Moderation Schmoderation

This is a guest blog post by Lauren Slayton MS, RD, a Manhattan based dietitian specializing in weight management and sports nutrition. This post has been published on her blog as well.

Follow Lauren’s tweets @FoodTrainers.

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 the 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.

  • Alysa Bajenaru, RD, CPT

    I love this post. I am so glad that many RDs are moving away from the “all things in moderation” stance. I hope that someday we can include GMOs in the “never eat” category. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that will be feasible until the labeling law changes.

  • Corey

    While overall I do believe your thoughts to be well thought out and worded in a calm manner that actually makes me think “Hey this person isn’t somone who just says a bunch of stuff without being able to back it up”. A couple of things gnaw at me though, the movie Food, Inc. is not entirely accurate, it is presented in a biased way so that some facts presented seem bigger or smaller than they actually should be in context. I am not a proponent of organic foods, local- yes, organic- no, because I see absolutely no benefit, and often times these foods can be worse/ more dangerous for a person or the environment. Grass-fed beef? I have yet to come across any conclusive anything that says it’s significantly different than grain-fed beef in quality, taste, or safety, in fact I came across an article recently that proposed that grain-fed beef and feedlots have a smaller carbon footprint than grass-fed beef operations because of the increased digestive and production efficiencies.

    Yes there are things we really should not eat at all, many if not all of the overprocessed sugary foods we all love and love to hate. I enjoy soda, and though I drink diet more often than not, I know it’s not the best thing for me… but it’s not like I have an IV of the stuff hooked up to me.

    I’m not sure if anyone will take notice of my post or care to respond, but these are my two cents… I would appreciate any response at all, especially if I have made a gross error in my thinking. I also apoligize for any nonsensical or spelling mistakes, this has just come off the top of my head, I didn’t really organize it. Thanks!

  • Kelly

    @Corey — are you serious? Cows shouldn’t be fed on a constant diet of corn. You don’t need research to prove that, it’s common sense. Cows are fed corn and grain because it’s a cheap filler. Many of these industrial cows have health and digestive problems as a result, hence why they’re also gorged on antibiotics at birth (but that’s also because of the unsanitary living conditions that come from jamming them together to make room for more.)

    It’s unfortunate that you’re pallet can’t taste the differences in grass-fed free range beef to that of their industrial counterparts, but there are those of us who can and who care about the quality of life of the animal itself. Carbon foot print of the grain-fed feedlots is negligible considering the heart of the matter is reducing meat consumption over all. A comparable analogy would be bringing 200 water bottles on your camping trip. Even though you may recycle them all, it still wouldn’t be as efficient as simply reusing a single canteen.

  • Maya E Nahra, RD, LD

    Love it! Thank you for posting! So exciting to be living in a time when the truth about food and nutrition is emerging & there are passionate enough people out there to explain it without any personal gain other than the ability to share their own love of health, food, and the Earth :)

    (Agreed Alysa, there is no room for GMOs in anyone’s diet, anytime, anywhere.)

  • Francesca Pucher

    Lauren, I do believe that everything should be in moderation even soda. I feel that is you tell someone not to have something they have more of it, which may be the reason we are at the highest obesity rate both adults and kids. The problem here is not just soda, grass fed beef, farmers markets, food coloring. Its the fact that people are not moving. As a fitness professional to many different types of individuals I see the Real people I work with them everyday. The reason they are the way they are is not just soda but inactivity. If we more a little more and cut back on things that are not as beneficial for our body we will feel better. I have yet to come across an individual that had soda and said wow I feel great! But I do have people that are starting to move more and say that. So Lauren and all of those reading about the nutrition end of the body, lets focus on how we are using out body.

  • manuel lusquinos

    It’s good to know that someone else out there is tired of the moderation mantra.When it comes to health,fitness,nutrition-there is no room for moderation.There is only the journey of continuous self-improvement.Unfortunately most Americans don’t believe in prevention,are lazy & full of excuses.That’s why they look the way they do & are so unhealthy.Very few put the whole program together to reach their optimum health & fitness levels.I want to die from something I could not control, not something I can easily take charge of.

