and a good source of protein and dietary fiber. The oil in the seeds offers vitamin E. However, the seeds also contain cyanide, a potentially deadly toxin. While your body can detoxify a small amount of cyanide, eating too many apricot seeds or kernels may be hazardous to your health.
Bitter and Sweet Apricot Seeds
The nutritional content and toxicity of apricot seeds varies according to cultivar. Some apricot seeds are sweet-tasting and low in cyanide. These sweet apricot seeds are suitable almond substitutes. Bitter almond seeds contain higher levels of cyanide. The product label should indicate whether apricot seeds are considered sweet or bitter. Expect a slightly bitter flavor even from sweet apricot seeds, however.
A 1/4 cup serving of apricot seeds contains 160 calories, with 130 calories from fat, or 14 grams of fat. Only 1 gram of fat occurs as saturated fat. Apricot seeds are cholesterol-free, with negligible amounts of sodium or potassium. A serving of apricot seeds has 7 grams of carbohydrates with 2 grams in the form of sugars and 5 grams of dietary fiber. A single serving of apricot kernels contains 7 grams of protein. Apricot seeds are not a significant source of most vitamins or minerals, but there are 4 milligrams of vitamin E per 100 gram serving of apricot kernel oil.
Amgygdalin and Pangamic Acid
Apricot seeds contain amygdalin, which some researchers believe helps to prevent and cure cancer, and pangamic acid, which may be useful in treating ischemic heart disease. The levels of these compounds are highest in raw, whole apricot seeds as opposed to cooked or processed seeds. You may find sources refer to amygdalin as vitamin B-17 and pangamic acid as vitamin B-15, however, the FDA does not recognize these substances as vitamins and deems them unsafe for use in food or drugs.
Cyanide occurs naturally in the seeds of apricots and related fruits, including cherries, peaches and almonds. The amount of cyanide per apricot seed varies according to its size and cultivar, but on average, an apricot seed contains 0.5 milligrams of cyanide, according to Stephen Krashen, Ph.D. of the University of California. The lethal dose of cyanide is between 0.5 milligrams to 3.5 milligrams per kg of body weight, depending on factors including age and liver health. Based on case histories, the lethal dose for a 175 pound man would range from 80 to 560 apricot seeds per day. For a 140 pound woman, the lethal dose would be from 65 to 455 seeds per day. Toxicity occurs at lower doses, so the lethal range should be viewed as an extreme upper limit. Packaging on seeds often includes a recommendation to start out with a low number of seeds and spread consumption throughout the day to see how well you tolerate them.