Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Why It’s Important to Keep Up Your Exercise Routine in Bad Weather

November 26th, 2014 at 6:01 pm by timigustafson
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Too dark, too rainy, too cold – there are countless obstacles to outdoor exercising in the winter months. It’s also a time for easy excuses. But what a shame to see that hard work you’ve put in all year go to waste because it’s less pleasant outside. It shouldn’t be this way, it doesn’t have to.

Admittedly, walking or running in foul weather is not everyone’s cup of tea. The temptation to remain sedentary is extra persuasive then, but the effects become evident all too soon, especially when you add in the extra food intake that seems unavoidable during the holidays.

So keeping an eye on your fitness routine is even more important. Not only does regular exercise benefit the body all year round but the mind as well and can keep the notorious “winter blues,” a.k.a. “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD), at bay.

Scientists at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in cooperation with colleagues from the Witten/Herdecke University in Witten, Germany, have found that when people move less, their mood also changes, and not for the better.

Worse yet, prolonged lack of physical activity can lead to occurrences of negative emotions, including bouts of depression, according to their study results.

If that is not damaging enough, the researchers also detected connections between insufficient exercise and deficiencies in memory.

It’s as simple as observing someone’s gait that can tell a lot about whether that person is depressed or cheerful and energetic. Also, in memory tests that required recalling strings of words, participants who felt downbeat remembered predominantly negative adjectives like “boring” or “stupid,” in contrast to their counterparts with a more positive outlook who focused on descriptions like “courageous” or “attractive.”

The tests confirm what prior research has abundantly shown, namely that the way and the intensity by which we move affects our mental capacity as well.

Obviously, there is a correlation between body and mind when it comes to remembering information, Dr. Johannes Michalak, a professor of psychology at Witten/Herdecke University and lead researcher, concluded in the study report.

Besides the positive effects on the mind, there is also much to be said for the benefits of winter activities for the body.

The best defense against catching a cold or worse is to strengthen the immune system. This can be done by eating a diet full of immune system-boosting foods, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, managing stress and, of course, exercising.

Fresh air is especially helpful, says Achim Achilles, a long distance runner and health and fitness columnist for the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Cold temperatures and precipitation don’t have to keep you inside. But there are some caveats, he says, that should be considered. For one, it takes longer for the muscles to warm up. In order to avoid injuries, it is important to stretch and increase intensity gradually. Also staying dry as much as possible by wearing protective gear and getting out of wet clothes quickly is a must. Other than that, there is no reason why anybody should forego their favorite outdoor activities, come rain or shine.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

What Determines Longevity Remains a Mystery

November 19th, 2014 at 3:04 pm by timigustafson
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More people than ever live past 100 years of age. So-called “supercentenarians,” those who reach 110 and beyond, are rising in numbers all over the world, 75 individuals to date and counting.

What are the causes of such extreme longevity and what is different about these ancient folks that lets them outlast normal mortals by decades? A new study tried to find answers by investigating the genetic traits of a small group of participants between the ages of 110 and 116.

By sequencing the genomes of 16 women and one man, all of whom were living in the United States at the time of the study, the researchers hoped to find genetic commonalities that could help explain their extraordinary life spans. Unfortunately, their findings were inconclusive.

“Our hope was that we would find a longevity gene,” said Dr. Stuart Kim, a professor of biology and genetics at Stanford University and lead author of the study report to Reuters. “We were pretty disappointed.”

Regardless of his study’s meager outcome, Dr. Kim remains optimistic that more research will eventually be able to identify genetic causes as the driving force behind longevity.

“This marks the beginning of the search for key genes for extreme longevity,” he said. “These supercentenarians have a different clock where they are staying really highly functional for a long time. We wanted to know what they had. It’s pretty clearly genetic.”

The reason why it is hard to pinpoint specific genetic characteristics that may be responsible for greater life expectancy is that the genetic effects are likely very complex and involve mechanisms in the body that are not yet fully understood, he said.

While experts have long debated whether nature or nurture is ultimately the decisive factor in how well we age, whether some of us are born to last longer or whether diet and lifestyle play a role, it is clear for Dr. Kim that genetic make-up outdoes anything we can add in terms of healthy living. Among the participants in his study he found no especially health-promoting eating or exercise habits. About half of them were even long-time smokers.