  • Reid

    Michael Pollan is an idiot. Food Inc. was a complete waste of my time. It is good however to know what propaganda is being placed into the minds of those willing to believe anything but the truth. I feel sorry for anyone who is foolish enough to fall into this trap. Wake up! America’s food supply is the safest in the world.

  • Reid



    What you say really shows your ignorance of the truth. Research would prove that! Cattle are fed corn and other grains because they are higher in energy content, and not simply fillers! Corn and other grains are comprised of starches which are rich in carbohydrates which are readily fermented in the rumen of cattle.

    As for “industrial cows”, I can’t help but laugh at your incessant ignorance of what sound science has allowed animal agriculture to do. American agriculture is safe, it is efficient, and it is environmentally sound.

    Cattle that are finished on grass are not near as efficient, utilize more resources, and certainly are more of a tax on the environment. Grass-fed beef has somewhat of a different fatty acid profile than that of grain-fed beef. The claim to fame of grass-fed producers is more CLA due to their finishing system. So, as an American agriculturist that specializes in feedlot cattle and their nutrition, I suggest that you seek the truth from something that is capable of providing it.

    As a feedlot nutritionist, I can only scoff at your attempts to say that cattle are riddled with sickness and digestive upsets. The fact of the matter is, we take very good care of the cattle, and we take much pride in making sure that all needs of these animals are met. The cattle are fed diets rich in grain, but they are gradually adapted to the diets over time so that the microflora within their rumens is capable of handling a starch rich diet.

    I won’t even begin to rebut on your comments about antibiotics. I will say that you need to better prepare yourself in one area, before you can defend in another.

    Corey, thanks for your input, and take as many water bottles on your trip as you would like. Wash down that succulent grain-fed beef with all the water you need. Just make sure to recycle what you can.

  • Madeline Kelly

    everetyhing is gmo’d!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!@Corey

  • melanie BA, BSN, RN, E4USMC

    Variety and moderation, when combined with adequate physical activity (as Francesca noted), works!! It really does!!

    I’m not trying to enter my carcass into a ‘Purest Body Temple” contest when I die. I’m just trying to live a fit and healthy, affordable and enjoyable life.

    It’s all about choices.

    I disagree with is the “no list” concept.
    I have this great Vita-Mix mega powered super-blender that whips up awesome smoothies out of just about anything I put in there (made a beet, broccoli, carrot, kale, radish, banana and blueberry smoothie with plain kefir, flax seed and ice.. the kids couldn’t get enough!!)
    BUT I STILL enjoy an ice cold can of COKE with my GREASY SODIUM LADEN EXTRA CHEESE AND PEPPERONI PIZZA!!! I understand that the pizza/coke meal is a “once in a while thing” and if I happen to indulge a bit more than “moderately”.. I spend a little extra time on the elliptical or in the pool swimming laps.

    Yes we ENJOY eating healthfully, but we don’t prohibit ourselves from indulging in processed terrible foods once in a while.

    The problem is not people who eat/live like we do. The problem is people who ignore basic nutritional and lifestyle advice that has been given us since grade school. Variety and Moderation combined with an daily physical activity.

    Just as religious zealots must have a need for all of the doctrines they devoutly follow in order to keep themselves in line to ensure their “salvation”, so it is with nutritional zealots.

    If you must convince yourself there is a “eat this and your body is ruined” list to keep yourself from overindulging on a regular basis and becoming an obese unhealthy person, more power to you!!

    Whatever works.
    I put some of my letters after my name, though realistically if you really think about it.. it doesn’t matter… you can find 2 “experts” in any field who will disagree.. so my level of education or academic accomplishments do nothing to verify my point of view.

  • Lauren Slayton

    Bravo to you for being able to balance it all. While none of my clients feel they are staunchly prohibited from eating treats, they don’t eat things like pepperoni pizza or soda daily “as part of a healthy diet.” And none of this is about having something written on our tombstone, it’s about facing the music about what we should be eating and shouldn’t be eating, if we care. Many people sleep better, perform better in athletics, feel more confident etc when they are fueling themselves well. It’s not harsh and punitive but fairly easy and enjoyable.

