Sunday, March 9, 2008

All things in moderation

I posted this (I've made a few changes) as a comment on Michael Eades' Protein Power site. Here's the page:
(If you don't see it there, it's still in moderation.)


For years, I've heard people solemnly pronounce "all things in moderation" as the key to the ideal, healthful, wise diet. It drives me crazy.

"All things in moderation" is a meaningless utterance.

"Moderation" is a completely relative term. It means exactly what the speaker thinks it means, and carries no quantitative information. My moderate amount of butter might be a tablespoon a day; Lofat Lola's might be that amount over the course of a month; I know people who consume a stick a day, and for them, that's a moderate amount. When you point this out to people, they balk; they don't like the idea that not everyone shares their internalized set of guidelines for moderation. But, I say, that's exactly what's at issue: how much of this, that, and the other thing is an appropriate amount and frequency?

Then there's the "all things" part. Also meaningless. Usually people wield it to disparage people with diets more restrictive than their own. For instance, to say that vegans "go too far" in excluding animal foods from their diet. (I put that in quotes because it presupposes that the direction itself is correct.) However, those people don't like it pointed out that they themselves exclude things that other people eat. The Masai thrive on a mixture of cow's milk and cow's blood. Without that in your diet, at least from time to time, you're not getting your moderate amount of "all things." Oh, but that doesn't count, because we don't eat that. Right. The vegan can say the same thing about Brie.

For the "all things in moderation"ist, the concept of "all" is also perfectly subjective. It doesn't include every substance under the sun, or even every edible substance. It includes exactly what they think is a fitting foodstuff; no more, and no less. If they don't happen to think MSG or HFCS is a big deal, they'll say of it, "Everything in moderation." If they do happen to think HFCS is unfit for human consumption, they'll say the exact same thing, but with HFCS specifically excluded from "everything." Along with chocolate-covered ants, horse meat, and whatever else they don't happen to like.


  1. Nice point. My answer to this ludicrous old chestnut is to borrow something I read in one of Dana Carpender's books - if you consume just one 12 oz. Coke per day and no other refined sugar, you are taking in more sugar than our Victorian ancestors did. And most people who drink Coke consume other sugar, too. So were the Victorians immoderate, or are we? (I'm not sure if that statistic is quite true, but it certainly isn't far from true, and it gets the point across.)

    I also get irritated when people criticize low-carb diets because the diets "exclude whole categories of food." First, maybe I am healthier by excluding those whole categories of food. Second, vegetarians and vegans exclude whole categories of food, too, but I sense much more tolerance in our culture for vegetarianism than I do for grain avoidance. A very good friend of mine, a vegetarian, commented recently on a new soy protein meat substitute that she'd discovered and liked. I didn't comment on it at all, though I certainly have an opinion of just how bad a soy protein meat substitute is like to be. However, the same person told me six months ago that she thought Atkins was the craziest diet she'd ever heard of. Ironically, she was at my house at the time, being served - if I do say so myself - a delicious, completely Atkins-friendly meal. (This was easier for me because she does eat fish.)

    I had intended to say, "Well, you just ate an Atkins meal, what do you think?" but the conversation drifted before I got a chance ... she did notice that I'd lost about 20 lbs. :)

  2. Ha, ha! That "whole categories of food" is ridiculous, also! Just because something exists as a category of food doesn't mean it's good to eat.

    Definitely there is a double standard, as you say. Broadly speaking, the vegetarians and vegans are admired for what they manage to exclude.

    On the other hand, embracing the eating of flesh foods to the exclusion of all else (at least, that's the generalization about LC ways of eating) has a base, degenerate, depraved connotation.

  3. This is an interesting view on this old adage. I always interpreted it to mean "nothing in excess"; that is, whatever you do eat (or do), have it in moderation with respect to the other things you eat (or do). It's funny to think of "all things" as meaning literally ALL things! Do people really think that? Wow, some folks are crazy!

  4. I was thinking about this a bit more, and I wonder if the "all things in moderation" people are using it more to justify their own behaviors than to try to press behaviors on others. Maybe what they mean is, "It's all very nice that you have completely given up sugar, but I don't intend to!"