Also, there is no evidence that the achievements of modern medicine are extending the maximum life span today’s humans can hope for in comparison to their ancestors, according to Dr. Leonard Hayflick, a professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco and author of the gerontology classic, titled “How and Why We Age” (Ballantine Books 1994).

What advances in medical science have produced, however, is a greater possibility to delay the effects of illnesses commonly associated with old age.

Both social changes like greater hygiene, reduced rates of smoking, better diet, and other personal health and lifestyle choices, as well as medical intervention have increased for many more people the number of years they enjoy in good health and vigor and decreased the time spent in illness and decline. This phenomenon is known as “compression” because it compresses age-related susceptibility to diseases into a shorter period. It is that growing vulnerability and lessening strength to fend off illnesses that make us become more frail and eventually succumb.

And here is where nurturing can help us to fare better. By adhering to a healthy diet, controlling weight, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and so forth, we are indeed able to fortify our natural defenses and, as Dr. Kim suspects, slow down the clock.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Posting Calorie Values on Menus Shows Long-Term Success

November 13th, 2014 at 4:15 pm by timigustafson
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The idea that providing more information about food served in restaurants, such as calorie and fat content, would reduce the risk of weight problems has widely been greeted with skepticism and outright rejection. Now a new study presented at the Second Annual Obesity Journal Symposium in Boston showed that calorie labeling on menus can indeed influence the choices people make once they become aware of the differences.

“Calorie labeling helps people understand what’s in their food, and makes them aware of healthier options,” said Charoula Nikolaou, a dietitian and doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and lead author of the study report in an interview with Science Daily.

Unlike some of the snapshot surveys taken in the past when calorie posting was first introduced and made mandatory for larger chain restaurants in places like New York City and parts of California and Oregon, this study followed a group of college students over a total period of two academic years, or 72 weeks.

During the first year, calorie information was displayed in cafeterias on campus for only five weeks, while in the second year the practice was continued for nearly the entire time. As expected, the shorter experiment produced little if any changes in the participants’ food choices. However, in the following period, when calorie information was given consistently and was presented in predominant, easily discernable ways, their eating behavior eventually changed, resulting in virtually no weight gain for most of the students.

“We were glad to see that exposure to our prominent calorie labeling for an entire school year did not just reduce weight gain in these students, but eliminated it altogether for the group,” said Ms. Nikolaou.

Prior studies by scientists at New York University and Yale University found that when calorie postings appeared initially, it had no significant impact on restaurant patrons. Half did not even notice or understand the data, even when they were displayed prominently and explained in great detail. Less than a third of those who did take note said it influenced their choices, according to reports by the New York Times.

So why the difference between now and then? Obviously, there are no simple answers, however, there are some clues we can learn from. First, the study involving the college students took place in a controlled environment (the campus cafeterias), and was limited to a relatively homogeneous group (all university students). This does usually not apply to the public at large. Second, as the authors point out, it is the first long-term research of its kind and is likely to produce different results than prior attempts with a shorter view. Third, the whole concept of counting calories as a means of managing one’s weight is now much more familiar and plausible to people, especially the young and the educated, than it was just a few years ago. So researchers have generally more fertile ground to work with.

What this latest study demonstrates, I think, is that providing information in ways people can readily understand and immediately apply in their lives does indeed help facilitate behavioral changes over time, especially if it yields measurable advantages. Some of these changes must eventually happen, even if they don’t seem palatable at first.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Healthy Aging: You Are as Old as You Perceive Yourself

November 5th, 2014 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson
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How would you feel if you were given the chance to turn back the clock and return to the time and place of your youth? How would it be if you found the world exactly as it was then, and all the people and things you knew and loved just as you remembered them? For a small group of men in their 70s this fantasy became a reality as they participated in an elaborate experiment that placed them literally in a time warp, on par with what otherwise only happens in movies.

The scenario was set up by Harvard psychology professor Dr. Ellen Langer who has a long history of unusual study approaches. For this event, she had eight septuagenarians take up residence at a former monastery, which was transformed into a 1950s establishment, complete with vintage radio and black and white TV.

While the participants were in relatively good shape in terms of physical and mental capacity, some showed early stages of memory loss and other age-related impediments.

Each day of their stay, they socialized with one another, discussing sports and other “current events” they were reminded of, like the first American satellite launch in 1958.

The idea was not to make these men just reminisce about times long gone by but to relive them as authentically as possible, to the point where they became almost their younger selves again, Dr. Langer explained in a recent interview with the New York Times.

