Humans, perhaps Americans in particular, tend to share a certain creed that goes something like this: If one is good, two are better.
That's fine when it comes to dollars in the collection plate or hours spent volunteering, but not so with certain research-has-shown items consumed in the name of health. Think nuts, red wine, dark chocolate and coffee.
Nuts, for instance, once thought to be merely delicious and fattening, are -- well, delicious and fattening. They've also been shown to be full of all sorts of such good things as omega-3 fatty acids. Thus dietitians recommend an ounce of them (especially walnuts and almonds) several times a week for health benefits.
Doesn't it stand to reason that if one ounce is recommended a few times a week, two ounces every day would be better?
In a word, and a very firm one at that: No, said Linda Michalsky, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
"A handful of nuts is good, but just a handful. Palm-size. A small woman's palm's size, not the whole Planters jar."
Too many nuts equal too much fat and too many calories. Unless, of course, you're compensating by cutting back on something else, which is not very likely.
"I'm a chocoholic," said Michalsky, a registered dietitian who holds a doctorate in nutritional sciences. "I make the choice between putting butter on a sandwich or having chocolate later on. But too much dark chocolate won't be good for anybody. It's moderation. I've been preaching moderation for decades. It all comes down to a general balanced diet."
Her moderation soapbox is shared by other experts, including Amanda Smith of the University of Texas at Dallas.
"Overconsumption of anything can lead to negative effects," said Smith, assistant director of the school's Student Wellness Center. "What has us concerned are studies coming out about things like red wine. They tell you a glass a night is healthy. But we Americans are so into, 'If one is good, 14 are better.' "
Justification, she said, is as close the Internet.
"If you want to hear that drinking that amount is good, you can find it," she said. "In this country, it's our mentality. We want quick fixes, we want miracle cures, and we want them right now."
Thus, someone who hears that drinking a glass of red wine will give health benefits could easily think, "I want two weeks' worth today so I can see the results quicker."
Someone who reads that coffee can help prevent Alzheimer's disease might up their intake of drinks that include coffee, which usually come with a high-calorie price tag. A health-conscious person could take "dark chocolate has healthy flavonoids" to mean a candy-bar buffet. Good health isn't something you reach and then are set for life. It's a journey.
Regarding the studies, Michalsky offers this caveat: "Most of the pure studies are saying that doing this or that may have a beneficial effect," she said. "They're not saying you should go out and do it. Coffee isn't bad for you in certain amounts, or alcohol if you're already drinking it."
Remember these tips when deciding what to eat or not to eat:
Fit to eat -- in moderation
Amy Goodson, who works at the Ben Hogan Sports Medicine Center of Texas Health Fort Worth Hospital, offers suggestions and guidelines for foods and drinks whose benefits are often touted.
While coffee can nip migraine pain in the bud, too much can cause headaches. Plus, the calories in added whipped cream, whole milk and various toppings tend to overshadow any benefits.