‘Everything in moderation’ labelled ‘useless’ by leading nutrition scientist

Useless. That’s the word that Dr David Ludwig, Harvard Medical School nutrition and obesity expert uses to describe the dietary axiom “everything is okay in moderation”. Because according to nutrition science, what you eat, and not just how much, is exceedingly important.

What you eat matters, not just the amount…

There are several studies that back Ludwig’s theory, which turns conventional dietary wisdom on its head. One can’t help but understand the thinking behind “everything in moderation”, though, given the obsession the world has with diet. After decades of diet fads, like the liver cleanse, the grapefruit diet, the Paleo diet, to name but a few, the consensus has been to pull back and practice diet moderation, or eating in moderation.

But this is not the advice we need.

According to Ludwig, there are some foods we need to eat a lot of, such as olive oil, avocado and nuts. Ludwig says we need to “pile on” these types of foods. However, there are other foods, particularly sugar, where we need to absolutely minimise our intake, particularly if we have any metabolic disorders or diseases like diabetes.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported on the results of a randomised trial of diet patterns for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Seven thousand individuals were put into three control groups and were given a either a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, a Mediterranean diet high in nuts, or simply advice to eat a low-fat diet.

The results were so profound that researchers had to stop the study early due to the rates of heart disease dropping so low in both the groups eating a Mediterranean diet of healthy fats, that they considered it “unethical to keep the control group eating the low-fat diet”.

Other studies have had similar findings. A recent study found that type II diabetes risks were decreased when people ate a lot of vegetables, including a large variety of fruits and nuts.

A study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a “high variety of sweets, snacks, condiments, entrees, and carbohydrates” (but a small variety of vegetables) made individuals put on weight. This study was designed to test the effects of dietary variety alone and its effects on energy intake and body fat. It found that variety in the diet wasn’t enough to produce healthy body weight – “body fatness depends critically on the types of foods being consumed”.

In yet another important diet and health study, published by PLOS ONE in 2015, over 5000 American adults had both their diets and relative risk of obesity and diabetes analysed.

Their results were overwhelmingly in favour of “diet quality, independent of diversity”, again reinforcing the argument against one of the nutrition industries most well-known mantras: “everything in moderation”.

What can we learn from this?

  • Moderation eating, cut back on sugars - Sage Institute of FitnessWe need to stop saying we can eat “everything in moderation”. This is not safe or healthy advice.
  • Follow a Mediterranean style diet with lots of olive oil, nuts and veggies – and few processed foods – as the key to healthy eating and longevity
  • Drastically cut down on added sugars to less than 10% of one’s daily calorie intake
  • Health scientists also recommend we do the following:
    • Adhere to smaller portion sizes to prevent excessive calorie intake.
    • Eat adequate amounts of protein and fibre to keep feeling full for longer.
    • Avoid sweetened drinks as they are a massive source of sugar, leading to weight gain.
    • Drink water 30 minutes before meals as this can lead to weight loss.
    • Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach – you will buy more junk food when hungry.
    • Get enough sleep – your body will crave high-calorie food if you are tired.
    • Eat breakfast as it helps to kick-start your metabolism, giving you more energy.
    • Embrace the mantra “dinner and done!” and don’t eat after dinner. Studies show that snacking after the evening meal leads to eating an average of 238 more calories.

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Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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