Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Good Posture Matters More Than You Think

September 25th, 2016 at 6:18 pm by timigustafson
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When you grew up, your parents or teachers probably told you to sit and stand straight, instead of slouching your back and shoulders. They themselves may not have exactly known why that was important, it just seemed that way. But more recent science has found that they were actually right in many more ways than they imagined. As it turns out, good posture enhances physical fitness, helps reduce stress, and contributes to healthy aging.

That good posture plays a role in health and fitness should come as no surprise. Only when the body is properly aligned, the supporting ligaments, tendons and muscles can function at their best. Sitting or standing hunched over for hours – as many of us do at work and other activities – can lead to chronic pain and permanently debilitating damage. By contrast, good posture can help prevent such wear and tear and maintain greater flexibility and strength.

Research suggests that good posture can also foster people’s psychological well-being. One study from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found that the way people conducted themselves physically did indeed influence their self-esteem and how they were able to cope with stress and problem solving. As tests showed, sitting or standing upright helped participants feel more powerful and competent when facing a number of challenging tasks they were assigned to. In other words, bodily experiences can significantly affect cognitive and emotional states as well, the researchers concluded.

The issue becomes ever more pressing with age. A study from Japan discovered connections between good posture and the risk of future disability. Participants who sat, stood and walked even only slightly bent forward in their mid-life years developed greater physical limitations than their counterparts who generally maintained an upright posture. The differences became ever more pronounced as they got older, and were eventually quite significant in terms of their overall health status.

There is also a social dimension to the way we present ourselves physically, especially in our later years. As surveys have shown, old age is commonly associated with physical deterioration and visa versa. Many seniors feel left behind and isolated from society, in part because of actual physical (and perhaps mental) shortcomings, but also based on false assumptions that they no longer can keep up. However, while some slowing down may be an inevitable part of nature, there is no need to accept premature degeneration and decline.

And there is much that can be done to counteract those processes. For example, stretching, yoga and other exercises that promote flexibility can do wonders for an aging body. So can brisk walking, keeping a good stride, moving with ease and confidence – all of which are signs of good health and vitality. A positive attitude and outlook on life can also do some good, particularly when it shows on the outside.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Why Seniors Should Not Neglect Their Looks

September 16th, 2016 at 2:41 pm by timigustafson
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Whenever I’m invited to talk or write about healthy aging – which also for personal reasons has become a specialty of mine – I’m usually expected to address issues of physical and mental fitness. These are certainly more pressing as we grow older, but they should not be the only concerns to consider.

Life in our senior years is as complex as at any other time. We continue to have goals to pursue and routines to maintain, although they may seem different now, and perhaps unfold at a slower pace. And while loss of abilities is a natural part of aging, we don’t have to hasten the process by being negligent. This includes every part of our existence, not the least the way we look and present ourselves to the outside world. Yes, I’m talking about such ‘frivolous’ things as fashion and style.

One of the unfortunate but inevitable effects of aging – for both men and women – is that personal care like grooming and makeup seems to require longer and greater efforts. But it remains as important as ever, and so does getting properly and tastefully dressed.

Granted, most fashion designers don’t have a mature clientele in mind when they create their collections, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking for new ideas and trends. Much of what you find in stores today is not that unheard of and is routinely inspired by periods we went through years or even decades ago. And then, who cares, as long as it makes us look and feel good.

But here is the thing: For many people, the ability to critically judge their appearance does indeed diminish with age. There are no obvious reasons for that. Perhaps they just stop caring or get too comfortable with what they have.

For instance, many seniors have a tendency to hold on to the things they own, including their clothing. It can be hard to toss out an overcoat or suit that once may have cost a lot of money and is still in perfect condition – but is now hopelessly out of style. Or, due to age-related loss of muscle mass and spine compaction, it no longer fits properly.

Especially older men tend to wear their clothes for too long. Eventually, their wardrobe becomes almost demeaning to them, with ill-fitting, rumpled and sagging jackets and pants.

