Turning Healthy Foods Unhealthy
By JJ Virgin Huffpost Healthy Living
Mine's almond butter; I bet you have one too. You know, that healthy food you can't keep in the house because during a late night lapse in judgment, one serving becomes the whole container.
Certain foods are notoriously easy to overeat. I'm not just talking about that pint of Chunky Monkey in your freezer: Even healthy foods can become unhealthy when you overdo them.
I've never seen anyone OD on broccoli, but give that same person a can of raw almonds and they begin shoveling them in faster than those guys at a Coney Island hot dog contest.
With nuts, you get a crunchy, salty texture that's instantly addictive. Fruit provides a sweetness that makes one serving become three. Coffee's caffeinated jolt makes mornings more tolerable. And red wine -- well, most of us know its relaxing effect after a stressful day at the job.
Some have been unfairly demonized, whereas others trigger a halo effect that leads to overeating. Regardless, these seven foods and drinks are dose-dependent: Whereas a little bit can be healthy and even pleasurable, too much can create weight gain, inflammation, liver issues, and in one case, death.
1. Butter. Scorned for decades, butter finally resurfaced on the dinner table after people realized that margarine was mostly trans fat and this creamy, rich fat just tastes way better. According to Dr. Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, butter provides some health benefits, including fat-burning conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) and vitamins A, D, E, and K. A pat on your sweet potato or green beans can also help you better absorb their fat-soluble nutrients. Too much and you've added a calorie-and-saturated-fat wallop to your plate. If you're dairy-intolerant, I highly recommend ghee, which is butter without milk solids.
2. Dark chocolate. Do you need any further justification to enjoy chocolate? Well, science provides it. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that in healthy people, small amounts of dark chocolate can reduce blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity. Look for a low-sugar, high-cacao chocolate bar. Most dark chocolate bars provide several servings, so go easy. Break off a piece and give the rest to a friend or coworker. Otherwise that whole bar will quickly become history and your skinny jeans subsequently might too.
3. Red wine. We look for justification to enjoy our vices, and fortunately research occasionally supports our indulgences. Red wine gets its health benefits from an antioxidant called resveratrol. A study in the journal Heart Failure Reviews found at least in mice that resveratrol can induce the expression of several longevity genes, reduce inflammation, and prevent aging-related decline in cardiovascular function. While all red wines have resveratrol, pinot noir is highest. A glass or two provide these and other benefits, but overdo it and you fall into tipsy-ville. Your liver takes the impact, but you'll feel it too with a morning-after hangover.
4. Fruit. Everyone is on board with copious green veggies, but fruit becomes a more divisive issue among nutritionists. Though rich in fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants, fruit also contains fructose, a sweetener that only your liver can metabolize and preferentially metabolizes as fat. Constantly grazing on bananas and apples all day can create fructose overload. Simply put: Fruit can be healthy (especially berries) but isn't an all-you-can-eat food. I recommend limiting lower-glycemic fruits to one or two servings a day and steer clear of the higher-sugar fruits for fat loss.
5. Coffee. Advocates point out that coffee is rich in antioxidants: A study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found it has higher amounts than even green tea. Opponents note a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found caffeinated coffee impairs glucose metabolism in healthy men. So who is right? Well, it depends on how much you drink and what you have with that coffee. A cup of organic dark roast with stevia and coconut cream with your protein shake will have a far different effect than three sugar-and-cream loaded cups with a breakfast sandwich.
6. Nuts and nut butter. Rich in protein, good fats, fiber, and minerals, almonds and other nuts as well as nut butters make a delicious snack to curb your appetite before those 8 p.m. dinner parties that never start on time. Too often though, a handful or spoonful becomes a full container. Like with everything else here, portion control (a few ounces daily) proves essential -- otherwise you'll probably find yourself mindlessly munching while browsing Facebook.
7. Water. Experts encourage drinking more water, but what happens when you take that advice to extremes? While rare, over-consuming water can provoke brain dysfunction, electrolyte imbalances, and ultimately death. In 2011, coroners found 29-year-old Jonathan Paul Dent dead after reportedly lost on a four-hour walk through Dial Range. They determined he probably died from exercise-associated hyponatremia, or drinking too much water during prolonged exercise. Athletes take note: Endurance runners and those who play sports in extreme heat are especially susceptible to water intoxication.
Bowden, J. (2007). The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds.
Das DK, et al. Resveratrol and red wine, healthy heart and longevity. Heart Fail Rev. 2010 Sep;15(5):467-77. doi: 10.1007/s10741-010-9163-9.
Grassi D, et al. Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;81(3):611-4.
Moisey LL, et al. Caffeinated coffee consumption impairs blood glucose homeostasis in response to high and low glycemic index meals in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1254-61.
Ouyang X, et al. Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. J Hepatol. 2008 Jun;48(6):993-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2008.02.011. Epub 2008 Mar 10.