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“Everything In Moderation”

by Dr. Stephen Gangemi on November 8, 2012

junk food moderation“Everything in moderation” is a common line often used by those trying to support their decision to eat and live a certain way while at the same time feeling as though they need to justify to others their lack of discipline and dedication to their health. You don’t need to live in a air-purified bubble and eat only raw food to be healthy, though there are some (actually many) products that have no place in your diet of “moderation” if you wish to be as healthy as you possibly can.  

You need not deprive yourself of desserts and good tasting food to have a healthy and nutritious diet. High cacao content chocolate, maple syrup, and honey all have their place in a healthy diet. Even raw sugar is not a bad ingredient as long as it’s not a staple in your diet. Moderation here is fine. But eating foods that have refined (white) sugars, high fructose corn syrup, and yes even agave, have no place in a healthy diet, even one of moderation. So swap out those sweeteners  for pure ones, and you can eat them now and then, depending on your health, your activity level, and how well you process them.

artificial drinks

These colors aren’t natural.

That means if you eat some sugar and you’re a raging lunatic or irritable after, then hey – you shouldn’t eat sugar! If you get tired after eating sweets, even honey or maple syrup, then it’s not for you. But if you feel fine after some treats made with these real ingredients and you don’t have health problems which they may contribute to (pain, inflammation, a named disease, or just not feeling great), then by all means indulge – in moderation. And these foods can and do definitely have a place in high intensity and long duration exercise programs. So if you ran a marathon or just exercised hard for one hour, having a sugary snack after to replace glycogen is definitely warranted, but not one loaded with fake colors and flavors. How about after a one hour walk? Nope. If you need (or crave) sugar after that walk or even light run you were anaerobic and you need to work on your fitness training, not support it with the wrong foods.

Artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, and lab-made chemicals sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Nutrasweet) should never be a part of your diet. MSG and all those foods that are processed and create MSG should always be avoided too. So if you’re at an office party or your kids are at a friend’s birthday and they’re having a traditional refined, bleached flour cake with artificial frosting made with hydrogenated fats then you can use the “everything in moderation” line, right? I’d disagree, as difficult and maybe uncomfortable as it may be. Why teach your kids to eat like the unhealthy masses who are often sick or taking a medication most likely in large part because of their diet of moderation (or excess in many cases)? My kids take a pass and bring their own treats to celebrate. They don’t need to give into the peer pressure of an unhealthy practice – one that is more than moderation especially at this time of the year – there are excuses every weekend if not daily to indulge on foods that are truly damaging to your health. Moderation soon becomes a habit, the habit poor health, and then a disease.

unhealthy birthday cake

There are healthier ways to celebrate.

How about those vegetable/nut/seed oils – the refined ones that are in so many products? Many of these oils are genetically modified (GMO) and while we’re not exactly sure of the health impact of such modification, they are also inflammatory-type fats especially in the presence of sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods which they are often baked and processed with. These oils (corn, peanut, soy, safflower, canola, sunflower, cottonseed, and grapeseed), have no place in a healthy household pantry, yet they are definitely hard to completely omit from your diet if you’re to venture outside your home. So moderation has its place here, but it should be contained. That’s perhaps more vague than I often am but the best way to view it is to pay attention to your consumption. If you’re eating foods with these oils during every meal that’s definitely too much. If you’re grabbing a common Whole Foods product with canola oil now and then, maybe that’s okay, but the less you consume the healthier you’ll be. And if you have health problems, even if you just feel tired, achy, or “old” then your moderation of these oils should be close to, if not absolutely, zero.  Partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and anything deep fried, even in olive oil, should never be consumed – any little bit is extreme. Cottonseed oils should be left for textile processing, not for human physiology.

Butter and coconut oil are the only fats you should be cooking with (organic lard is okay too if you’re into that). Extra virgin olive oil and unrefined sesame seed oil are great fats to add to dishes after cooking. You can heat the olive oil a bit (keep it under 325) but never the sesame seed oil as you’ll destroy many of the benefits.

coffee benefits

Ok for some in moderation.

Caffeine and alcohol consumption are common substances that are very individualized when they pertain to health. Moderation is a grey area here. If you need caffeine to give you energy then you’re past your point of moderation. Same goes if you need alcohol to alter your mood or wind you down at the end of a long day. If you have a withdrawal headache without your typical cup(s) of Joe then again – too much. Interestingly the more stress you’re under the more you’ll tax your adrenal hormones and the more you’ll desire caffeine to make up for that missing energy source. The stimulants in coffee and tea, not just the caffeine, will hinder your health even more at this time. Moderation here is more relative to your stress level. Your stress is higher than what you can handle and that’s what you need to moderate.