Women make the same mistake if they keep dresses and costumes forever in their closets for those special occasions that rarely ever happen anymore. No ladies, those nineteen-eighties oversized shoulder pads won’t make you look as powerful as they used to. In any case, you don’t do yourself a favor by hanging on to that beloved old thing. Get rid of it.

Finding good color combinations is another issue. Lessening eyesight can be a problem when picking out fabrics both in coloring and texture. Of course, what goes with what is never written in stone, and arrangements that were once looked upon as no-nos have turned into must-haves later on.

But some rules usually apply one way or another. What they are at any given time is not always easily discernible, especially for those of us who don’t stay up-to-date. So, it’s worthwhile to look around stores every so often, even if you can’t find anything right away that calls your name.

There is also no shame in asking for advice. If sales personnel are not helpful, you can bring along a (perhaps younger) friend or family member who has some knowledge and interest to make you look your best.

There is also myriad information available on the Internet, and not only for seniors. After all, we are not that much different from the rest of the population, just because we have been around the block a few more times.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

For a Child, Being Fat Is a Never-Ending Nightmare

September 10th, 2016 at 5:07 pm by timigustafson
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“She likes to eat,” the mother said. She didn’t have to spell it out. It was obvious that her child at the age of nine was well on her way to become obese. I counseled clients like her before. They keep coming to my practice on a regular basis. Children as young as three or four years old are being diagnosed with multiple health problems caused by overweight. Sadly, they will have to cope with the consequences for the rest of their lives. They are cut off from their future in so many ways, and so unnecessarily.

There are the physical aspects. Too much fat in a growing body wreaks havoc all around, from bones and muscles to vital organs. Overweight and obese children and teenagers are at an immediate risk of heart disease due to high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Most are pre-diabetic, meaning they are likely to develop full-blown type 2 diabetes before they reach adulthood. Their bones and joints, unable to carry the extra weight, will weaken and in many cases deform. The list of potentially catastrophic outcomes goes on.

Many of the health issues they are facing early on will only worsen as they grow older. Most will continue to struggle with weight management and related diseases for as long as they live. The long-term effects can become ever more severe, and at some point acutely life-threatening. Premature death from heart failure, stroke or cancer is a real possibility.

For children, the psychological impact of being overweight is equally as menacing. Many suffer from a poor body image and low self-esteem. Depression and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon among older kids and adolescents who struggle with their appearance. Some develop eating disorders and engage in other dysfunctional and detrimental behavior, like under-age smoking, drinking and drug use.

For parents, it can be hard to acknowledge that their offspring is having weight issues. They may hesitate to address the subject because they don’t want to hurt their child’s feelings and make things worse. If they are themselves on the heavy side, they may not see a ‘little chubbiness’ as such a big deal. Or they blame it on their family’s genetic makeup. Or they hope their kid will eventually outgrow it all.

That may be the case for some, but unfortunately, not for most. Childhood obesity is real and it has taken on epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weight problems plague twice as many children and four times as many adolescents than just a generation ago. One in three is now diagnosed as overweight or obese before the age of 18.

We are not helpless in the face of this crisis. Enough information on how to address the underlying problems is available. We know what to do. What we need is to be clear-sighted and determined to take the necessary steps that can reverse these trends.

There are multiple obvious culprits we know contribute to childhood obesity. Poor diets consisting of fast food and sugary drinks are among them. So is lack of exercise and physical education (PE) in schools. None of these issues are isolated or occur in a vacuum, and I have written plenty about many of them and how they connect with one another.

But foremost – and this cannot be overemphasized – it is the parents who must act as gatekeepers. They are the ones who ultimately control what goes into their children’s mouths. If there is junk food in the house, the kids will eat it. If there are sodas, they will gulp them down. If these things are not brought home, the kids will not even develop a taste for them, let alone overindulge.

This is a choice all parents can make. Yes, healthy food can be more expensive and may not even be readily available everywhere. Yes, not all communities have parks, bike paths or swimming pools. Some may not even be safe enough for kids to play outside without supervision. But alternatives can be found and investments can be made if we only care enough.