As it turned out, at the end of the experiment, the aging men felt invigorated, looked younger, acted younger, sat and walked taller, had better dexterity, and even their eyesight improved. While they were waiting for a bus to transport them back home, some even engaged in a spontaneous touch-football game, they were so jazzed about the experience.

“They put their mind in an earlier time, and their bodies went along for the ride,” Dr. Langer said.

She and her research team found similar results in a number of different studies on the subject of age perception. For instance, nursing home residents did better on memory tests when given certain tasks like caring for plants in their rooms, compared to their counterparts who had no such responsibilities. Or seniors who took on the role of airline pilots by taking the controls in a flight simulator, and who showed remarkable improvement of their eyesight over the course of the exercise. These are just two examples of the many imaginative tests those scientists came up with.

While Dr. Langer did much pioneering in her work, she is not the only one who found connections between aging and perception. A new study from Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley concluded that people who saw their natural aging process as a positive development – i.e. by becoming wiser, happier, less stressed, etc. – were able to preserve their physical and mental abilities better than others who harbored negative thoughts about old age.

“Negative age stereotypes that older individuals assimilate from their culture predict detrimental outcomes, including worse physical function,” wrote Dr. Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology and behavioral psychology at Yale and lead author of the study report.

In other words, the way we think of ourselves as we grow older determines at least to some extent how well or how poorly we fare. If we perceive aging purely as a loss of vigor and vitality, nature will probably help us along on that path. If we see it as a chance to continue with life’s journey, albeit perhaps in different ways, we may reap unexpected rewards.

Nobody can claim that even the best prospects don’t come with limitations. Of course they do, that’s part of being mortal. But given the choice, I know where I’d put my money…

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

The Treats Can Be the Scariest Part of Halloween

October 26th, 2014 at 6:10 pm by timigustafson
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As every year, millions of American kids will go from door to door this week, dressed up in imaginative costumes, asking for chocolates and candy. As every year, adults will be happy to comply, filling entire baskets and pails with the kind of stuff that we all know is not good for the health of anyone, let alone growing children. But there you go, it’s a tradition.

Americans spend well over $2 billion just for sweets on Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation, which conducts surveys of sales trends and projections worldwide. And the expenditures have kept rising over the years to the point where the average family now pays out between $80 and $100 on this one holiday, according to Forbes.

Obviously, a once-a-year-occasion can hardly be blamed for the childhood obesity crisis we are facing, not just in the United States but increasingly around the globe. However, the ever-growing consumption of sugary foods and drinks, resulting in an array of chronic illnesses not traditionally associated with children, such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and cancer, is a serious worry.

Approximately 13 million children and adolescents in the U.S. are currently diagnosed with weight problems and related complications. Despite of hopeful reports in the media, these dismal statistics have not significantly improved in recent times, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When you look at the larger picture, you see it’s not just people’s behavior during the holidays, but how the food retail industry has designed its strategies to make us buy cheap and nutritionally empty products like candy and sodas without thinking or even noticing that raises concern, according to a recent study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), titled “Sugar Overload: Retail Checkout Promotes Obesity.”

“The [supermarket] checkout is a powerful marketing strategy,” said Jessica Almy, CSPI’s Senior Nutrition Policy Counsel and lead author of the study report. “It works on children as well as adults. People tell us they buy things they didn’t expect to buy when they buy it at the checkout,” she said in an interview with FoodNavigator-USA.

The problem is not so much that people squeeze in an occasional snack they hadn’t planned for, but the fact that the extra calories are not being offset by reduced food intake elsewhere, the report contends. And it would be one thing if we were talking about an “unplanned banana,” Almy said. Instead, it usually is an unplanned candy bar or bag of chips.

The CSPI report calls checkout displays of snack foods nothing less than a contribution to an enormous public health burden caused by obesity and poor nutrition. Its omnipresence by itself is a cause to these effects.

“Food availability has an influence on what and how much people eat. Experimental trials demonstrate that snack food consumption increases when foods are put within arm’s reach or are simply visible,” it says in the report.

Of course, ultimately it is up to the individual, especially parents, to make the decision whether to give in to temptations or forego them. Luckily, tasty treats, including sweet ones, don’t have to be unhealthy. There are plenty of alternatives to the usual chocolates and candy that can get you and your family into the holiday spirit without breaking the calorie bank (and perhaps save you a trip to the dentist). Why not hand out some granola bars, small bags of mixed nuts, whole-wheat crackers, glazed apples, and other items that taste great and do less damage? Just a thought. Happy Halloween.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

For Lasting Weight Loss, Go Fast or Slow?

