Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Outlook on Life May Influence Longevity, Study Finds

January 22nd, 2014 at 2:07 pm by timigustafson
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That staying physically and mentally fit is important for healthy aging is old news. But how our attitudes can also influence how long we live is not as well understood. Now, a new study from England concluded that being happy, enjoying life, or at least having a sense of contentment may play a much larger role in the way we age than previously thought.

For the study, researchers from the University College London monitored physical and mental functions and also the emotional states of 3,200 male and female participants, all over the age of 60.

Those who reported having fun, doing things that gave them pleasure, maintaining an active social life, etc. were found to develop fewer impairments and showed slower declines compared to those who were less upbeat.

In fact, differences in attitude seemed to produce remarkable results. People with a lower sense of well-being were three times as likely to end up with health problems as they got older than those whose outlook remained positive.

Not surprisingly, those suffering from chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and depression tended to enjoy life the least, which obviously did not help improve their condition either.

The study also found that the happier people were not necessarily younger, richer, or even free from illness. The influence of their state of mind on their aging process persisted independent of these other factors, although financial security did apparently play a role, but only to a certain extent, according to Dr. Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care in the Faculty of Population Health Sciences, and British Heart Foundation professor for psychology in London, England, and author of the study.

These latest findings confirm those of another study he published in 2011. Back then, researchers found that participants who considered themselves the happiest could reduce their mortality risk by an astounding 35 percent compared to their least happy counterparts.

Five years into the study, the differences in terms of health status and mortality rates already showed. The happier people were overall healthier and aged better, even when taking other factors into account like gender, education, marital status, and financial situation.

What was methodically different in these two studies compared to others on the subject is that the researchers asked participants to rate their happiness level several times on one particular day, instead of having them answer general questions about their usual state of mind. By focusing on concrete situations and events and by observing specific responses, the researchers say they were able to discern attitudinal differences much better than they would have been by conducting surveys on a wider range of issues and relying on recollections of participants over longer periods of time.

While it remains undetermined whether positive emotions play a key role for longevity or are just one factor among others, there seem to be clear indications that how people feel about their lives at any given moment can have a significant impact.

Of course, what constitutes happiness is not easily defined. Some may say that people who seem outwardly grumpy or melancholic may not necessarily be devoid of pleasure or satisfaction. It could be just a matter of individual personality or how they behave socially. How emotions are expressed can also depend on cultural particularities.

One study from Austria found that more than momentarily occurring feelings, a deeper and lasting sense of contentment and gratitude that comes with growing maturity may produce the greatest benefits, including in terms of health and longevity.

The least we can take away from these findings is that people should take their moods more seriously, said Dr. Laura Kubzansky, a professor for social and behavioral sciences at Harvard University.

“I think people sort of undervalue emotional life anyway. This highlights the idea that if you are going through a period where you’re constantly distressed, it’s probably worth paying attention to how you feel – it matters for both psychological and physical health,” she said.

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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).

Experts Are Beginning to See Changes in Eating Patterns of Americans

January 18th, 2014 at 6:01 pm by timigustafson
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More Americans cut back on calories, choose healthier foods, cook meals at home, and eat out less often than they used to, according to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

On average, adults are consuming 118 fewer calories per day than they did a decade ago. While the reasons for the decline in consumption are not altogether clear, experts say there may be multiple factors at play, including greater awareness of diet-related health problems, the economic downturn, and also modifications made by food manufacturers and restaurant operators. They warn, however, that the latest findings are not to be interpreted as a turning of the tide, meaning that we are probably not seeing the end of the current obesity crisis just yet. Over one-third of Americans are still diagnosed as obese, and those numbers haven’t noticeably changed.

“These are not huge shifts, but they are positive ones,” said Dr. Kelly Brownell, dean of Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, who is best known for his work as director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, to the Wall Street Journal in response to the study release.

In any case, the reduction in calorie intake, even as miniscule as it is, may already have led to dietary improvements and overall diet quality for many Americans, said Dr. Jessica E. Todd, an agricultural economist at the USDA and author of the study report. Especially the fact that home-cooked family meals are on the rise again is a welcome step in the right direction.

Critics of the study, however, dispute these conclusions as overly optimistic and rather see the economic decline large parts of the population have gone through in recent years as the real reason for the changing behavior of consumers, including with regards to food consumption.

