Monday, August 2, 2010

Moderation Schmoderation

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for an article about soda . I am not anti caffeine or completely anti sugar but I am not a soda fan and if you read this article that’s very clear. From my research, I am convinced soda is not something I should drink, nor do I keep it in the house or have my children drink it. One of my colleagues, a colleague I respect tremendously, read the article. She’s a diet soda drinker and proceeded to make a good case for her habit. She explained she had an “otherwise healthful and balanced diet” and that we all have our vices and said ‘if I were convinced from the research that it was really the devil I would find a way to cut it out.” I love a debate and here, in my face, was the case for moderation, the case for there being no bad foods, a case that is sensible, logical and completely not the way I think when it come to food and weight.

No List
For better or for worse, I believe there are foods or food products we shouldn’t eat. I don’t believe in artificial sweeteners blue, pink or yellow (though there is probably a hierarchy of nastiness). I also have a hard time with fake meats and many meat substitutes made with TVP. I think many vegetarians and vegans who rely on these products are replacing one dietary danger with another. I don’t eat wheat and feel there are many better, more wholesome grain choices even for those who do. And I’m not afraid to say most bread, at delis and sandwich shops, that people eat is junk. I am also frankly scared by factory farming. I don’t know how anyone can see Food Inc, read the work of Michael Pollan and others and not be. And finally there are products with multiple food colorings, high fructose corn syrup and preservatives, that means most supermarket products unless you sift through carefully, skip those too. Simply said, choose natural over chemical in all cases.

The Research
I see approximately 10 clients a day in at Foodtrainers. In these sessions I get a good sense of what they are eating and also the questions that arise as individuals try to change their diets. “Is sugar free Jell-O going to kill me” or “how bad is HFCS” are the types of questions that come up time and again. The truth is no research study, no matter how well designed, is going to prove that eating a food (no matter how chemical or fake) will lead to immediate death. It would be unethical to administer the amounts of these ingredients in a matter that would simulate 36,500 sodas (2 a day over 50 years), 87,600 packs of aspartame (4 a day over 60 years). In the meantime, I think we have to see the worrisome writing on the wall. Whether it’s cancer, kidney damage, diabetes blood sugar complications or any other lifelong ailment, if I see a few studies connecting a food to a disease, I’m going to take it seriously. If, in the process, I cut out a food coloring from my diet or my clients’ diets that ends up seeming safe, no harm done. Call it alarmist, extremist (wow I sound like a terrorist) whatever you will (and you will) but with food I say guilty until proven innocent though our government seems to disagree.

The Passion
I am not a vegan or vegetarian but admire them. While I have no plans to give up fish or eggs, I know the passion it requires to maintain a meat or animal free diet successfully. I also enjoy the manner in which vegans network, share ideas and inspire others to try new recipes or discover new ingredients. A post on one of my favorite sites, No Meat Athlete, caught my attention. Here, (he happened to be explaining the use of the term “no meat” versus pro vegetable) he said “safe has a shortcoming: by its very nature, it doesn't hold onto passionate people to help share it. I don't know many passionate almost-vegetarians.” I completely agree though I’d like to hold the flag for passionate almost-vegetarians. Though not everyone will jump on board and some will run away I think, when it comes to helping people navigate their food choices, you have to take sides. I too think safe has a shortcoming and frankly isn’t always safe. Web media expert published a list of 15 steps to social medial success. I especially liked “be daring. The most memorable stories tell the unexpected, speak directly to the heart or dare customers to live life to the fullest.”

The fun
And that’s just the thing, when you suggest that there are things we shouldn’t eat you’ll inevitably encounter someone saying, as another commenter did following my soda summary “You can always just drink water, if you want to remain totally safe and consume no calories. Gee, what fun” I call it the where’s the fun retort. The truth is, eating chemical-free, well produced food is fun and there’s a wonderful peace of mind that comes from putting good, real food in your body. And though this commenter thinks differently, there are lots of beverages to drink, even with the removal of the soda group. I love fruit smoothies and coconut water, Fizzy Lizzy drinks and all sorts of iced teas. As for food, believe it or not, I don’t suggest my clients hole up with organic broccoli and brown rice and call it a day. I love Farmers’ markets and fresh herbs, spices and once in a while a juicy (grass-fed) burger and yes, I’d like a glass of wine with that burger.
Do you think (and be honest) that all foods, even soda, have a place in our diets? Do you believe in moderation? I’d love to hear what you think.


  1. Lauren,

    Even when you try to eat better, properly, and in a healthier way, it becomes very complex. For example, we are told to eat salmon...oops, but not farmed salmon. We are told to take omega 3 supplements...oops, but be sure to take the ones that are mercury free. We are told to eat lots of fruits and veggies...oops, but wash off all those pesticides that have been sprayed on your "healthy" food items. And that's just the beginning.

