Most likely, a lot of you spend a chunk of your time worrying about food. This makes sense, given that each day seems to bring another food recall, growing concern over mercury levels in fish, and pesticides on produce. Without completely igniting a rash of food fears, what if I told you that some your basic run-of-the-mill foods also carried their own risks? In excess, foods such as carrots, green tea, and even bran can be problematic. I learned my lesson first-hand 15 years ago. I was a college student with aspirations to be healthy (okay, skinny), and limited culinary skills. My cooking repertoire amounted to brown rice, black beans, and scrambled eggs. I also ate carrots – a lot of carrots – because they required no cooking at all.
When I came home for Thanksgiving during my sophmore year, my mother thought I was jaundiced. Though a fair assumption for a college student in New Orleans, it wasn’t the Jägermeister or Jim Beam that proved to be the problem. It was the carrots. I had carotemia – mainly due to an excessive intake of carrots. Carrots contain significant amounts of carotenoids. When the amount of carotenoids a person ingests exceeds the body’s ability to use or store it, levels build up in the bloodstream, which causes the skin to turn orange or yellow. Way too much of a good thing.
Lately I started thinking: What other good things can we get too much of?
Some foods and supplements act as natural blood thinners. I always keep this in mind when clients are taking blood-thinning medications. (If your blood is too thin, it doesn’t clot. And if you bleed, you bleed a lot…Not good.) If you aren’t on blood-thinning meds, you still should bear in mind that certain foods can block Vitamin K (which helps with clotting), and thin your blood. Spices that are high in salicylates (such as curry powder and cayenne), fruits such as grapes and oranges, and even cider and honey may not be beneficial in huge quantities. Fish, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, can thin your blood if you ingest or supplement with more than 4,000 mg daily (or 4+ servings of salmon). Of course, all of these foods are healthy, and most of the blood-thinning is undetectable (and can be desirable), but if you’re a twice-daily salmon-eater, or consume pounds of grapes, it may be time to branch out.
Because I was investigating “overdosing” on seemingly healthy foods and nutrients, I was curious about fiber. It’s recommended that women get 25 grams daily and men get 30 grams. But believe it or not, too much fiber can actually cause constipation. Huge amounts of fiber can cause an intestinal blockage which can be serious enough to require surgery. So anything above 50 grams a day may be way too much.
When Blisstree asked me to weigh in on this subject, they asked me about avocados, which are rich in potassium. We need potassium, but it’s tricky because it affects the way our heart beats. For this reason, I never suggest that clients supplement with potassium, but instead get it from their diets. Too much potassium can lead to a dangerous condition called hyperkalemia, which can lead to heart palpitations. Because the RDI for potassium is 4.200 mg (or 4.79 avocados), I don’t suggest exceeding this amount in your diet – no matter how much you love guacamole.
As the saying goes, everything in moderation. Nutrients, like diets, are best when balanced. Too much of anything – even if the thing is natural and healthy – can be a problem. And now that I’ve freaked myself out a little, I could really use a shot of Jägermeister.
Lauren Slayton, M.S. R.D., founder of New York City’s Foodtrainers, has more than a decade of experience as both a dietician and nutritional counselor. Offering one-on-one sessions on weight and nutrition management, Foodtrainers helps clients create, record, achieve, and maintain personal health goals. For those in need of grocery shopping guidance on a budget, Foodtrainers also offers an affordable program, Market Foodtraining. Check out Lauren’s Foodtrainers blog and follow Lauren on Twitter: @foodtrainers.