The risks are too high and the damages too serious to ignore what’s at stake here. The children who fall prey to these diseases will never live their lives to the fullest and will probably succumb far too soon. For them this is nothing short of a nightmare. It doesn’t have to be this way. It must not.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Who Teaches Us About Health?

August 11th, 2016 at 12:42 pm by timigustafson
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When I was a child, doctors still made house calls. For those too young to understand what I’m even talking about, I have to explain that in those days a physician would actually come to your home, diagnose your medical condition while you were in your own bed, write a prescription, and dispense some advice on how to proceed with the cure.

Family doctors were almost like friends and neighbors who knew everything about you, not just your medical history. Oftentimes, they first met you literally at birth, gave you your vaccines, treated personally all your ills, and kept your records in their heads. No archives, no computers needed.

They were also teachers. Whatever folks learned about medicine, this was their one and only source. They trusted it, sometimes to a fault. The doctor was God, his (mostly his, back then) word was gospel. But this fundamental trust in authority and professional competence was an important component in getting people back on their feet. They also gained some expertise in the process themselves.

I remember my mother, who was not very educated, having conversations with our doctor about how to deal with my childhood illnesses and occasional injuries, how to administer medicines, and how long to enforce bed rest. Nothing ever seemed rushed. It appeared to me almost like gossip what was going on between them. But it was reassuring, even to me, that everything would always turn out all right because the doctor said so.

None of this still exists, of course. The family physician is now the general practitioner (GP) who functions mainly as a gatekeeper between the patient and a specialist. Schedules are tight and waiting rooms are full. Forget taking time for a friendly chat. In-dept consultations are practically unheard of. Anything beyond tests and prescriptions does not get reimbursed by insurance companies. So it doesn’t happen.

I’m not nostalgic about the ‘good old days.’ They had their downsides, too. But being a health counselor myself, I do know first hand that conversing with patients about their concerns can make a real difference in their healing process. Being listened to and taken seriously is something we all want in our everyday lives. How much more so when we are at our weakest and most worried?

Another important aspect is what I call teaching people “health literacy.” Good health ranks at or near the top of almost everyone’s priorities, and yet there is so little knowledge among the public about pro-active, health-promoting measures anybody could take up right away.

Our healthcare system is mainly geared towards treatment of disease after it strikes. It is good at repairing damage, but less so at preventing it in the first place. That is where better education in health matters would come in handy.

The doctors of my youth knew that and they practiced it extensively. Their expertise may have been limited in comparison to today’s standards, but it was acquired over a lifetime of hands-on experience and practice. They not only knew their patients intimately, they also had the skill of communicating with them in ways they themselves could understand and act upon.

Nowadays, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. The Internet allows us access to almost everything known to mankind, and medical science is no exception. But at the same time, there seems so much disconnect between people’s health needs and their actions.

Somehow I think my mother was better instructed on how to get me back on track after a little tête-à-tête with our doctor than she would have been had she browsed a thousand websites.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

How You Can Reach Your Health Potential

August 2nd, 2016 at 8:25 am by timigustafson
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According to polls, most of us think of ourselves as healthy, despite the fact that the obesity crisis keeps growing and multiple diet- and lifestyle-related diseases continue to rise. While the exact causes for this ongoing epidemic are still in dispute, there is general consensus that they are best counteracted by health-promoting measures like diet, exercise and positive lifestyle changes.

But regardless of the information available to all, a great deal of confusion persists about how to implement even the most basic recommendations for healthy living. What many still fail to see is how to apply this knowledge in their daily lives, and how to maximize the benefits for their health and well-being.

Why is diet so important?
For example, understanding and following dietary guidelines. Most people consider dieting, particularly for weight loss, as something restrictive, if not punitive. Having to divide one’s food preferences into dos and don’ts is not especially pleasant. Because most diet programs don’t work in the long run, they usually end up in disappointment and frustration. Including or excluding certain foods or food groups in itself can be problematic. As serious nutrition experts will tell you, a better way is to adhere to a diet that is balanced. (It doesn’t matter whether it has a fancy name or someone famous swears by it.)