  • Peggy

    Silly me, I believe in “moderation in moderation!” Look, if you have a diet soda once a day, but only one, that’s not moderation, it’s a measurable percentage of your daily intake. My children have soda in moderation: one 8-ounce serving on New Year’s Eve. It’s not in the “never” column, but it sure isn’t a regular thing! We have fine-tuned our diet to the point that we feel icky physically when we eat things that aren’t the best for our bodies. The impact is immediate, lasts several hours and is a dynamite learning tool. Learning that way will last a lot longer than learning a list of “no” foods by rote.

    @Corey, the certified organic label is your only guarantee you are not consuming GMOs. “As a feedlot nutritionist” gives away your position when you call Pollan an “idiot”, @Reid. And even if you recycle the plastic water bottles, they still require peak oil to create.

  • sandy

    Question for you, Reid, how do you reconcile current methods of feedlot nutrition and management with the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in humans? Can feedlot animals be reared without nontherapeutic antibiotics? There is no question that nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture is one of the causes of antibiotic-resistance bacteria, like salmonella, e coli and some enterococcal infections in humans. Over seventy percent of all antibiotics used in the US today are for agricultural use. I try not to prescribe antibiotics for my human patients needlessly, ever, yet I have had patients who are antibiotic-naive with antibiotic-resistant infections. Can you cite any cogent data indicating downward trends in nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in your industry?

  • Corey

    Also, I’m pretty sure we could not produce the amount of food we currently do, without GMOs, which I personally see no real problem with. What we have is a hungry world, and one that is only going to get hungrier in the next 40 years, where the population of the Earth (human) is expected to reach upwards of 9 Billion. How can we feed all these people? with improved yields and techniques (GMOs, better machinery, etc. etc.) basically.. technology!

    Granted the transportation of this food, globally, still needs to be worked out so that everyone can be fed… but that again is some of my two cents.

    @sandy – I’m pretty sure that some antibiotic resistance is due to people not finishing their antibiotics… I’m not versed with literature concerning antibiotics and meat and people… so i cant say either way if it does or doesn’t affect resistance… but I know most people don’t finish their prescribed antibiotics once they’re feeling better… which can lead to antibiotic resisitance. *shrug*

    I do think the name calling/fear mongering is unnecessary… regardless of the side of the argument…

    OH and regarding those plastic bottles… they have this nifty “biodegradable” plastic now, it’s made from corn, neat huh? Same idea with those new Sun-Chip bags… even though those are the most annoying super-noisy bags ever. :)

  • Elen

    Talk about biased. Wonder who is signing your paycheck ? Ohh yeah, feedlot nutritionist..I think you are the one not reading the research. However Reid, dont let me stop you from eating your own e coli infested, artery clogging steak from a cow who was highly stressed all its life. Yummmm

  • Corey

    the cows arent stressed if the producer can help it… stressed cows/pigs/etc. productes poor quality meat, which means a smaller bottom line – the videos and exposes that are out about rough handling and stressing of for-food animals are not common when you look at the big picture… I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, in fact there could be some going on now, who am I to say… but for better or worse, the financially motivated producers want as little stress as possible for the animals… plus there *are* guidelines for how the animals have to be treated (provided water, food, airflow, etc [where applicable]) …

  • kc

    Let’s be accurate: Cattle are not fed corn on feedlots because it is “higher in energy content” but because corn is subsidized and there is too much of it. Taking cattle off the pasture and putting them in feedlots created a major environmental problem that never existed before and that is large amounts of cow manure in one spot. This manure is too toxic because of the unnatural diet of the cows (and the drugs they ingest) to be useful as a compost so it just sits around in foul lagoons until it can be washed into the water table or local waterways by rain. This is something that may not be counted against the “carbon footprint” of the feedlot but is very bad for human inhabitants of the planet in any case. Meanwhile, that corn causes illness and obesity in the cattle (and ruins the fatty acid profile of the meat from those cattle) much the same way it causes these things in humans who are eating corn in unprecedented quantities (in the form of processed food additives and cornfed animal products).

