Can All Foods Really Fit Into a Healthy Diet?

I read an interesting article in a recent issue of a Weight Management Newsletter entitled “The myth of moderation: Do all foods really fit?” by Jeff Novick, a registered dietitian.  In this article, Jeff points out that the American Dietetic Association states that “all foods can fit (in a healthy eating style) if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with regular physical activity”.

Unfortunately, many people are only taking home part of the message.  They do hear that “all foods can fit” and they miss the two most important parts of the message “in moderation” and when “combined with regular physical activity”.  (Hmm…It looks like selective reading to me.)

Novick uses the latest data to show that American’s are not consuming many potentially harmful ingredients in “moderation”, but rather excess.  The following chart shows just how excessive our intakes have become:

Ingredient Percentage consumed over the recommended upper limit
Sugar 242%
Refined grains 200%
Sodium 229%
Saturated Fats 158%
Solid Fats 281%

This is of concern because many of these ingredients are associated with health problems.  For example, diets high in sugar and fat are associated with increased rates of obesity.  A diet high in saturated fats/ solid fats can raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.  For people with hypertension, sodium can raise blood pressure.

On the flip side, American’s aren’t eating enough of the foods that we know can provide health benefits.  The following is an example:

Food/nutrient Percentage of recommended minimum intake
Fruits 42%
Vegetables 59%
Whole Grains 15%
Fiber 40%

Many of these foods/nutrients can decrease the risk of many diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, gastrointestinal problems, etc.  Therefore, we aren’t eating enough of the foods that promote health and we are eating too much of the foods that can create health problems.

In addition to missing the point on “moderation”, 70% of American’s are not meeting the minimum recommendations for physical activity.  These lifestyle choices have not gone without consequences.  Two thirds of American’s are now considered overweight and 1/3 are obese.

While I absolutely agree that anything can fit into a healthy diet, perhaps this article does point out the need to remind people of a few things.  In order to have a healthy diet, the following must take place:

  • The base of your diet should include a variety of foods rich in nutrients.  Examples are:
    • Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources (i.e. fish, poultry, beans, etc.), low-fat dairy products, etc.
  • Once you have met your basic nutrient requirements with a balanced diet, the remainder of your calories for the day can be used as you desire (these are often referred to as “free calories”).  If we do this, we can fit the “others” (the fats and sugars) into our diet without sacrificing good health.

The bottom line is that many American’s need to double their intakes of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  We also need to realize that “moderation” means controlling portions of foods that can be harmful in the body and balance them in with foods that promote health.  You can click here to check out my previous post for more information on how to balance in “free calories” while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Referance: Novick J. The myth of moderation: Do all foods really fit? Weight Management Matters: American Dietetic Association.  Spring, 2011.