A balanced diet is one that has all the important nutrients the body needs to function properly. It helps prevent diseases and infections, and supports healing and recovery when injury or illness strikes. It is at the core of all successful weight management. It is essential for healthy growth and development during childhood and adolescence, lasting physical and mental health throughout adulthood, and healthy aging in later years. It is an instrumental part of reaching a person’s health potential at all times and in every way.

A balanced diet includes a great variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. These offer invaluable benefits in form of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – all of which are necessary for the body to perform at its best. An optimal diet also requires good sources of protein from lean meats and seafood for growth, maintenance and repair of muscles, bones and organs. Carbohydrates provide energy, dairy products support bone health, and dietary fiber helps with the metabolic process. All of these must be supplied and replenished regularly because prolonged depletion can lead to detrimental consequences for the entire system.

Why is exercise so important?
Like healthy eating, if you are not into it, regular exercise can seem like a nuisance. But it matters just as much. Still, there can be countless reasons (or excuses) for not exercising enough. It’s too time-consuming, too painful, doesn’t produce the desired results, and so on. But the fact is that a sedentary lifestyle does not only increase the likelihood of unwanted weight gain, it is downright unhealthy and can even lead to premature death. As a recent study showed, being unfit due to lack to physical activity is as dangerous to people’s health as smoking and similarly harmful habits.

In addition, exercise has been proven as the best antidote to stress there is. It helps to protect the body from multiple diseases like heart diseasediabetes, and even cancer. It strengthens muscles and bones, which becomes ever more important with age. And it benefits the mind as well by preventing or slowing age-related decline in memory and other cognitive functions.

Why are lifestyle improvements so important?
We all have our dear habits and routines, some of which serve us well, but also others that can do us harm. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use are the obvious culprits. But tastes for overly sweet, fatty or salty foods should also be examined. My clients often hear me say when we address diet and lifestyle changes: “Nothing is forbidden, but everything counts.”

Small, incremental steps are a good approach when it comes to making improvements. Stopping ‘cold turkey’ is not for everyone. All ingrained habits, good or bad, serve (or have served at one point) a purpose, which must be taken into account and replaced with something that fills the void.

Aiming to reach one’s full health potential – that is consciously trying to stay or become as healthy as possible at any given time in life – is foremost a choice, a commitment that must be renewed again and again through successes and failures alike. It is an open-ended, never fully completed project. But it is the best thing anyone can ever set out to do.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Love Your Food

July 21st, 2016 at 5:12 pm by timigustafson
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When nutrition professionals talk about “befriending food,” they usually do so in the context of eating disorders. They point out the importance of not seeing “food as the enemy,” as one well-known author put it, or “making peace with food,” as others have counseled. For me – also a nutrition expert – it’s a much simpler proposition. Loving food is to understand what it does, how it nourishes us, and also to appreciate what it takes to make good food available.

Food, especially ‘real’ food, is a wonderful thing. It should never be taken for granted, wasted, or disregarded for all the benefits it provides. “Let food be your medicine,” the Greek physician Hippocrates famously said. Indeed, food can keep us healthy and help us fight and overcome disease.

Unfortunately, it’s no secret that most people are alienated from their food supply. Few of us know, or care to know, where our food comes from, how it is processed or prepared, and how we benefit from it. Yes, we have more nutritional information than ever given to us, but such data are oftentimes either confusing or outright misleading.

To understand the true value of food is to understand what the body requires to fully function. I know, it sounds corny when health counselors sometimes advise their clients to ‘listen’ to their body, but it does make sense. The body does make its needs known if we pay attention.

Just ask yourself how you feel after eating a big meal? Probably sluggish. After too much fat intake? Sick. After a highly nutritious boost? Energized – right? Your body lets you know right away what you have done to it.