“The good news is we’re getting healthier, the bad news is, we’re poorer, said Harry Balzer, an analyst with the NPD Group, a market research firm.

Food companies and restaurants may also have contributed by making their products leaner. A study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that a number of leading food and beverage companies have substantially reduced calorie content in their manufacturing processes. It is unclear, however, to what extend consumers have directly benefitted from these modifications.

Cutting out a few calories here and there may be helpful, but it is not enough when it comes to weight loss, cautioned Dr. Marion Nestle, professor for nutrition and food studies at New York University (NYU). For most people, to lose weight requires at least a deficit of 350 calories per day.

We also have to be realistic about what the average person can accomplish when navigating a food environment that is not always conducive to nutritional health.

“From a consumer perspective, we need to live in reality,” said Dr. Joy Dubost, a dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) who just attended a meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which is tasked with giving recommendations for a coming update of the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “We can debate the science and look at the evidence, but we also need to spend some time in the shoes of consumers and think about what’s affordable and practical,” she said.

In an official statement to the DGAC, the Academy has urged committee members to recognize the “need for safe, sustainable and […] accessible food for the health of all Americans,” and to be mindful of the experience of “food insecurity and health inequity.”

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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 a Kinder, Gentler Approach to Weight Loss

January 15th, 2014 at 1:13 pm by timigustafson
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You have heard it all before: Crash diets – the ones that promise you to shed lots of weight in no time – don’t work, at least not in the long run. And yet, they continue to rank among the most popular plans because people want to see results pronto.

This year’s resolution season will be no different. Advertisements for quick fixes get the most attention. For some it will do the trick. But for many, it will be another round of disappointments. Initially pounds will come off, mostly through loss of water, and then they will come back with a vengeance, and in all likelihood even more will be added. It’s a vicious circle that can be devastating.

Weight loss, at least the intentional kind, is an unnatural event. Our bodies cannot readily be willed into deprivation. In evolutionary terms, we are programmed to ingest as many calories as possible when food is plentiful, so we can survive when scarcity sets in, which inevitably happened to our ancestors of yore. But those days are thankfully over for most of today’s population and perpetual overeating with all its detrimental health effects is the more likely scenario.

Some experts say that instead of attempting to cheat our genetic make-up, a better approach would be to take a good look at the lifestyle we adhere to now and navigate our present food environment to the best of our ability.

For example, people like Tom Rath, bestselling author of “Eat Move Sleep – How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes” (Missionday, 2013), propose taking small steps that are within our immediate reach, rather than trying to follow some grand strategy like a complex diet plan or other regimen that interferes with our established routines and makes it thereby so much harder to maintain.

Most of us are not cut out to look at the “big picture” when we make choices concerning our diet and lifestyle habits. Instead of torturing yourself over which foods to eat and which to avoid, recognize that sitting too much and moving too little is considerably more detrimental to your health than the occasional dietary lapse, says Rath. So make inactivity your primary enemy. The same goes for chronic sleep deprivation, a serious health concern that afflicts millions.

When it comes to weight loss, most people are too fixated on counting calories. Yes, those numbers matter, especially when they stack up. But it also matters where those calories come from. Contrary to what you may have heard from some “experts,” a calorie is not a calorie, regardless of its source. Some calories are loaded with important nutrients and others are empty and have little or no nutritional value. Regrettably, the latter are richly present in (mostly processed) foods that dominate the Western diet. Just by limiting your choices to more nutrient-dense items like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources, you can vastly improve your chances for successful weight management right away and with lasting results.

Good health is always a work in progress. You will never arrive at a point where you achieve perfection. Not even professional athletes and fitness fanatics can do that. But abiding by a few simple rules and sticking with them for the long haul can create a good foundation you can keep building on.

In my own life, I have also included other categories that go beyond the physical part of my well-being. In addition, I try to work on the emotional, intellectual, and also social and relational aspects, and check where things stand every day. It’s nothing fancy or complicated. But I know that if I allow myself getting off course too far or for too long in one area, all others will suffer as well.

Most of all, I try to be as kind, gentle and patient with myself as I am (hopefully) with my clients. I know that harshness and self-flagellation won’t get me anywhere. And I rather take another small but achievable step in the right direction than live in a fantasy that will never come to pass.

