A couple of readers have written this week with variations on this question.
Gwen notes that many weight loss plans allow for unlimited amounts of vegetables and wonders whether this rule is really a good one or whether some restrictions make sense. Jim says he’s not dieting but he’s gradually increased his vegetable intake to the point that he’s now eating up to five pounds of vegetables a day. He wonders whether that may be excessive and whether he should be concerned that almost all of the calories in vegetables come from (natural) sugars.
Obviously, you can overdo just about anything…even water. Drink several gallons of water in a short period of time and and you can put yourself into a hyponatremic coma. (Don’t try this at home.)
But assuming you’re not actually trying to hurt yourself, how easy would it be to get yourself in trouble by eating too many vegetables? All in all, not that easy. In most vegetables, the ratio of water and fiber to calories and sugar is high enough to keep you from from over-doing it. But as you appear to be craving some guidelines, here are a few:
How Many Vegetables Can You Eat?
1. Corn, white potatoes, taro, peas, dried beans, and other starchy vegetables should be treated as starches (or, in the case of beans and legumes, protein/starches) and not “free” vegetables.
2. Other fresh vegetables may be consumed “freely” but be sure that whatever butter, oil, salt, cream, or other things you’re putting on the vegetables fit into your budget for fats, calories, sodium, etc.
3. Fruit, which contains a substantial amount of sugar, should not be eaten in unlimited quantities. As a general guideline, I suggest two to four servings of fruit per day (and no more than 1/2 cup of fruit juice).
4. Be sure to eat a wide variety of vegetables. Excessive consumption of a single vegetable could conceivably lead to imbalances over time. For example, eating large quantities of spinach every day could potentially impair your ability to absorb calcium.
5. Because vegetables are not very rich in protein, calories, or essential fatty acids, be sure that your diet includes enough other foods to cover those nutritional needs.
Reasons to Back Off the Veggies
1. You’re losing weight when you don’t mean to. Vegetables take up a lot of stomach space and offer a lot of nutrition but provide relatively few calories. You may need to back off a bit on the veggies to make room for some more calorie-dense foods as well.
2. You have bloating, gas, or other digestive symptoms. Excessive consumption of fiber and/or certain types of vegetables such as cabbage or broccoli can cause social or physical discomfort. Of course, this can happen even with modest consumption of certain vegetables. But if you’re having these sorts of symptoms and eating significantly more than 7 to 10 servings of veggies a day, backing off a bit may offer some relief.
3. Your skin is turning orange. Large quantities of carotenoids (abundant in red, orange, and green veggies) can cause temporary and harmless discoloration of the skin.
Does that help?