Wednesday, January 27, 2010

EVERYTHING in Moderation - really? EVERYTHING?

And you know where I am going with tonight's post.

It is a funny thing, this mantra of many. Everything in moderation. Where did that come from exactly? (well, I know where it came from, a Greek temple and it was "nothing in excess", but anyway) This is the phrase we like to voice when we either want more of something that we'd be better off without or we want to do less of something we really should be doing more. For example, french fries and ice cream are really NOT something we should have in moderation, but something we should limit, but when we want to eat them we say, "everything in moderation." Physical activity and exercise are things we should do more of - a lot of - every day of - but we see the people who walk or run most days of the week when we don't and shake our heads saying, "everything in moderation."

So let us think about the recommendation guidelines from health experts that are meant to improve our health and well being and are based in science. Science of course is dynamic, meaning what we knew 60 years ago does not always mesh with what we know today. It is dynamic, ever changing, and so must we be. I gander to say that even antediluvian postulations did not call for consumption of everything and anything at moderate levels. But we do not have to go back to biblical times to do our work, we can start with the 1800s. Lucky for me, a young woman named Lisa Green who is a student at UF, has a webpage that describes the history of our food guidelines. We are most familiar with the Basic 4, the 4 Food Groups. According to Lisa's history, President Roosevelt had actually commissioned the USDA to create the Basic 7, but that was too complicated. I remember the 4 Food Groups from school. But since then we have have the Food Guide Pyramid (USDA), the DASH diet (NHLBI), the Mediterranean Diet (classified by research and highly recommended), the New Food Guide Pyramid (Harvard -Walter Willett), New American Plate(AICR), the Go Slow Whoa program (NHLBI) and the AHA's recommendations on eating to prevent heart disease. And yes, a two years ago, , the US Government came out with its first recommendations for physical activity. (other agencies have done so for ten or twenty years)

Every single one of the aforementioned guides distinguishes food amounts by food type. For example, saturated fats, oils, butters, whole milk and whole milk products and sugars are to be consumed in limited quantities while vegetables, according to Dr. Willett are to be consumed with abandon. Alcohol should only be one or two glasses of the measured amount per day. Trans fats are to be avoided at ALL COSTS and ALL TIMES. Red meat is to be consumed much less and fish much more... I can stop now can't I? No , no I really can't, it is just who I am.

The absolute best advice, scientific advice, is to eat a variety of foods with special attention to lean meats or proteins, low or no fat dairy products, whole grains and complex carbs, fish, mono unsaturated fats, many fruits and most vegetables, measured alcohol intake, and little to no saturated fats and sugars.

The CDC has great information about fats, and that is a perfect example. We are asked to keep our fat intake between 20-30% of our total daily calories and our saturated fat intake at no more than 10%. They say on this web page that even though some fats are health promoting we STILL need to keep overall intake under 30%. Which is why you cannot eat cups of almonds all day!

Fat is just one example. There are very specific and different recommended daily allowances for salt, for fiber, for protein, for carbs, and oh my gosh WATER, which is very individually specific. etc. So if it IS everything in moderation - then it must follow that some things are more moderate than others. Moderation means nothing to excess, but it also means nothing at a level that is considered harmful and that is the real issue.

Fats, sugars and alcohol can be harmful at much lower levels than people who enjoy them would like to acknowledge. Additionally, exercise levels have to be much higher than sedentary people would like to believe before considered harmful. Remember the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans state:
Additional health benefits are provided by increasing to 5 hours (300 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both. With an additional two days of strength training. For most health outcomes, additional benefits occur as the amount of physical activity increases through higher intensity, greater frequency, and/or longer duration and the benefits of physical activity far outweigh the possibility of adverse outcomes.

I repeat - Moderation means nothing to excess, but it also means nothing at a level that is considered harmful and that is the real issue.

(side note: you can eat the right amount of a food and still get a belly ache and you can do the right amount of exercise and still strain a muscle - we are not talking about these acute things!)

(second side note, if you receive this blog in your email, you may have to come to the website to see the links and to leave comments)

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