October 23rd, 2014 at 3:03 pm by timigustafson
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Shedding pounds too rapidly has long been considered by experts as a recipe for short-lived success, almost inevitably leading to reoccurring weight gain, a phenomenon also known as yo-yo dieting. A better approach, so the prevailing thinking went, was to limit the desired weight loss to one to two pounds a week, enough time to let the body adjust and make the changes permanent.

But the idea that slimming down at a reduced rate produces better outcomes long-term may be delusional, according to a new study that found no significant differences for participants in so-called crash diets by comparison to their counterparts who took a slower pace. Eventually, almost all gained much of their original weight back, and in some cases added more.

For the study, which was recently published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia, divided 200 obese adults randomly in two groups and submitted them to either a 12-week rapid weight loss (RWL) regimen on a very low calorie diet, or a 36-week gradual weight loss (GWL) program that required a daily calorie reduction of no more than 500 calories per day.

As expected, the dieters who took the fast approach showed greater initial successes, but surprisingly, they did not regain weight faster than those who went about their weight loss more slowly. After only three years, weight regain was about the same in both groups.

Based on these findings, the authors of the study report concluded that current dietary guidelines recommending gradual over rapid weight loss may be unsupported if considered for lasting results.

This, of course, is an important caveat. Naturally, lasting results are important for any weight loss endeavor. It is no secret that keeping unwanted pounds off for good is the hardest part of any diet, no matter what method is chosen.

But there are other considerations as well. Radical crash diets that prescribe severe calorie restrictions and even exclude entire food groups can imbalance a person’s metabolism – the rate at which the body turns food into energy – thereby preventing important nutrients and vitamins from getting to where they are needed.

Moreover, rapid weight loss affects not just unwanted fat but also lean muscle mass, which is not desirable. When calorie intake is suddenly and substantially diminished, the body uses energy stored in the liver and muscles. Most of the initial weight reduction comes from loss of water and muscle. In other words, people may lose weight, but not in a way that is healthy.

Still, some experts now say that different approaches to weight loss may be suitable for different individuals. In cases of severe obesity, more drastic measures might be called for, at least initially.

“Doctors should, on the base of this study, feel they can suggest a very low calorie diet to obese patients, if they feel that would suit them,” said Dr. Susan Jedd, a professor of public health at Oxford University, in an interview addressing the study results with the British newspaper The Guardian. “Even if they put it all back on, they will have been at a healthier weight for some time, which can only be good,” she added.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Chronic Sleep Deprivation Considered a Public Health Threat

October 9th, 2014 at 2:43 pm by timigustafson
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Nearly half of American adults are regularly sleep-deprived, according to a Gallup poll that has been tracking people’s sleep habits for decades. Less than seven hours a night has become the rule rather than the exception, down by more than an hour since the 1940s. Especially those who are starting careers and young parents don’t get the amount of sleep they need, and it has long-term consequences for their health.

43 percent, according to the surveys, say they would feel better if they got more rest. Potential implications of chronic sleep deprivation include inability to focus, accident-proneness, memory loss, overeating, vulnerability to illness, and, more seriously, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

The widespread lack of sleep among the public has alarmed health experts for some time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has gone as far as calling insufficient sleep “a public health epidemic.”

“Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity,” the agency warns.

What adds to the danger of sleep deprivation is that the sleep-deprived are often the worst judges when it comes to their own sleep needs. According to the Gallup polls, most Americans (56 percent) with the least amount of sleep believe they are getting enough.

People don’t understand that messing with their sleep patterns by staying up late or waking up too soon has consequences for their circadian rhythm, their inner clock that regulates wake and rest periods, says Dr. Michael Terman, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and co-author of “Reset Your Inner Clock” (Penguin 2012).

A part in your brain called the hypothalamus functions as your body’s timepiece, telling you when to fall asleep and when to wake up again. This inner clock can be changed, however, only in small increments and over extended periods of time. Otherwise, you will feel jet-lagged, as it is common when travelling long-distance over different time zones. By taking liberties with bedtimes, similar effects take place in the body, with similar symptoms such as tiredness, irritability, eating disorders, and so forth.

