5 Foods & Drinks to Always Enjoy in Moderation

  • Written By:Michele Ross
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Photo by Henry Leutwyler

Many popular foods and drinks—some of which we have daily, or even multiple times a day—offer health benefits so long as you consume them in moderation. However, moderation is the key word here, since going beyond the advised intake can actually end up working against your body and greater health.

Below, you’ll see the top foods and beverages that dietitians advise being extra mindful of when it comes to serving sizes and daily intake.

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1. Coffee

If you’re like me and won’t even consider getting out of bed without the prospect of immediate coffee consumption, you’ll be pleased to know that your morning cup works wonders for many aspects of your health. “Coffee is one the top sources of antioxidants in the American pattern of eating,” shares Brooklyn–based dietitian Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN. “There is compelling research looking at coffee consumption and improved blood glucose management, brain health, and cardiovascular health.”

However, Feller mentions that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans caps caffeine intake at 400 milligrams per day (whether through coffee or other caffeine sources, such as green tea/matcha and soda) in order to minimize the chances of adverse effects. “For people who are caffeine conscious, they may want to limit their coffee consumption to two cups each day,” she advises.

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2. Avocados

Next up, we have avocados, the crown jewel in many brunch spreads and chips-and-dip setups. “Avocados are arguably one of the healthiest foods out there,” begins LA–based dietitian Gaby Vaca-Flores, MA, RDN, CLE. “The healthy fats found in avocados are good for heart health, hormone balance, and weight management.”

With that said, Vaca-Flores also notes that avocados are very calorie-dense. “One full avocado may cover up to 15 to 20 percent of your daily calorie needs,” she warns. “With that in mind, try portioning your avocado intake to a third or a half portion per day—all in respect to your hunger cues, of course.” Luckily, avocado pairs well with countless healthy staples (including but not limited to eggs over avocado toast and tomatoes, citrus, and herbs in guacamole) that can add greater nutrient variety while promoting satiety.

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3. Added salt

While it’s important to be mindful of limiting your intake of salt, the messaging around it often masks the fact that this seasoning does more than add extra flavor to your foods. “Salt is important for fluid/electrolyte balance and is essential for nerve and muscle function,” Feller reminds us.

However, the primary issue here is that most people consume much more than is deemed healthful. Excessive consumption of added salt “can increase the risk of high blood pressure that is linked to cardiovascular diseases such as stroke,” she warns. In order to rein in your sodium intake to healthier amounts, Feller advises limiting consumption to the recommended maximum amount of 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which equates to about two teaspoons of salt—yet those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease “may need to further reduce their sodium to 1,500 milligrams each day,” she advises.

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4. Dark chocolate

Maybe it’s just me, but the joy of knowing that dark chocolate offers worthy health benefits never seems to fade. While Vaca-Flores calls out that this treat has been shown to benefit cognition, blood sugar, and heart health, “its downfall is that it packs quite a bit of calories (about 150 to 170 calories per ounce), saturated fats, and sometimes added sugars. Usually, the lower the percentage of cacao, the higher amount of calories and added sugar will be present.” Moreover, those with a strong sweet tooth may end up opting for the whole bar rather than a bite—so again, moderation is essential.

To make sure your dark chocolate consumption works for your wellness goals and not against them, she recommends limiting your intake to no more than one ounce per day. And again, you’ll also want to be mindful of the cacao content. “I suggest choosing an option that provides a minimum of 70 percent cacao,” she adds.

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5. Alcohol

Generally speaking, alcohol isn’t the most nutritious option around. However, certain types—namely red wine, which offers heart-healthy polyphenols such as resveratrol—can be an acceptable component of a well-rounded diet. Whether you opt for antioxidant-rich red vino or another tonic of your choice, limiting consumption is always advised, especially since many people exceed the recommended intake.

“The current recommendations are for women to limit intake to one drink daily and men no more than two,” Feller shares. With that said, daily consumption still isn’t recommended. “In my practice, I often suggest that people should have more days where they don't consume any alcohol,” she concludes. After all, alcohol “is still a toxin, and the body recognizes it as such,” she concludes.

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