Think a sweet, delicious, nutritious Granny Smith apple could never turn on you?
Your favorite healthy food is only good until a late-night lapse in judgment quickly transforms a one-serving indulgence into a whole-container binge. And with certain foods and beverages being notoriously easy to overdo — from nuts’ instantly addicting salty crunchiness to red wine’s relaxing effect after a stressful day at the office – it’s easy to cross the line from healthy to unhealthy in no time flat.
Some health foods have been unfairly demonized, whereas others trigger a halo effect that leads to overeating, says NEW YORK TIMES best-selling celebrity nutritionist JJ Virgin, author of THE VIRGIN DIET. JJ lays out seven dose-dependent foods and drinks that can start out healthy and pleasurable but which can, in excess, create weight gain, inflammation, liver issues, and in one case, even 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, JJ highly recommends ghee, which is butter without milk solids.
2. Dark chocolate. Do you need any further justification to enjoy chocolate? 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. JJ recommends limiting lower-glycemic fruits to one or two servings a day and steering 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. Athletes take note: Endurance runners and those who play sports in extreme heat are especially susceptible to water intoxication.