    I certainly agree with you, but it sure is complex.

    On another note, haven't read this anywhere, but I have come to the conclusion that soda (diet or not) does make you eat more. The soda acts as a palate cleanser. Thus, the food and taste of food that you just ate has been washed away. And that creates the desire to eat more.

    Kindest regards,

    Ken Leebow

  2. Great discussion topic, Lauren!
    I do believe soda and sugary drinks hold a special place when it comes to foods that should be out of our home pantry and fridge:
    • soda infuses calories with little effect on satiety, therefore is more implicated with weight gain than any other food
    • Soda’s extremely habit forming, and somehow the average American takes in about 300 calories in sugary drinks a day, unnoticed
    • Soda isn’t food (the only good thing in it is water)

  3. I think it really depends what your idea of "moderation" is. To get very technical, Merriam-Webster defines moderation as "to lessen the intensity of extremeness of." So, if someone thinks they are having soda, or diet soda, in moderation by having 1 can a day vs. their usual 4 cans a day, then they still have an issue on their hands. If "moderation" is whittled down to 1 can once a week, or better yet once a month, I think that can be allowed. It's possible that totally eliminating one "bad" thing, could lead to the addition of another "bad" thing to replace it. Either way, for my own self I am in agreement with you that soda is something that we should steer clear of at all costs if it doesn't mean replacing it with something else detrimental to health. If something has been shown to even possibly contribute to the cause of life-threatening diseases, why risk it?

  4. Moderation requires discipline, something that's tough with food. I'm not sure that diet soda can be consumed in moderation. It's designed to make you crave more, and it's marketed as a "healthier" choice. We've been told since the '70s (who remembers Tab?) that diet soda is benign at worst and healthy at best. Regardless of the new research, it's going to be tough to change a mindset that's 30 years old, even amongst professionals. And, not to get too snarky, but what if we replaced the words diet soda with Funyuns or Snickers (or some other food that's bad for you)...would so many people push back on the idea of cutting it from your diet? I can't imagine anyone trying to justify having only one bag of Funyuns a day or only 2 Snickers to wake up in the morning.

    There are items we try to keep out of the house for health reasons (but I'm still fighting my husband's diet pepsi habit) like artificial sweeteners and colors, HFCS. We eat very little packaged or pre-made foods anymore. And then there are other foods that we don't keep in the house because we can't be trusted to eat those foods in moderation. I haven't had a piece of fried chicken since December because I know that I can't control myself.

  5. Lauren -- there is alot of food for thought here.

    My husband and I have recently changed many of our habits in our house to be more healthy. For me, it was for health reasons and I was also unhappy ( miserable) with my weight.

    So, week 1 was brutal. The following items were cut our of my diet.

    Coffee (down to 1 cup a day from 4), diet soda (was drinking up to 3 a day), processed foods, refined sugar and the list goes on. I felt like I was in another hemisphere for about 7 days. My body was in total shock. Then I woke up day 8 and felt better than I had in months. I was empowered. From there, we starting eating at home, cooking about 5 nights a week. I started bringing my food to work everyday so I knew what I was eating and where it came from. We starting cooking more with organic meats, fish, fruits and veggies. For us, everything is in moderation. We cut out alot of animal protein in our diet (only one meal a day). Jeff turned to raw cashews and I found new foods that made me feel good eating them.

    When you are in an environment where you can control your food intake this is much easier than when you are on the road. It becomes an eye opening experience when you step out and try to take these practices and new habits on the road.

    We have set goals too --- now that I have tackles the soda and coffee, it is time to grasp the little pretty colored packets.

    For me, too extreme makes me take 3 steps back bc I feel like you have committed a crime if I eat that terrible table bread. One thing is for sure, after I eat that terrible table bread, my body the next days reminds me whats in it.

    And for the foods that cannot be eaten in moderation, they do NOT come in our house.

    We have come to the fork in the road... and we have chosen a healthy path. It becomes a domino effect and in our house, we are winning the game.

    Great Blog Lauren...thanks for your inspiration. the lunch challenge is a big part of how this all started...

  6. I don't believe all foods have a place in our diets, but I do agree that if you had to preach something to the masses, moderation is it. There are psychological factors that come into play once you tell people they CANNOT eat something.

    Plus, as people start cutting back on "unnatural" foods and get their palates back to normal, they'll crave the junky stuff less and start to desire fresh and natural foods. Who knows, moderation might be the launching pad.

    You mention that you don't eat wheat. Can you elaborate as to why you don't, and what you eat instead?


  7. Could you please explain what's wrong with TVP? I use it occasionally and didn't know there was any reason not to.