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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 Diet Plan Works Best Depends on Multiple Factors, Not All of Which Money Can Buy

January 11th, 2014 at 3:43 pm by timigustafson
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It’s the time of the year again when purveyors of diet and weight loss programs vie most fiercely for our attention, hoping to convince customers that their product can do the trick much faster and more effortlessly than the competition. But the fact is that what makes one approach more promising than another depends on a variety of factors, many of which have little to do with what’s being sold to consumers.

According to an annual report published by U.S. News, some diets are indeed superior to others in terms of effectiveness, success rates, and health benefits. A panel of experts with professional backgrounds in nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, heart disease, and psychology of eating behavior reviewed 32 of the most popular diet programs and rated them in different categories, including short-term and long-term effects, safety, user-friendliness, and nutritional completeness.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) came in first as the overall best program, followed by Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). Weight Watchers won in the best weight-loss diet category, ahead of the Biggest LoserWeight Watchers also beat its competitors as the best commercial diet plan. The DASH diet showed the most health benefits, while the Mediterranean Diet ranked highest among vegetarian regimens. The so-called Paleo or Caveman Diet and the Dukan Diet took last places.

Letting independent experts rate commercial diet programs and products is certainly not a bad idea, especially when considering the onslaught of fad diets with their oftentimes unrealistic and unfounded claims that can border on outright fraud. Thankfully, the government is increasingly scrutinizing such deceptive practices and has recently imposed serious fines on several companies.

But ratings alone cannot guarantee success when it comes to the individual consumer who is trying to lose weight, treat an illness, or simply wants to feel better. The members of the panel readily admit they did not take into account the importance of exercise and other lifestyle changes.

Also, the high costs of many commercial weight loss products were not part of their investigation, although money concerns prevent many would-be-followers from taking up or sticking to these plans long-term.

It is a simple fact that when it comes to weight management, food is only part of the equation. What and how much we eat is just one thing to consider. Why we reach for food even when we are not hungry – e.g. to cope with stress, boredom or addiction, or for other physical or psychological reasons – is an equally important question. Some people may find it hard to make the smallest lifestyle changes because of work-related circumstances such as travel, lack of sleep, or being forced to frequently eat out. Or they don’t get enough support at home, which can be crucial for their chances to make improvements. And then there is lack of education. It is no secret that many of us (experts included) are ignorant or confused about the ins and outs of staying healthy and fit. Also, what works well for one person can result in total failure for another – because, as they say, the devil is in the details.

So, instead of looking for one-fits-all solutions, my recommendation for this year’s resolution season is this:

• If you had successes in the past, try to recall what happened then and re-implement what you did. Also, ask yourself what made you fall off the wagon again.

• If a particular commercial program has worked for you once, go back to it. If it left you unconvinced, try another, but carefully study the differences.

• Most importantly, keep in mind that everything you do in your life is connected. You may have to cut back on your calorie intake, but you also want to eat more nutritiously. Regular exercise is a must, no matter how closely you watch your diet. Stress management and getting enough sleep count as well. The more you step back and look at the whole picture, the more likely you will reach your goal and be able to maintain your achievements.

I wish you a happy and healthy New Year.

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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 Healthy Aging, Just Keep Moving

January 8th, 2014 at 2:50 pm by timigustafson
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The healthier and more physically fit you are, the better your chances will be to live a long and active life. While that may be true to a large extent, researchers now say that you don’t need to be a senior athlete to reap benefits from your physical condition. It may be enough to do just a little bit every day to keep you going. The rest is just icing on the cake, but it won’t make a decisive difference in how well you age.

A recent study from Sweden found that a generally active lifestyle, even without regular exercise sessions, can promote heart health and longevity. So-called “background activity,” the usual wear and tear your body undergoes as you navigate your day, has all too often been disregarded or underestimated in clinical studies on the importance of physical exercise in older people, the researchers said.

Whether someone exercises rigorously for half an hour or runs errands all day doesn’t make that much of a difference. What matters more is that there are no long periods of time sitting near motionlessly while watching television, reading, or doing work on the computer. A lifestyle that is excessively sedentary for whatever reason is the real culprit when people age badly, not only in physical but also in mental terms.