In other words, going to bed later or setting the alarm earlier than usual causes shifts in the circadian clock that need to be compensated. This can happen in a number of ways, for example by taking an afternoon nap, or by returning to a normal schedule as soon as possible.

Besides wreaking havoc on the inner clock by irregular wake/sleep patterns, there are other disturbances that can interfere with getting a good night’s rest. For instance, working, watching movies, or doing other stimulating things shortly before bed can make it hard to fall asleep. A less than conducive sleep environment like a cluttered bedroom, room temperatures that are too warm or too cold, insufficient darkness – all can contribute to sleep disruptions.

While our busy lifestyles don’t always allow us to maintain regular schedules, there are multiple steps we can take to keep to certain habits that are important to us for our wellbeing. Our sleep should rank high among those priorities.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Promoting Bone Health Can’t Start Too Soon, Scientists Say

October 4th, 2014 at 8:23 am by timigustafson
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Insufficient Calcium and Vitamin D intake during childhood and adolescence increases the risk of osteoporosis later in life, according to a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Unfortunately, many youngsters don’t get enough of these important nutrients in their diet, and sedentary lifestyles and indoor activities like watching television or playing video games don’t help.

Children and adolescents should be encouraged to eat more foods containing calcium and vitamin D like milk, yogurt, and cheese. In addition, they should also regularly exercise to promote bone strength, the authors of the study report said. Greater sun exposure, a natural source of vitamin D, is also recommended. A sufficient supply of vitamin D is important because without it, only 10 to 15 percent of dietary calcium is absorbed in the body, they said.

Children who are overweight or obese, are malnourished, and have a sedentary lifestyle run the highest risk of developing weak bones, according to the study. Unsurprisingly, low-income families and minorities are most threatened by these deficiencies.

Bone health has far too long been considered an “age” issue, especially for women.

“Most people don’t start thinking about the health of their bones until midlife or later, by which time it can be too late to do very much to protect against serious bone loss and resulting fractures,” said Jane E. Brody, a columnist who writes on health issues for the New York Times. “Concern about the strength of one’s bones should start in childhood and continue through adolescence, when the body builds most of the bone that must sustain it for the remaining years of life.”

About a quarter of total adult bone mass is accrued around the age of puberty, roughly the same amount that is lost between the ages of 50 and 80. That is why this time of growth spurt is most crucial, Brody said.

“Although nothing can be done about three factors with the greatest influence on bone mass – age, gender, and genetics – two others under personal control can make the difference between suffering crippling fractures in midlife and escaping the effects of osteoporosis. […] Those are physical activity and bone-building nutrients, calcium and vitamin D.”

In addition to widespread dietary deficiencies, today’s children and adolescents also face a serious threat to their bone health from consuming large amounts of sodas. Carbonated drinks contain high levels of phosphoric acid (phosphate) and carbonic acid, which can cause an imbalance of calcium in the blood stream. For growing kids, this imbalance can have especially harmful effects on their still developing bone structure and density.

While dairy products are considered the best source of calcium, many people, including children, are lactose intolerant or choose not to include them in their diet. Fortunately, there is a vast array of calcium-containing food sources that is not dairy-based. Alternatives are calcium-fortified soymilk, tofu, sardines, salmon, turnips, kale, bok choi, broccoli, and almonds. Good sources for vitamin D are found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, and also, to a lesser degree, in egg yolk.

If all else fails, vitamin supplements can cover some of the gaps. If you feel that you and your family are not getting enough calcium and vitamin D from your regular diet, you may want to consider making up for the difference with a daily multi-vitamin. Before giving children any supplements, however, you should first consult with their pediatrician.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

In Praise of Doing Less

September 27th, 2014 at 5:25 pm by timigustafson
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Summer is over and it’s back to work, back to school, back to business as usual. Especially for us Americans, who labor longer hours and take fewer days off compared to the Europeans and even the notoriously industrious Japanese, being busy counts as normalcy, while leisure time is considered a luxury most can ill afford.

“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary,” the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi echoed this national sentiment. The notion that hard work is essential for getting ahead in life is so deeply ingrained in our culture that its validity is hardly ever questioned.

A rare and refreshing exception is Richard Koch, the bestselling author of “The 80/20 Principle – The Secret to Achieving More with Less” (Doubleday, 1998) and other follow-up versions.

