Health & Wellness

What's 'moderation' anyway? 6 tips for enjoying chocolate, cheese (and wine!)

Ask a group of people what the phrase "everything in moderation" means and each person will give you a different answer.

To health professionals like me, the word "moderation" isn't always useful when giving advice. Sometimes we use it to warn about food and drinks that have health benefits but are high in calories, and other times we use it to caution about foods that are just plain unhealthy.

That's why I've come up with these 6 tips for common foods we really should eat in moderation — but I also explain why that's the case, and suggest healthy alternatives.

Nuts

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Easy and healthy snack: nuts and dried fruits

Famous for being good sources of healthy fat, nuts are also known for packing on the pounds. They're definitely a “just don’t overdo it” food.

The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic both recommend daily intake of nuts as part of an overall healthy diet. Studies show that the risk of coronary heart disease decreases as the frequency of nuts increase. Research also suggests that eating 1.5 ounces most nuts each day may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

But should we all be eating 1.5 ounces daily? Well, that depends. Do you overeat other unhealthy fats? Do you overeat healthy fats?

I recommend about 25 to 30 percent of your calories come from a variety of healthy fats. This means a portion of healthy fat at every meal. Think 1/3 of an avocado at breakfast or 2 teaspoons of peanut butter with a snack.

Incorporating nuts into your healthy meal plan doesn't mean adding them on top of other foods, and it certainly doesn’t mean eating them out of a big container while watching Netflix.

Wine

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pouring red wine into wineglass from green bottle

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Research shows the many health benefits of, ahem, moderate wine consumption, but if you don’t already drink, don't start now just because “wine is healthy.” And, if you’re trying to lose weight, limit alcohol as much as possible.

RELATED: From yogurt to kombucha, fermented foods may boost health

If you normally have six drinks per week, instead choose one drink per weekend night. Choose nights that matter — like a hot date or a much needed pow wow with your girlfriend —to indulge in a cocktail. And always drink a glass of water between drinks.

Chocolate

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A small assortment of chocolate truffles and pralines in a box. Very Shallow depth of field, focusing across the middle.

Many studies have shown the multiple benefits of dark chocolate thanks to its powerful antioxidants, minerals and flavanols.

So, how much chocolate should we be eating?

First, I say, if you do indulge, make it a conscious indulgence. If you fight small children to get to the head of the line at the bakery for fresh chocolate chip cookies on a daily basis, then yes, a small piece with a cup of tea can be a healthy addition to your daily routine.

But if moderation to you means something sweet after every meal, then you might want to reconsider.

French fries

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Golden brown french fries in a generic white take out container. Shot on white background.

Are you a bad person because you eat fries? Certainly not.

Are french fries a bad food? Most certainly.

But I eat them, and I'm not alone. Research shows that, on average, Americans get about 1.5% of their calories a day from fries. The average person eats 29 pounds of french fries per year.

But fries are filled with manufactured trans fats — the kind found in processed food, fast food, fried foods, cookies, etc — and contain zero benefits. They're simply not part of a healthy diet.

RELATED: Seven 'healthy' foods that are making you fat

So what's "moderate" when it comes to fries? I suggest we eat as few as possible. If you're a daily french fry eater, try to cut down to one large handful a week.

Cheese

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Delicious cheese platter with various cheeses and fruits ready to serve.

The average cheese consumption is 31.4 pounds per year for Americans! Recommendations tell us to make foods that are high in solid fat like ice cream, pizza, and cheese of course, occasional choices, not every day foods.

But "occasional" is about as clear as moderation! Not very helpful.

I recommend unprocessed cheese as a fat serving a couple times a week. Sure, it's better to get healthy fats from foods like olives, avocados, and nuts, but real cheese is very satisfying and contains calcium and protein.

About 1.5 ounces —think of the width of a lipstick case — is considered a serving, but for most people, one ounce does the trick.

Soda

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Cola poured into glass with ice

Nearly one in five Americans drinks one soda per day. The average American now consumes 52 gallons of carbonated sodas per year, which equals about 550 cans of soda. (Insert barf sound here!)

RELATED: Serving up some serious portion control

Recommendations tell us to cut back on foods and drinks with added sugars and to drink few or no regular sodas. We're told to limit added sugar consumption to 25 grams per day (though I believe we should aim for an even smaller amount).

But one soda contains 31 grams of added sugar! What to do?

The truth? Soda is one of those things you just don't need. Ever. Ditch it altogether.

Nutritionist Keri Glasman is founder of Nutritious Life and a member of the TODAY Tastemaker team.

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