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Diet Detective: Eating too much of some "good" foods can be bad for you

Monday, October 27, 2008 - 12:01 am

Even good foods can cause havoc in your life. Here are a few to keep your eye on.

Food: Dried fruits.

Problem: Exaggerate symptoms of candida and other yeast-feeding infections.

What happens: According to Jackie Keller, founder of NutriFit and author of “Body After Baby: A Simple, Healthy Plan to Lose Your Baby Weight Fast” (Avery/Penguin, 2006), “Dried fruits are a concentrated source of naturally occurring fruit sugars that can exaggerate symptoms of candida and other yeast-feeding infections.”

Candida albicans is a type of yeast-like fungus that inhabits the intestines, genital tract, mouth, esophagus and throat, Keller says. Under normal conditions, this fungus lives in healthy balance in the body; however, certain conditions can cause the bacteria to multiply out of control. This can lead to a weakened immune system and an infection known as candidiasis.

“There are a host of candidiasis symptoms that can include constipation, diarrhea, colitis, abdominal pain, headaches, memory loss, mood swings, prostatitis, persistent heartburn, severe itching, bad breath, and kidney and bladder infections,” Keller says. “The disorder is often misdiagnosed, since there are so many symptoms.”

Symptoms often worsen after eating foods containing sugar and/or yeast, including all forms of fruits and grains.

How much do you have to eat? “Everyone is different, so it's impossible to generalize, but I would think that since a ‘normal' serving size is (about 1 ounce), having any more than twice what a serving size is supposed to be is having too much,” adds Keller.

Food: Flax seed.

Problem: Increased risk of prostate cancer.

What happens: Its high content of alpha-linolenic acids (ALA) has made the ancient flax seed our modern miracle food, says registered dietitian Gloria Tsang of HealthCastle.com.

“It offers a vegetarian alternative to provide omega-3 fatty acid and has been shown in many studies to offer heart-healthy benefits by lowering total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels,” Tsang says. “Flax seed may also help lower triglycerides and blood pressure and keep platelets from becoming sticky, thereby reducing the risk of a heart attack.”

However, a few studies have also linked high concentrations of ALA to a higher risk of prostate cancer. Until more is known, men who are not vegetarians are recommended to choose fish sources for heart-healthy omega-3s instead, says Tsang.

How much do you have to eat? As ALA is concentrated in oil form, it's OK for men to eat the actual seeds, but until more studies are done they should stay away completely from the oil form (flax seed oil and flax seed oil pills), says Tsang.

Food: Carrots.

Problem: Eating too many carrots may result in hypercarotenemia.

What happens: According to Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez, a Florida-based emergency-room physician and founder of High Alert, “Excess beta carotene ingestion can cause yellow or orange discoloration of the skin and eyes that mimics jaundice and liver disease.”

How much do you have to eat? It depends on your size. Originally, this condition was seen only in infants transitioning to puréed foods, Ramirez says. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, parents were told to introduce only one food at a time and feed it to the baby six times a day for a week. Since the first food was carrots with the next being sweet potatoes and the third butternut squash, by week four the child was orange.

Just about the time this became a rare problem in babies, adults started using beta carotene pills as a way to tan without sitting in the sun. The problem with using large doses of beta carotene as a “tanning pill,” however, is that your tan is orange, says Ramirez.

Food: Poppy seeds.

Problem: Opiate positive drug test.

What happens: Poppy seeds come from the poppy plant, which is the source of opium and other opiate drugs. According to Ramirez, “Sub-therapeutic amounts of opiates in the poppy seeds are metabolized in the same way as larger drug doses and excreted in the urine.”

How much do you have to eat? “Contrary to popular belief, the amount of poppy seeds on a bagel or a loaf of bread will not result in a positive drug test, nor will it excuse such a result,” Ramirez says. “Poppy seed strudel, if the poppy seeds are ground and sautéed in butter for several hours to make the strudel paste and then eaten in large quantities, may result in a positive screening exam. However, confirmation with a 2-mono-amino-morphine (2-MAM) test will make a drug-abuse source evident.

“In short, enjoy your bagel, but don't expect it to protect you from a positive drug test,” says Ramirez.

Food: Barley, rye, wheat and sometimes oats.

Problem: Gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

What happens: “People who are sensitive or allergic to gluten, a protein found in barley, rye, wheat and sometimes oats, may experience diarrhea, lactose intolerance, iron deficiency and other malnutrition-related problems,” says Lona Sandon, a professor of nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. “Nongastrointestinal symptoms include a dermatitis rash typically found on the elbows and knees.”

How much do you have to eat? Any amount of gluten is a problem. “People who are sensitive to gluten may have a reaction to food that simply touched other food with gluten in it,” says Sandon.

Food: Asparagus.

Problem: Urine smells odd and takes on a slight green tinge.

What happens: “Asparagusic acid and thioesters in asparagus are excreted in the urine, creating the odor change and, when combined with other urine components, changing the color of the urine,” says Ramirez.

How much do you have to eat? Even small amounts of asparagus can cause this effect. “This effect can be disconcerting, but is harmless and resolves in a few hours,” says Ramirez.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder and editor of DietDetective.com, the health and fitness network.