Worried about holiday eating: dietary moderation and balance

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 31, 2012

From sports to home makeovers, Americans seem to love the concept of going to extremes. So it’s no surprise that some people might think eating healthy and losing weight requires an all-or-nothing approach. But diet myths notwithstanding, nutritionists largely agree that a healthy lifestyle requires moderation and balance.

“When people ask me how they can eat more healthfully, I tell them to focus on three things: variety, moderation and balance,” says Jessica Fishman Levinson, a registered dietitian with a nutrition counseling and consulting practice in New York City.

Achieving balance is a challenge for many people, especially during the holiday season when temptations abound and stress levels tend to be elevated. Still, it is possible to stay in step with your healthy nutrition and lifestyle goals, and maintain balance throughout the year.

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“Obesity is a complex issue and its rise over the past 35 years is a result of multiple factors – genetics, increased daily calorie intake, lack of physical activity,” Levinson says. “No single food or ingredient can be blamed for weight gain.”

Sugar may be especially difficult to avoid during the holiday season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises adults who consume 2,000 calories a day limit their sugar intake to about 40 grams (10 teaspoons) of added sugar per day. Attempting to completely eliminate sugar from your diet could set you up for frustration and failure. Or, you may be tempted to justify eating more goodies made with refined sugar thinking that’s better than indulging in products made with other sweeteners that have taken a bum rap for being worse – like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Nutritionally speaking, however, there is no difference when it comes to HFCS vs. sugar. No one form of sugar is better or worse than any other, experts say.

“Sugar is sugar,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “It doesn’t matter what kind of sugar it is. It’s the quantity that’s the problem.” 

Many experts would agree with Dobbins that it is the quantity and that we need to reduce our overall intake of sugars.  So how do we use moderation and balance to reduce our overall sugar intake and apply this mantra to our diet as a whole?

“There is room for all foods in your daily intake as long as you’re eating a moderate amount and choosing wisely,” Levinson says. “If you don’t eat in moderation, it doesn’t matter whether you’re consuming excess fruit or candy, you will gain weight. Making sure your daily intake is varied and balanced, and that all foods are consumed in moderation, is the most important way you can maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight.”

To learn more tips for a healthy diet and consuming sugar in moderation, watch Registered Dietitian Jessica Fishman Levinson on the Lifetime TV show, The Balancing Act.