As he freely admits, his insights in the importance of working smartly rather than intensely did not originate with him but were drawn from Vilfredo Pareto, a 19th century Italian economist and inventor of what is now known as the “Pareto Rule” or “Pareto Efficiency Concept.”

In essence, both Pareto and Koch suggest that relatively little effort (about 20 percent) produces the greatest amount of results (about 80 percent). For example, only a small number of human beings are responsible for most of the good and the bad that happens in the world every day. Individual innovators in technology change nearly single-handedly how we work and communicate with one another. A few dictators and terrorist leaders threaten the entire world through their violent acts time and again. The rest of us benefit or suffer from their actions but are not directly responsible for them.

Similarly, Koch says, things work in our personal lives. Only a handful of the choices we make and actions we take really make a difference. The rest is just routine, repetition, and triteness. But still, we remain convinced that almost all our efforts matter, and that the harder we try, the better the outcome will be.

Even most companies, and certainly most managers, focus too much on inputs rather than on outputs, despite the fact that the most meaningful results are usually achieved through relatively little action and energy expenditure, Koch says.

To apply these observations in everyday life, he recommends to his readers to take stock in how they conduct themselves at work, at home running their households, even at sports or play.

For instance, one of the “secrets” to working less while achieving more, he says, is to maintain open spaces that are uncluttered with daily chores. These are necessary for innovative and creative thinking, whether professionally or for personal purposes.

Second, there must be times and places where relaxation and literally doing nothing are allowed and appreciated as important elements of one’s productivity. We routinely underestimate the role downtime plays in our work habits, so much so that we almost have to force ourselves to take these constructive breaks, Koch laments.

The most highly effective people are not the one’s who are “married” to their jobs, but those who know when to disconnect. They are not necessarily available 24/7 via cell phone and email. They don’t easily permit interruptions of their workflow or leisurely activities. They focus on priorities and clearly set goals, while less urgent matters can be attended to in due time.

Critics may say that such freedoms are only afforded to those who are in leadership positions or work for themselves. That may be so, but the question arises, how did they get there? Could it be that they worked a little less frenzied and gave themselves more time to work a little smarter? Koch would agree to the latter.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

Can Weight Loss Make You Smarter?

September 6th, 2014 at 1:51 pm by timigustafson
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Being overweight is associated with multiple negative health effects, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Conversely, weight loss can lower the risk of developing such illnesses, or lighten their burden. Now, a new study from Brazil found that besides physical improvements, slimming down can also produce positive outcomes for the mind.

For the study, researchers followed a group of morbidly obese women who were planning to have gastric bypass surgery to lose weight. Six month after the procedure their average Body-Mass-Index (BMI) had dropped from over 50 to about 37 – still overweight but not considered as severely obese.

Before the operation, the women agreed to a series of exams to assess their memory and other cognitive functions. They also underwent brain scans and blood work. The same tests were repeated six months after the event.

A roughly equal number of normal-weight women (with a BMI of 22 to 23) served as a control group. Both groups took the same tests at the outset of the study. All participants scored by and large the same in the cognitive exams before the surgery, but six months later, as they lost weight, all of the formerly obese women improved their test results in at least one category.

Their brain scans also showed significant differences. Before weight loss they showed greater risks of mental decline than afterwards. The blood tests indicated improvements in insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation.

Overall, the researchers concluded, weight loss can have positive effects on brain health and may play a role in the prevention of cognitive degeneration and age-related dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

This is not the first time scientists have tried to shed light on the impact of excessive body weight on the brain. A study from France, conducted in 2006, investigated the relation between changes in BMI and cognitive functions but couldn’t determine any significant associations between the two in middle-aged, healthy, non-demented adults. More recent research, however, found some indication that weight problems – including underweight, overweight, and obesity – in midlife do in fact increase the risk of dementia in later years.

While there may be no definite answers yet to what extent body weight influences brain health, more and more findings point in the direction that there are indeed connections. At the very least, we do know that chronic conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease, both often directly resulting from weight problems, can contribute to the inhibition of blood flow to the brain, especially when blood vessels become narrowed or blocked. One possible outcome is what is called vascular dementia, which is different from other forms of dementia but nevertheless can lead to similar symptoms. It is the second most common cause of age-related mental decline after Alzheimer’s.

In any case, while there is no certain way to increase mental health or even prevent decline, most experts agree that healthy diet and lifestyle choices combined with consistent weight management and other health-promoting steps can reduce unnecessary risks and should be pursued as much as possible.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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