Celery has made its way into the superfood spotlight, and while there are benefits of celery, eating it in excess can work against you. If celery is your only vegetable source, you increase your risk of developing nutrient deficiencies, since celery nutrition leaves a little something to be desired.
The fibrous vegetable also consistently makes the list of "vegetables highest in pesticides," so, if you're not opting for organic celery, excessive amounts can also increase your risk of chronic health problems.
High Pesticide Residues
Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases a list of produce titled "The Dirty Dozen." This list identifies all the fruits and vegetables that are found to contain the highest levels of pesticides for that year. Celery consistently makes it onto the list. Researchers from a November 2015 report in Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology set out to test just how many pesticides remained on celery after harvesting.
The team tested 300 different samples of celery and found at least one pesticide residue on 175, or 58 percent, of the samples. There were a total of 25 different pesticides found. It's also important to note, however, that this study was done in China.
According to a different report published in Environmental Health in June 2019, China bans more pesticides than the United States. Of the 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides that the U.S. used in 2016, 40 million pounds of those pesticides would have been banned in China. That means that if the same amount of celery were tested in the U.S., it would likely have had higher pesticide residues.
The health effects depend on the specific type of pesticide, but according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides may negatively affect the nervous or endocrine (hormone) system, irritate the eyes and skin or cause cancer. The dose is also important. If you're eating excessive amounts of contaminated celery, your risk of developing health problems goes up.
Too Few Calories
Aside from the pesticide concern, celery is really low in calories. One large stalk contains only 9 calories and hardly any protein and fat. If you're trying to fill up on a bunch of celery without including other healthy energy-dense or nutrient-dense foods, it's possible that your calorie intake could be way too low. Eating a restricted-calorie diet sounds like a good thing, but it can set you up for health problems.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, your body requires a certain amount of energy (or calories) just to sustain normal biological functions, like breathing, digestion and pumping blood. If you don't get enough calories, you don't give your body enough energy to carry out these vital functions, and you can put yourself at an increased risk of problems like:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Lack of energy/sluggishness
- Decreased brain function
- Gastrointestinal problems (like constipation)
So, how do you know how many calories you should be eating? Everyone is different, so the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consulting with a qualified nutrition professional to find out your exact numbers. In general, your intake shouldn't fall below 1,200 calories per day if you're a woman and 1,500 daily calories if you're a man. If you're eating a lot of celery and not much else, meeting these needs can be hard to do.
Celery Nutrition Facts
Celery contains some nutrients, like potassium and a small amount of vitamin A, but other than that, it's mostly water. While eating a lot of celery can help keep you hydrated, it doesn't contain all of the macronutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. If you're eating a lot of celery and that pushes other nutrient-dense foods and vegetables off your plate, you increase your risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.
Celery is also moderately high in fiber, with a single stalk containing 1 gram. If you're eating excess amounts of celery, you may be going over your fiber needs. This can cause uncomfortable symptoms, like gas, bloating and diarrhea, but it can also mess with nutrient absorption.
According to Duke Student Health, eating too much fiber can result in that fiber binding to certain minerals, like iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium, and prevent your body from absorbing them. Over time, this can lead to nutrient deficiencies, as well.
What About Benefits?
These issues don't mean that you should eliminate celery from your diet because there are a lot of benefits of celery. Celery is high in potassium, with a single stalk containing 166 milligrams, or approximately 5 to 6 percent of your needs for the entire day (depending on whether you're a man or a woman).
That means that snacking on five stalks of celery in the morning would provide one-third of your entire daily potassium, which may help lower blood pressure, reduce your risk of stroke, control your blood sugar, keep your bones healthy and prevent kidney stones.
Celery is also high in phenolic and antioxidant compounds. Because of this, according to a July 2017 report published in the_ Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine_, celery can reduce the risk of:
- Heart disease (by lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol)
- Liver disease
- Urinary problems
- Rheumatic diseases (like arthritis and osteoarthritis)
- Type 2 diabetes (by balancing blood sugar)
The same report also notes that celery is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal and that celery root, specifically, has been shown to neutralize free radicals, which is why celery and cancer reduction may be connected.
Eat Normal Quantities
It's a good idea to pay attention to both the quantity and the quality of the celery you choose. Whenever possible, choose organic celery — which is exposed to fewer harmful pesticides — over conventional varieties and keep your quantities within reason.
If you're eating celery as a daily snack or having a daily glass of celery juice, side effects are unlikely, but if you're consuming excessive amounts of the vegetable, it's a good idea to scale it back. Kenneth Shafer, MD, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation's Family Health Center, recommends about four stalks, or one cup of chopped celery, daily. Make sure you're eating a lot of other vegetables too, which can help ensure that you're getting enough nutrients.
- Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Review of the Antioxidant Activity of Celery (Apium graveolens L)"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Celery May Help Bring Your High Blood Pressure Down"
- Environmental Working Group: "EWG's 2019 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™"
- Environmental Health: "The USA Lags Behind Other Agricultural Nations in Banning Harmful Pesticides"
- Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology: "Risk Assessment of Pesticide Residues in Dietary Intake of Celery in China"
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: "Assessing Human Health Risk From Pesticides"
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: "Human Health Issues Related to Pesticides"
- Environmental Working Group: "Dirty Dozen™"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: "Celery, Raw"
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: "Potassium"
- Duke University Student Health: "Fiber - How Much Is Too Much?"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "4 Ways Low-Calorie Diets Can Sabotage Your Health"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calorie Counting Made Easy"