Our relationship with food is tricky. Even if it’s dysfunctional, we cannot put an end to it, unlike with alcohol or drug use. We can’t live without food. It’s essential to our existence.

But when the way we eat makes us sick and causes us diseases like obesity, diabetes or heart disease, we need to recalibrate and develop a different approach to how we handle the presence of food in our lives.

Throughout my years as a dietitian and health counselor, I have seen many clients with an antagonistic attitude towards food, while still exhibiting addictive behavior they seemingly could not overcome. Yes, there is such a thing as a love-hate relationship with food. They couldn’t enjoy eating, and they couldn’t resist it either.

What is the answer to such a dilemma? Learn to love your food, I would say. Because it reflects how you love yourself, and the way you live your life.

How we relate to food translates and broadcasts how we feel about our very existence, says Pilar Gerasimo, a founding editor of the health magazine Experience Life.

“Whether we eat consciously or unconsciously, strategically or randomly, pleasurably or dutifully, with voracious hunger or ho-hum disinterest, we can always see in our relationship with food something true and essential about the way we experience other aspects of our lives,” she says.

In other words, we not only are what we eat, we also choose who we want to be in our relationship with food.

So what does a healthy relationship with food look like in terms of everyday living?

People with a healthy relationship to food eat mindfully, says Sarah Klein, a wellness coach and contributing editor at Huffington Post. Their approach to food is based on moderation, good timing, and planning ahead. They enjoy their food and appreciate its value. They don’t get seduced by fads and trends. And they don’t let diet concerns interfere with their daily routines. In sum, their relationship with food is constructive and empowering, instead of destructive and dysfunctional.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

A New Emphasis on Mental and Emotional Well-Being in Healthcare

July 14th, 2016 at 2:57 pm by timigustafson
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That diet and exercise are important pillars of good health is common knowledge, even among those who don’t necessarily follow suit. But when it comes to caring for their mental and emotional well-being, most people remain largely in the dark. According to the current U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, it is time to pay greater attention to the treatment of mental and emotional conditions, which he considers as crucial as all other forms of healthcare.

Mental illness is responsible for more disabilities than any other group of illness, Murthy says. A lot of people with mental and emotional problems may not feel comfortable talking about them or seeking professional help. But in the absence of mental and emotional health, it is impossible for people to properly function and reach their full potential.

Oftentimes people mistake mental and emotional disturbances for lack of intelligence or disability. That is far from what the facts tell us, according to the Surgeon General. Mental and emotional dysfunctions can have countless causes, some of which can be addressed relatively easily. Chronic stress, sleep deprivation, traumatic experiences – all well-known culprits that can wreak havoc on both body and mind – can be successfully treated with appropriate countermeasures, sometimes even with a few adjustments in behavior and lifestyle habits.

Many of the mental and emotional damages people suffer from have been inflicted early in life. Negative childhood experiences can lead to lasting consequences later on and sometimes persist for a lifetime. By contrast, fostering emotional wellbeing in the earliest stages of life through skilled parenting can be instrumental in building a solid foundation for overall health throughout adolescence and adulthood, according to the Surgeon General’s recommendations.

Like most other illnesses, mental and emotional health issues don’t occur in isolation. They are affected by multiple environmental and social factors, by personal choices and habits, by events and circumstances beyond an individual’s control. Any effective form of treatment must take all of these possibilities into account.

For this reason, the Surgeon General’s office (then under former Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin) commissioned a plan to improve the health of citizens on every level and at every stage in life, and titled it “The National Preventive Strategy,” which was released in 2011. The National Prevention Council, consisting of more than a dozen health departments and agencies, authored the final report with emphasis on proactive healthcare measures whenever possible, including for mental and emotional concerns.

Surgeon General Murthy takes his views on the importance of mental and emotional health even further by adding happiness and inner peace to the equation as health-promoting states of mind, which can be attained through yoga, meditation and other exercises.

