Moderation and Portion Size for Junk Food

August 19, 2014 in Foodland, General, Nutritionism, Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has a position statement called the Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating, which was published in February 2013. There was nothing new about the AND’s statement when it came out: “All foods can fit within this pattern if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with physical activity.” (Italics added) They’ve long held this ideology: there are no good, nor bad foods.

I have long had an unsettled and uneasy feeling about this position. Part of my continuing problem with the AND position is that the food industry uses it to justify the promotion and deceptive advertising of unhealthy junk foods and beverages. It puts the professional organization in a conflict of interest to point out the harmful effects of the products of their sponsors, or to illuminate the deceptive way they are promoted to pretend that they are in line with good nutritional guidelines.

This issue is certainly not a simple one. Of course, I believe that allowing yourself occasional treats (including junk foods, if that’s a treat for you) can still be part of a healthy balanced diet. But having said that, we all know that some processed foods are better than others.

I’ve always been embarrassed by the AND’s (formerly the American Dietetics Association - ADA) cozying up with Coke, Frito Lay, Mars, and on, and on and on at the conventions. I think it makes us members look just plain stupid. Why does this supposedly nutrition-centered organization accept so much money from Mars, Because it’s big money, and the organization has not disciplined itself to do without it. Now used to it, cutting loose would involve severe pain. This is a serious conflict of interest. If you’re accepting money from and snuggling up with Burger King, how can you say something unflattering about their products? It’s embarrassing to tell the public that a meal has over 200 additional calories than it did a decade or so ago. What kind of progress is that?

One of the problems with the AND’s approach is that the consumer is supposed to know what moderation and portion size are. In my decades of experience, I do not believe that people understand these two concepts very well. And let’s face it; the industry has not helped in this regard. They use deceptive practices, gaming the regulations to manipulate the appearance that their products are healthy.  For example, the FDA rule is that you have to list an ingredient if there is more than 0.5 gram of it in a portion. In order to have “zero” trans fats (0.499 or less to be exact), for example, the food processors can claim on their label a tiny portion size that no individual would consider limiting himself or herself to for consumption at one meal or snack. So much for transparency to help consumers understand moderation and portion size. Frequency is yet another issue that is devoid of guidance in this position style. Is it moderate to have junk foods daily? Weekly? No one wants to lay down any guidance, because of the position statement says, no good/nor bad foods. The truth is, the usual meaning of “moderate” may be way too much for consumption of certain junk foods by an individual given that person’s current body type and health status.  For such a person “moderate” might mean ¼ of a mars bar three times a year!

What about the issue of additive choices? What if the individual is having only one candy bar, one soda pop, one bag of chips each day? It adds up! The obesity epidemic is raging forward and is evidence that portion size and moderation are probably not understood.

I haven’t even gotten to the third limitation to the popular “all foods can fit..” maxim that has worked so well for AND and its sponsorships:  “… and combined with physical activity”.  This too is undefined.  How much physical activity for how much of this junk food that is supposed to fit within a healthy diet?  The amount of physical activity needed to burn off a known amount of extra calories can be calculated fairly closely. Sometimes this calculated amount will exceed what a person can physically do in the time before the next round of junk food, but the amount of physical activity a person is actually getting is as individual and variable as is the actual quantity of moderation and portion size for that person. For so many people who are not aware of the calories they are consuming, thinking perhaps that they are practicing their own version of moderation, portion control, and exercise, they are overbalanced toward eating excessive empty calories from certain so-called foods. (In this blog, we call these “fudes” and point to how these foods are designed to promote craving, not moderation).

If you’re having Mars Bar for a snack every day, can that really be considered part of a healthy eating plan? I like the American Heart Association’s guidance to keep sugars to 100 calories per day for women and 150 for men. That way if you choose a soda, or candy bar it gives you a little guidance. But the AND’s guidance of moderation and appropriate portion size seems too vague to me. Just sayin’! What’s moderate for one person is frugal for another. Too bad there is not some guidance like the Heart Association’s sugar guidance for fatty, starchy junk food. How many Cheetos should a person eat? Time for AND to stand up for its principles as well as it does for its sponsorships.