    For these reasons I believe there are certain foods that humans should never eat. At the top of the list is any processed food containing food additives made from GMO corn or soy. A close second would be industrial beef and chicken products fed GM crops and processed using GMO corn derivatives (lactic acid and citric acid). I don’t see anything wrong with pizza with extra cheese and pepperoni as long as it is made from fresh, natural ingredients and not enriched (with GMO corn derived vitamins and minerals) and bleached white flour, mozarella with GMO corn vinegar and genetically modified enzymes, GMO corn wax coated bell peppers or tomatoes from a can containing citric acid (GMO corn derivative). We eat pizza quite often in my house but never from the local pizza outlet or the frozen food section of the grocery store – only homemade from carefully researched, non-GMO ingredients. The same goes for enjoying an occasional soft drink – the only acceptable options are made at home with pure cane sugar and non-GMO ingredients or Reed’s Premium Ginger Ale – never any of the offerings from the major beverage companies in America.

  • Elen

    Thanks , and I do hope what you say is the case. Mostly from an animal welfare point of view. We have been killing animals from the beginning of times, but before we killed then the animals had a chance to live a good life eating a patch of fresh grass and feeling the warmth of the sun. Sadly , this is no longer the case in factory farms.

  • Corey


    Well the manure of regular grass-fed animals isn’t really much good for compost or fertilizer either… any animal manure will contain dangerous levels of microorganisms including pathogens…it can be composted so that the dangerous microorganisms are killed, but the process has to be carefully controlled and monitored… as is not often enough the case. So GAP (good agricultural practices, something you should read up on) essentially discourage the use of manure application in any form onto fields, and require that there be sufficient barriers in place between crop fields and animal fields. Though I know, food safety does not stem directly from legislation, it doesn’t usually hurt either.

    Also, you don’t really state why you choose to avoid GMOs… I’m curious, is it that you’ve been scholarly educated via scientific research as to their negative attributes? Or are you just being trendy and in vogue with your thoughts?

  • Monica

    To me moderation is eating junk food when i’m starving to the point of passing out and there’s nothing else to eat, which is not very often.

  • Alta

    @Peggy – I agree with your stance. Moderation in moderation. If you simply tell the average American that they can eat junk “in moderation”, they’ll still drink “only” 2 Diet Cokes per day. That’s still a LOT of junk in their system! Your body will tell you that junk doesn’t feel good, if you’re feeding yourself cleanly and with nutrition. For me, this means a splurge once a month, maybe? If I eat treats, they’re either homemade from natural ingredients or at worst, purchased gluten-free, all-natural products where all of the ingredients are real food.

  • kc

    GAP… don’t grow crops in pastures and since you know that nifty acronym, I’m sure you know that. Cow manure of pastured animals does fertilize the grasses grown in the pasture, not the food crops (unless it has been composted in the “carefully controlled environment” of a compost pile). You can try to make feedlots sound just as healthy and natural as pastures for cows, but you know they are producing substandard food in large quantities with dangerous levels of pathogens not found in pasture finished animals. You can also make GMOs sound like they are necessary to feed the world. That might work on someone that has never heard of superweeds and the steady increase in pesticides and fertilizers needed to produce those GMOs every year. Any idiot knows that it may be possible (with technology and massive amounts of foreign oil) to grow animals and crops in large quantities in the same spot repeatedly but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea (or even the best way to do it). No matter how you spin it, genetically modified monocultures, industrial corn-fed animals and highly processed food additives are doing more harm to this country’s citizens than good and it is just going to get worse.

    I avoid GMOs because I spent a lot of time researching them in order to avoid all sources of corn (to which I am allergic). If you read something besides a Monsanto recruiting poster, you wouldn’t be so quick to eat them either. Every other industrialized nation has laws in place to require labeling of GMOs (most were put in place by 1999, within three years of their debut) and most Americans in 2010 don’t even know what they are and eat them daily without knowing it. I have heard all the propaganda about how GM crops will feed a hungry world, but you forgot to mention that the corporations that “the world” will have to purchase those seeds from will have total control over the food supply. Could this philanthropic endeavor on the part of Monsanto and Cargill be fueled by the huge profits borne of monopoly and not the desire to “feed a hungry world”?