Besides healthy nutrition and physical exercise, we must look at other components that constitute wellness, including mindfulness and feelings of gratitude and satisfaction, he says in an interview with Huffington Post. Happy people live longer, are less stressed, and have lower levels of inflammation and heart disease. Happiness can change health in ways we never even imagined, he says.

Sounds like a plan.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

In the Fight Against Obesity, Experts Remain Divided Over Strategies

June 28th, 2016 at 5:09 pm by timigustafson
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Do food manufacturers bear a responsibility for the global obesity crisis? Of course they do. So do restaurants that offer nutritionally poor fare and exorbitant portion sizes. But the decision to consume foods and drinks that cause waistlines to expand ever further still rests with the individual. So, from which end should we try to tackle the problem?

Experts remain divided over the issue, despite of decades-long research on the true causes of excessive weight gain. What is unclear to most is where countermeasures should be implemented first, at the supplier- or the consumer level.

In a special series on the subject, the medical journal The Lancet has published different points of view, leaving considerable space for further discussion.

A majority of study findings, however, seem to lean towards top-down solutions such as regulatory measures that force food suppliers to better comply with dietary guidelines and recommendations by health experts, rather than a bottom-up approach with a primary focus on consumer behavior.

Although obesity is a complex issue, many debates about its causes and solutions are centered around overly simple dichotomies that present seemingly competing perspectives. Examples of such dichotomies explored in this series include personal versus collective responsibilities, supply versus demand-type explanations for consumption of unhealthy foods, government regulation versus industry self-regulation, and so forth, according to the series’ final report. While people ought to be held responsible for their health and wellbeing, environmental factors can support or undermine their ability to act in their self-interest, the authors conclude.

“Today’s food environments exploit people’s biological, psychological, social, and economic vulnerabilities, making it easier for them to eat unhealthy foods. This reinforces preferences and demands for foods of poor nutritional quality, furthering the unhealthy food environments. Regulatory actions from governments and increased efforts from industry and civil society will be necessary to break these vicious cycles,” they argue.

Not everyone agrees with one-sided attempts at solution finding of either kind. Dr. Mike Gibney, the director of the Institute of Food and Health at the University College Dublin, Ireland, and author of “Ever Seen a Fat Fox? Human Obesity Explored,” calls for a combination of bottom-up (consumers) and top-down (governments, industries) approaches. Multi-faceted action that attacks the problem at its roots, namely individual eating behavior, but doesn’t let ‘Big Food’ off the hook, is the most promising way to go, he says in an interview with Food Navigator. We do have the required resources to make a change, he says, it’s just the will that is lacking to follow through on what we know – on either side.

While obesity has been acknowledged as a global epidemic, it is unlikely that universally applicable solutions can be found. Methods that may work locally or regionally may fail on a larger scale. Differences between cultures, customs, education, economic status and governance may prove too great to overcome.

Some have suggested to take up the fight against obesity in similar fashion as the so-called “tobacco wars” in the 1990s, when policies were put in place that helped reduce tobacco use. But although anti-smoking campaigns and programs played an important role, it was also due to intense education efforts about the health risks that led many smokers to quit.

We should be careful, however, to expect too much from such strategies, even if they have worked in the past, because the issues differ. Looking at the tobacco or alcohol model with their top-down measures is flawed because neither has much in common with food, Dr. Gibney cautions. You can wean yourself from smoking or drinking but not from eating, he says. That means that ultimately consumers remain in the driver seat when it comes to making lasting changes, albeit they can use all the help they can get.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Been Everywhere, Done Everything? How About Some Food Travel?

June 14th, 2016 at 2:21 pm by timigustafson
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Having just returned from visiting Japan and having been thoroughly spoiled by the country’s unique culinary culture, I found my interest in exotic foods and cooking styles renewed. I have enjoyed such experiences before, but never made it a specific quest. This time was different, and I’m glad I finally joined the ranks of international food travelers.

Food travel – or culinary tourism, as it is sometimes called – is a fast growing trend, and not only among seasoned globetrotters who seek new perspectives on their journeys. Widely popular TV shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” or Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” have put food exploration high on many people’s bucket list. And travel agencies are more than happy to comply.

