Is too much of a good thing a... bad thing? Well, yes! According to dietitians and food scientists, there are certain healthy foods that, while great for us in moderation, can actually harm us if we consume too much of them. Some of the negative side effects are just awkward or uncomfortable. Others can actually be fatal.
Here are five healthy foods you can overdose on if you over-do it—including one that might be easier to over-eat than you might think.
Carrots are prized for their high levels of beta-carotene, which is key for maintaining good vision and boosting the immune system. But more is not necessarily better. According to Jennifer Altman, PsyD, RD, “consuming too many carrots can lead to...carotenemia, in which there is too much beta-carotene in your blood,” she says. “This can cause your skin to turn an orangey color.” Yikes! Fortunately, carotenemia’s dangers do not extend beyond the cosmetic. Altman says that, while “orange skin may look shocking,” the condition is not “harmful to your health.”
The TikToker Isabelle Lux claimed that she got a tan by eating three carrots daily. She said she used to eat ten carrots every day, but her doctor advised that she cut back after she felt sick.
So, how much is too much? According to Altman, we’d “need to consume 20-50 milligrams” of beta-carotene every day, which amounts to 10 carrots. So as long as you’re not living off of baby carrots, you’ll probably be fine.
Rich in potassium, bananas are often touted for their heart-healthy benefits. But according to Kim Yawitz, owner of Two Six Fitness in St. Louis, Mo, consuming too many could be detrimental. “(Potassium)...can become dangerous or even fatal when there’s too much in the blood,” Yawitz shares. This is especially concerning for “people with kidney damage” whose kidneys aren’t able to “filter excessive potassium from the blood.”
The rest of us are probably at higher risk of a bad stomachache. “Bananas contain sorbitol,” Yawitz says, “a sugar alcohol that can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea in large amounts.” And then there’s the additional fiber and its...side effects...to consider. Bottom line, a banana a day is still a great idea. Three in one afternoon might not be advisable.
Water is an essential nutrient for our bodies, and most of us are often trying to increase our hydration day to day. But as it turns out, even hydration has a healthy limit. According to Rosemary Trout, program director of culinary arts and food science at Drexel University, too much water can cause hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance which occurs when sodium levels are too low in the body. “Sodium is essential (for) balancing fluid in and out of cells,” Trout says. Not enough sodium amounts to “a dangerous health situation.”
How much is too much? According to a 2013 study, the maximum amount of water our body can process in one hour is 800-1,000 milliliters, which comes out to 27-33 ounces. Anymore than that, and we’re risking hyponatremia.
Just this past August, a woman died on vacation after drinking four bottles of water in 20 minutes. The cause of death was water intoxication, which is "when somebody drinks too much water over too short of a period of time to the point where they disrupt this salt/water balance” in our bodies, Dr. Blake Froberg, a toxicologist at IU Health in Indiana, told TODAY.com. So don’t throw out that 60-ounce water bottle, but maybe reconsider chugging the whole thing at one time.
Boasting high levels of Vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, tuna is one of the most nutritious fish available. Unfortunately, all those health benefits come with a hefty side-serving of mercury: methylmercury, to be specific.
“Tuna is a larger fish that eats smaller fish that may also contain this chemical,” Trout shares, so “it accumulates the methylmercury from the water as well as the smaller fish.” As you might guess, the risks involved with consuming too much mercury are serious. “Consuming high levels... overtime can be harmful to the brain and the nervous system,” says Altman.
Does that mean we should swear off canned tuna and tuna rolls forever? Not necessarily. It’s more a matter of moderating our consumption. Altman shares that, according to the FDA, “albacore/white tuna and yellowfin tuna should only be consumed once a week.” The rest of the time, we should stick to seafood that is “lower in mercury” like shrimp or salmon.
At first glance, brazil nuts seem like a win-win for our bodies. They’re full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which help lower bad cholesterol, and they also contain high amounts of selenium, which improves thyroid function and boosts our immune system. That’s where we run into trouble. While selenium is great for our bodies in small doses, too much can be toxic, and it doesn’t take many brazil nuts to hit the danger zone. “A single brazil nut contains nearly twice as much selenium as adults need in a day,” shares Yawitz. “Just four to five Brazil nuts will put you near the daily maximum dose.”
According to Altman, “excess intake of selenium can...cause a variety of health problems.” Early side effects may include “garlicky breath, metallic taste, hair loss, and nail brittleness,” while “continued excessive intake” can lead to “gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms” and “myocardial infarction—a.k.a., a heart attack.
The moral of this story? All things in moderation. Munching on a few carrots sticks a day won’t turn your hands orange. Breaking out a banana as an afternoon snack won’t give you a stomachache. Even a single brazil nut, chopped up and sprinkled over a salad, can be beneficial. Just don’t overdo it.
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