Food Tips

5 Healthy Foods That Can Be Toxic if You Eat Too Much of Them

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This article was written by Marygrace Taylor and provided by our partners at Prevention.

That saying about enjoying all things in moderation? It doesn’t just apply to red wine, fresh bread, or delicious desserts. It counts for clean foods, too. Because whether you’re talking about nuts, fish, leafy greens, or whole grains, there’s almost always an instance where you can have too much of a good thing. Here, nine great-for-you foods that can be dangerous if you overdo it. (Lose up to 15 pounds WITHOUT dieting with Eat Clean to Get Lean, our 21-day clean-eating meal plan.)

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BRAZIL NUTS

These giant nuts are known for being the #1 source of selenium, an essential trace element that plays an essential role in reproduction and helping your body fight off infection. In fact, just one Brazil nut can deliver up to 90 mcg of selenium, which is almost twice as much selenium as you need in a day. And a one-ounce serving (that’s six to eight nuts) packs a whopping 777 percent of your daily selenium needs.

Eating the occasional serving of Brazil nuts is fine, but having them every day could put you at risk for selenium toxicity—which has the potential to cause hair loss, gastrointestinal, and neurological problems, lightheadedness, and even heart attacks or kidney failure. “Keep it to one weekly serving, or just have one or two nuts a few times a week,” says Jessica Cording, R.D.

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SPINACH, BEETS, AND SWISS CHARD

We don’t need to remind you that each of these veggies is a nutritional powerhouse. But they’re also high in naturally occurring compounds called oxalates. Oxalates actually work as prebiotics to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. But if you’re prone to kidney stones, eating too many high-oxalate foods only makes things worse. “The kidneys are supposed to filter these compounds out. But in someone who is prone to kidney stones, the kidneys have a hard time doing so, which can lead to buildup and the formation of kidney stones,” says Cording.

In that case, it could be best to avoid foods that are high in oxalates altogether. Talk to your doctor to figure out what’s best for you. If you need to cut out high-oxalate foods, a dietician can help you find lower-oxalate alternatives, like cabbage or cauliflower.

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CANNED TUNA

It’s cheap, convenient, and packed with protein and those all-important omega-3s. But canned tuna does contain some mercury, which can harm the nervous systems and brains of developing fetuses and young children. Higher amounts of mercury can be poisonous to adults, too (symptoms include numbness or tingling, vision problems, and memory problems). But experts don’t know exactly how much mercury-laden tuna you’d need to eat to get sick.

White albacore tuna contains more mercury than light tuna, and the amount that you can eat depends on your weight. For instance, a 110-pound person should stick to less than four ounces of white albacore tuna or nine ounces of light tuna per week. But a 165-pound person can have five ounces of white albacore tuna or 14 ounces of light tuna per week, according to calculations from Consumer Reports. (FYI, a can of tuna is five ounces.)

If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive, stick with the FDA’s established guidelines: Enjoy up to 12 ounces of lower mercury seafood per week, like shrimp, salmon, catfish, or light tuna. For higher mercury albacore tuna, limit yourself to no more than 6 ounces per week. (And stay away from these 12 fish altogether.)

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RED MEAT, OYSTERS, AND WHITE BEANS

All three are top sources of iron, which plays an essential role in delivering oxygen to your muscles. And while too little iron can leave you feeling weak and tired, getting too much can lead to liver failure.

Of course, plenty of people struggle to get enough of the mineral in their diets. So iron overload tends to be pretty rare, especially if your only source of iron is food, says Cording. But if you’re taking an iron supplement? It might be worth talking to a dietician. “It’s important to know what your needs are and get a handle on how to balance food sources and supplements,” says Cording.

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BROWN RICE

Sure, the complex carb is synonymous with health food. But rice is also good at absorbing arsenic that occurs naturally in soil and water. And brown rice tends to absorb more of the heavy metal than its refined counterparts.

Arsenic is a known human carcinogen, and currently, there’s no safety threshold for the amount of arsenic in food. But experts, including those at the Environmental Working Group, agree that you don’t need to cut brown rice out of your diet completely.  Instead, make an effort to eat a variety of whole grains. “If you would normally have brown rice every day, try to alternate with something like quinoa, farro, or millet,” says Cording. Keep an eye out for packaged foods that contain rice or rice-based ingredients like brown rice syrup (which is often used to sweeten natural cereals or granola bars), too. It’s better to eat those once in a while rather than every day.

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