So the point here is this – moderation has its place in every aspect of health – diet, exercise, sleep, work, play, etc. Let’s not abuse the cliché line as an excuse to consume foods that are truly detrimental to health. If you can’t grow it, stay away from it. If you can grow it and it has been altered (including being sprayed with pesticides or herbicides), be aware of the consequences it may have on your health. Real, unaltered foods are where moderation has its place, based upon how you feel, react, and of course how much you enjoy the product.

With the holidays now upon us, Halloween through Easter is a long time to play the moderation card. It’s actually the time when your diet should be most healthy and “clean” as cold temperatures, travel, and overall holiday stress are enough to take their toll on your health. A diet of unhealthy moderation will leave you more susceptible to the flu, winter depression, weight gain, and a slew of other health problems including perhaps the start of a major disease. Of course any and all health problems will be “in moderation” too during some point of the disease process and soon you may be on a medication in moderation too!

I'm a board certified chiropractic physician and clinical nutritionist with a passion for true natural health care. I implement dietary & nutritional therapies, exercise & movement practices, and lifestyle changes along with manual therapy techniques to help the body heal and prevent illness and injuries.

From → Diet & Nutrition


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  1. Dr. Gangemi you are wonderful, to say the least, to share this fantastic and helpful information prior to the onslaught of decisions we must make for our holiday meals. You’ve taught me so much over the past few years and I am so grateful to you. You’ve also given me encouragement to reach others with this information as well. I do (as always) have a question for you. Is an organic canola oil like Spectrum, a brand I usually trust, on your ” have no place in a healthy household pantry” hit list? Love to your family,
    Lee Newlin

    • Thanks Lee! Correct, though organic canola oil is better than non-organic, it should still not be in your house or used in those dishes you make from all those great foods you have on your farm.

  2. Will permalink

    Love the site, I read it all the time.
    This is a very important topic. Especially with the holiday season coming up, I am going to be going to tons of parties. Unfortunately, most social gatherings revolve around excessive eating and drinking of very unhealthy things.
    Do you have any advice for maintaining an active social life without sacrificing your health? Do you just have to accept that you’ll usually be “that guy” when you go out?

    • Thanks Will. Yeah, you’ll be “that guy”. And eventually others will want to be that guy or gal too.

  3. Tracy permalink

    Hi Dr. G! Wondering how you convinced your kids not to eat traditional birthday cake? I have a two year old and have not quite fully entered the onslaught of birthday parties and I wonder how I can approach this with him. I’m trying to teach him which foods will give him energy (run faster or jump higher) and which ones will upset his belly or make his body feel bad. He has a sugar tooth which I try to remedy with fruit only but when other people are eating cake (or something sugary) while we’re out somewhere, how can I say no? He would lose his mind! He eats well, low dairy (except for high fat plain yogurt), high healthy fats, organic where possible, meats and no juice except for special occasions etc.. I guess what I’m asking is how should the conversation go?

    PS – I think you’re a genius.

    • Thanks Tracy :)

      We’ve never really had such a conversation with our kids. They know about health just from being brought up the way we have brought them up. If you always live and act a certain way then it sorta comes naturally. Not to sound extreme, but it’s like the parents who smoke who tell their kids “smoking is bad”. — Good luck with that. We do of course discuss health a lot with them though and now they realize why their friends are often sick or they look tired a lot.

  4. Frank McNair permalink


    Two week trial is going great — have lost twelve pounds and am looking ripped! (HA!) Boy do I miss fruit and BEER — can’t decide which I want to introduce first but, on your reco, am going with fruit.

    See you in a couple of weeks!

  5. Josh permalink

    Dr. Gangemi,

    What is your opinion on grass fed, organic, raw milk.

    Thank you,

  6. Bill P permalink

    Awesome article with perfect timing!!

  7. Conor- permalink

    I am sure you have come across the “Slow Carb” diet by now. What is your opinion? The departure from paleo is the addition of beans in order to prevent caloric starvation and metabolic slowdown. For the most part, bread, sweets, starches, refineds etc. are completely avoided except on one “cheat day” a week where nothing is off limits, in fact, you are encouraged to indulge for various scientific sounding reasons with acronyms like cAMP, GLUT, etc

    any thoughts?

    • Beans are okay for some, if they feel fine eating them. But I don’t subscribe to diets with “cheat” days – where it’s a free for all. That’s just stupid, irresponsible, and unhealthy. If you need a cheat day then the other six days of your diet are ones which you can’t sustain anyway. Diets of such was one of the reasons why I wrote this post. Healthy moderation is not eating well for six days and eating junk on day seven, it’s eating well everyday and adding in healthy snacks and treats based upon individuality.

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