Sunday, June 6, 2010

From the Lousy Advice Department: 'Everything in moderation'

from my guest blogger and husband, Mike:

Everything in moderation. It must be the most commonly doled advice on what constitutes a healthy diet- and it’s also among the worst advice. I hear it all the time, and I bite my lip. But now that I have my wife’s blog as an official platform to vent, let me tell you why I find this phrase so annoying. Let’s set aside for a moment the consideration that our society has lost all sense of moderation when it comes to diet - clearly our barometers are off. We should not trust ourselves to intuitively know what is 'moderate' consumption. But there is a better reason to ignore this trite expression- it’s complete BS. We should not eat everything in moderation. Nutritionists and scientists tell us that there are lots of foods that we'd be wise to avoid whenever possible, and others that we should eat in abundance. For example- fresh fruits and veggie’s in abundance, red meat scarcely (Cancer, Heart Disease anyone?), and Hot Pockets never.

So, what should we eat and how much? Fortunately, the folks at the Harvard School of Public Health have published a terrific tool to demonstrate what is worth eating lots of, and what it best avoided. Its called the
Healthy Eating Pyramid. Basically, they have taken the FDA’s food pyramid and reworked it to reflect modern science and, more importantly, removed the influence of corporate lobbyists that has plagued the FDA’s recommendations. It rebukes much of the lousy nutrition advice we were taught as kids - from ‘everything in moderation’ to what constitutes a balanced meal. Probably just about anyone who reads this blog is already eating a healthy diet- but I highly recommend checking this out. At the very least it will give you a tool to reference the next time you hear someone suggest 'everything in moderation.'

p.s. Thanks to my lovely wife for inviting me to write this guest blog. And thanks for all the awesome meals! Without you, I would be living on PBJ with an occasional grilled cheese.


  1. Nicely said! You guys are great! I love it! Keep it coming! -Jen L

  2. Rock on Mike! You should a "venting" post as a once a month gig :) Love you guys, love the blog!

  3. From time to time, I have been known to take an opposing side of a particular view. To start, I completely agree that “our society has lost all sense of moderation when it comes to diet.” I also agree that “we should not trust ourselves to intuitively know what is 'moderate' consumption.”

    However, this is because the information is not shared with us by creators of the modern American diet. I do believe that if the information is made public and within clear view, we should absolutely hold ourselves accountable. But for now, we get a pass because the information isn’t readily available to most folks. I am encouraged by the health care reform law that requires any restaurant with 20 or more sites to list their nutritional information on their menus.

    I do not believe that we are told to eat “everything” in moderation. In fact, I believe most nutritionists, including the FDA, clearly indicate foods that we should eat more. What I believe people might say is that if you choose to have a Big Mac, do not eat it every day. In fact, if you really crave the 540 calories or 29 grams of fat or 1040 grams of sodium, then please do it once a month or even once every six months. And if you can avoid it completely, do so - for it isn’t remotely healthy. However, one thing is absolutely clear – if you do have an occasional (meaning very, very infrequent) supermarket hot dog or Big Mac, you will not increase your risk of developing cancer, etc. I am not a scientist, nor am I a dietitian, but no one will ever be able to convince me differently.

    I would also like to comment on our friends at the Harvard School of Public Health. You know, the school that charges you about $35,000/year to attend? I did some research and went to the FDA’s website to look at their pyramid. Again, I wanted to see the pyramid that wasn’t based on the latest science and was affected by business and organizations with a stake in its messages. While the format is slightly different, the message is almost identical to the Harvard pyramid. Both indicate that your diet should consist of mostly whole grains and veggies. Additionally, both have meat products at the top (meaning eat them sparingly). So my question is simple? Why would an esteemed school, e.g. Harvard School of Public Health, criticize the FDA when their information is basically the same?

    The answer is simple. Harvard has an agenda and their agenda is no different than any company or institution trying to assert their view.

  4. Hi Bill- The current USDA Pyramid is better than previous versions, but it still does not offer an honest and complete reflection of the current science. One major example is the fact that the USDA can't, for unfortunate political reasons, advise people to eat LESS of specific foods - which is something that the Harvard pyramid does.

    There is a long and well-documented history of corporate influence on the USDA's dietary recommendations, including the pyramid. If this is something you're interested in learning about I strongly recommend a book called 'Food Politics' by Marion Nestle.


  5. I guess I do not understand what you mean by specific foods. I have both pyramids right in front of me and the USDA is saying to eat less meat and more whole grains and Harvard pyramid is saying to eat less meat and more whole grains. Also, when I Google "What to Eat" I am directed to Marion Nestle's new site "Food Politics."

    Again, I ask why did she need to change the name of her site? Perhaps because she wanted to sell more books. Everyone has an agenda whether they are trying to promote healthy eating or other get donations to continue their academic funding.

    I am not saying that the USDA isn't without outside influence. What I am saying is that Harvard has influence in the need for donations/funding and Marion Nestle has influence in the need to sell more books.

  6. Bill, I know you like to play devils advocate, but I think you're crossing the line from healthy skepticism to unproductive cynicism. If you're turned off by the fact that Marion Nestle will earn some income on your book purchase then I think you'll have to remain within the ranks of uninformed, because most authors choose to sell their books rather than providing them for free as a public service.

    The point Im making (re: corporate influence on the USDA guidelines) has lots of factual support, including reports from former FDA insiders and people that have served on the various panels. Again,if you're interested in facts and details over conspiracy theories I encourage you to read up.

    Regarding the USDA MyPyramid- it recommends purchasing 'lean' meats but it absolutely does
    not recommend eating less meat. But it should.


  7. The USDA does recommend eating less meat and it is categorized in the exact same way as the Harvard pyramid. In fact the USDA pyramid says "...choose more fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds." I do know what else to say. I would be happy post the two pyramids, but the comment field doesn't allow that.

    Again, I strongly advocate eating healthy whenever possible. Marion Nestle and Harvard have a certain point of view and it is in their interest that it continue. That interest is no different that any company or other institution. What I find offensive is how the Harvard website vilifies the USDA pyramid and they posts a pyramid showing the exact same information.