Over the past decade or so, food-themed vacationing has become a trendsetter in the leisure travel industry. According to the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA), a consulting firm for specialty travel organizers, interest in local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture is at an all-time high. And this is by no means limited to gourmet dining or fine wine sampling but extends to all things related to food production, preparation and consumption as well as environmental issues like climate change and sustainability.

“A culinary adventure can be a welcome change from the standard travel itinerary,” says Sabah Karimi, a travel writer for U.S. News. “The goal of culinary tourism is to educate and inspire food and wine enthusiasts while giving the traveler a chance to explore the local area and learn about local food trends, cooking techniques and food history.”

At a recent business conference, sponsored by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in Quebec, the rising popularity of culinary travel and its impact on the travel industry as a whole was the main topic. A survey that was conducted for the event showed that over 70 percent of travel itineraries now included food and beverage-themed components.

Food is a leading draw in travel these days, industry analysts say. It transcends borders, builds bridges between cultures, and connects us as human beings with the planet and one another.

Not everyone, however, is overly enthused about this newfound love for culinary discovery.

While food-related tourism is growing, food-borne illnesses are also on the rise globally and have been identified as a major public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

At destinations where accommodations, hygiene and sanitation, medical care and water quality are of a high standard, there are relatively few health risks for travelers. However, exposure to infectious agents and contaminated food and water, combined with the absence of appropriate medical facilities, can make traveling in remote regions particularly hazardous, the WHO warns.

Obviously, exposing yourself to the unknown, whether it concerns your surroundings or your dinner plate, always carries a certain amount of risk. But safety should come first, wherever you go and regardless of what you do. While travel is supposed to be fun, it is not a time for recklessness. If your experience is unpleasant because of a stomach ache or much worse, you probably won’t give it another try. And what a shame that would be…

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Longevity – To What Avail?

June 7th, 2016 at 5:20 pm by timigustafson
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A long life has always been considered a desirable objective for most people, and modern science, abundant food supply and hygienic living conditions are making it possible for ever greater parts of the population to achieve this goal.

Over the past 200 years the average life expectancy has doubled, and some experts say that human longevity has not even reached its peak yet. They are not talking about the distant future. In fact, the first person to live to a 150 may already have been born.

According to the National Institute on Aging, the once leading causes of illness and death – mostly through infectious and parasitic diseases – have all been dramatically reduced with vaccinations, dietary improvements, better health education, and overall higher standards of living.

Obviously, conditions still vary widely from country to country, but generally people now live much longer than ever, worldwide. In some places, those reaching 85 and older already make up the fastest growing part of the populace. Globally, their numbers will quadruple by mid-century. The number of centenarians is projected to increase 10-fold over the same time period.

Being able to extend life, of course, is a great success, especially when it comes with a reasonably high quality of life. But simply adding years of sickness, frailty and decline is not a very appealing prospect. Unfortunately, the progress we are making in terms of keeping people around longer is not always matched by advances in personal health and fitness – both physically and mentally.

Today’s seniors, especially in the developed world, could not only be the longest living but also the healthiest generation, based on the level of healthcare and health education available to them.

But sadly, the facts don’t bear this out. Dying prematurely from infectious diseases may be a thing of the past, but those threats have been replaced by a host of diet and lifestyle-related chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Most of these are treatable and could be prevented altogether. But according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only a miniscule percentage of the population pays enough attention and adheres to behaviors that can reduce the risk of developing these ailments.

And yet, the steps to take are simple and widely accepted as effective, proactive health measures. They include a healthful diet, regular exercise, persistent weight management, stress reduction, sufficient sleep, and avoidance of smoking, alcohol- and drug abuse. To follow any (or preferably all) of these, it is never too soon or too late.

Adding years to life may be a worthwhile pursuit for its own sake, but without adding life to years by maintaining good health, it will likely be a sadly diminished outcome.

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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”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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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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