Many folks think “the more, the better” when it comes to healthy foods, notes ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports.
The truth is, “you absolutely can overdo it,” says Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian in Denver and national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
ShopSmart lists four things that are easy to go overboard on and why that’s a problem:
• Sources: Meat, fish, poultry, legumes, tofu, nuts and dairy, plus powders, drinks and bars.
• What happens if you overdo it: Overdoing it can strain your kidneys, especially if they are already compromised because of kidney disease, and can also leech calcium from your bones. A big problem is uber-fortified bars and drinks that contain far more protein than your body can use. Plus, Shopsmart’s experts recently tested 15 brands of protein powder and drinks and found that at least one sample of each was contaminated with potentially toxic heavy metals.
• How to get the right amount: The average woman needs about 46 grams of protein daily; the average man needs 56. When you consider that a sandwich with 3 ounces of chicken and an 8-ounce glass of milk have about 40 grams, it’s easy to see why many of us get too much. For most people, three servings of protein-rich foods daily are plenty.
• Sources: The biggest risks come from eating too much of certain kinds of fish: king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish and albacore tuna.
• What happens if you overdo it: You could be exposed to potentially high levels of a toxic kind of mercury. Even low-level exposure in pregnant women and young kids has been linked to problems with hearing, coordination and learning ability. In adults, eating high-mercury fish too often might affect the nerves, heart and immune system.
• How to get the right amount: To consume a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids without too much mercury, stick with clams, oysters, pollock, Alaskan or wild-caught salmon, sardines, shrimp and tilapia. Kids and women of childbearing age should eat certain fish less often; search “mercury” at ConsumerReports.org for a list.
• Source: Fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, oats and whole grains, plus fortified foods and supplements.
• What happens if you overdo it: Fiber is important for good digestion, but too much can keep your body from properly absorbing minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium. The most common problems people have with fiber are gas, bloating and diarrhea, and they often strike when you suddenly up your intake.
Inulin, a kind of fiber made from chicory, is often used to fortify foods; it’s more likely to cause tummy trouble than natural fiber. And fiber supplements can cause constipation if you take them without drinking enough water.
• How to get the right amount. Aim for 25 to 30 grams daily. If you’re falling short, you can safely boost your intake without side effects by gradually adding more natural fiber sources. They’re the best because they have soluble and insoluble fiber as well as other nutrients.
• Sources. The list of dehydrated fruits sold at supermarkets has exploded; you can find dried boysenberries, guava and more.
• What happens if you overdo it. The concentrated dose of fiber and fructose, the form of sugar found in dried fruits, can cause gas and bloating. Dried fruits are also high in sugar (and calories!) and can stick to your teeth, which can lead to decay.
• How to get the right amount. Stick to small servings. Two tablespoons of dried cherries or blueberries, 1½ dried figs or three dates contain about 70 calories each. Brush your teeth after snacking, or at least drink some water.