    You imply that scholarly educated decisions based on scientific research would impress you. Aren’t you, as an intellectual, bothered by the lack of scientific studies about the long-term effects of genetically modified crops on the human body? Wait, there is such a study and all Americans have been participating since 1996 unknowingly. The results are dramatic increases in obesity, type II diabetes, increased food allergies, autoimmune damage, decreased fertility and heart disease.

  • Corey

    I’ll be the first to admit that as for long term effects, even I don’t know if GMOs will be good/bad/ or otherwise for the human body. I also don’t completely agree with monsanto’s business practices and ethics (mostly due to patent laws and whatnot and them suing small farmers, etc. when they don’t use monsanto seed and there is some gmo contamination from monsanto’s seeds in their non-monsanto field, etc. etc.) I wish that farmers could rely solely on crop improvements researched by land-grand universities and provided to the farmer at little/no cost. Alas, such practices are not as widespread, for a few crops anyway.

    Farmers don’t grow crops in pastures, but I can’t believe that none think that it is a good idea to fertilize their crops with raw manure… bad things can happen.

    These “results” you speak of… have they been scientifically documented as having a direct link with GMOs? I would gladly read such research if you could provide it. Otherwise, there is something we good scientists say: “Correlation does not imply causation”.

    This back and forth is interesting! It’s lively discussion like this that gets people thinking about different stuff from different points of view!

  • Emily

    I cut soda out of my diet a year ago and haven’t looked back since. I like that I’m not addicted to caffeine anymore and don’t get headaches from it. I’ll agree that eating real food can be fun. We participate in a local co-op where you get a basket full of vegetables and fruits once a week. We love to see what’s going to be in our basket that week and think of fun and new ways to eat all our produce. It has livened up our diet and is WAY more fun than going through a fast food drive through!

  • Madison

    Totally agree with you. Vegans that eat meat and cheese substitutes are cheaters. I myself have huge food allergies; gluten, meat, and dairy. I continue to eat fish and eggs as I’m not allergic, but everything else is classified in treat category. Treats are okay sometimes. With the encouragement of the blog I’ve started avoiding soda and looking at juice as more of a treat. While 90% of what I eat tends to be the epitome of nutrition, it still all comes down to portion size.

    Eating five Larabars as a snack, while healthy, is not a good option. Conversely, leaving out all red meat entirely is not the best idea either, even for someone with noticeable food allergies. Moderation is the concept that America doesn’t seem to understand.

  • Ariel

    @Corey I think the detriment in eating grain-fed meats is not so much in the flavor of the meat or even the way the meat is raised or fed, but rather in the effects of the corn monoculture that feeds them. The amount of oil used in corn monoculture farming and the shipping of that corn is enormous. The pesticides, herbicides, fungicides are being used increasingly to protect these crops on their overworked plots of soil and is leading to super-bugs, fungi, and weeds. Which then need even MORE chemicals to combat. The farmland suffers, the environment suffers the runoff of those chemicals, the plants suffer a loss of nutrients which they pass on to the animals and people that consume them. And every year the cost of those chemicals harms the farmers themselves as they continue to grow these staple crops that are in such excess that the prices drop regularly and the taxpayers are “saving” the cost of food production by paying it later in taxes that support the farmers subsidies. Growing such quantities of staple crops, far in excess of what is needed, is harmful to every level of our health and economy. The meat from those cattle may prove to be just fine for human consumption with no undue effects. But raising cattle on the grasses that grow without need for chemical sprays, and that American taxpayers don’t pay taxes to grow is far preferable to the current situation. It may be less efficient as far as the amount of land needed to support those cattle, but honestly maybe that lack of efficiency would drive up the cost of meat and bring down American meat consumption to a more healthy level. Maybe it would increase our consumption of alternatives like wild-caught seafood, game, and vegetable proteins; making for a much more well-rounded diet.

  • Kaitlyn

    @ Madison

    How are vegans that eat meat and cheese substitutes cheaters?

    Most of us become vegan because of the way animals are treated, not for dietary reasons. I myself don’t generally eat substitutes but I have no problem with it; it doesn’t matter if it looks and tastes like meat/cheese as long as its vegan. Sure it may not be healthy but I didn’t go vegan for my health so its not cheating.