The difference in likelihood of dying from a heart attack or stroke between the most and the least active participants in the study was roughly 30 percent, which is substantial.

“These are fascinating findings,” said Dr. David Dunstan, head of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who was not involved in the study. “But [they are] not really surprising since other studies have looked at […] the detrimental relationship between excessive sitting and mortality outcomes,” he said to Reuters in response to the study’s publication.

What makes sitting so detrimental is that it prevents the muscles from contracting and causes decrease in blood flow, which reduces the efficiency of many body functions, including nutrient absorption, he added.

Even moderate exercise such as walking up the stairs, cleaning house, or carrying grocery bags across the parking lot can help strengthen muscles, including the most important of all, the heart muscle. For this reason, healthcare providers should encourage especially their older patients and those suffering from heart health problems not only to exercise regularly but also to sit less and move around whenever they have the chance.

Heart health is not the only concern scientists have when contemplating potential damages from lack of exercise. Prolonged sitting itself increases the risk of all causes of mortality, independent from activities like running or visits to the gym, another study found. Researchers from Harvard University concluded that sitting for several hours daily can contribute to chronic diseases like diabetes and certain forms of cancer, especially colon cancer in men.

People, like office workers, who have little choice but spending much of their time sitting should at least take regular breaks to walk around the building or office park to stretch their legs. Retired folks who have more control over their schedules should not sit at home reading or watching television but get out in the fresh air as often and as much as possible.

The good news is that increasing one’s activity level can be done at any stage in life. Numerous studies have confirmed that staying both physically and mentally engaged not only can extend life expectancy but also improve the quality of people’s later years. At any rate, it’s an investment worth making.

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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).

Get Back on Track in the New Year with a Healthier Diet and Lifestyle

January 1st, 2014 at 10:41 am by timigustafson
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Making New Year’s resolutions is a time-honored, albeit tiring, custom. It basically forces you to admit you were wrong to indulge in all these wonderful dinner parties and treats over the holidays, and that you must now atone for your bad deeds. Not much fun in that, is there?

Still, the scale doesn’t lie and neither do your cloths that must have shrunken mysteriously while you were out having a blast. So, what can you do other than change your “evil” ways?

Transitioning to a new routine
First of all, there is no point in chastising yourself for what’s already happened. You’ve gained a few pounds and feel uncomfortable about it. But it’s not the end of the world. In all likelihood, you’ve been here before, perhaps several times. Maybe you remember how you managed to turn things around the last time, and chances are it will work for you again.

On the other hand, it would be nice, and also healthier, if you could avoid the notorious yo-yo effects of your weight control efforts once and for all.

So, before you look for the next fad diet that promises to do the trick in no time and without a struggle, imagine yourself as the person you truly want to be – one that isn’t plagued by regrets and doesn’t need self-flagellation because he or she knows exactly what a healthy body requires and looks like.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter what kind of weight loss method you choose. All you really have to focus on is that your food intake is less than what you burn off. A 500 calories deficit per day will allow you to shed about a pound a week. Replace the junk with more nutritious foods, add a regular exercise regimen and you are on your way.

Beyond that, you just have to be a little patient with yourself. Remember that changing your eating and lifestyle habits puts you in a stage of transition, meaning that you are in an especially vulnerable spot. It will take some time to get your body used to a new routine. Temptations are still rampant after the holidays, and feeling deprived or punished doesn’t help you stay the course.

Believe it or not, it also matters greatly what you are communicating to your metabolism: Is the change in your behavior for real and will it last, or is it short-lived and not worth the trouble? Quick-fix diet programs are notorious for messing up people’s metabolism for this very reason – they are too short-termed for your system to catch up.

Make it work for you
Also keep in mind that no commercially available weight loss plan is just designed for you. That means you are basically asked to follow other people’s recommendations based on their experiences. But in reality, those may or may not apply to you.

A better way is to trust in your body’s wisdom. Listen to it and how it signals its needs to you. For instance, you may have the urge to snack, but you may also ask yourself, Am I really hungry? Or, What healthier food would satisfy my desire for something sweet or salty just as much and without downside effects?

Knowing your weaknesses, you can also avoid setting yourself up for failure, for example by circumventing certain aisles in the supermarket or by stocking up on healthy items only. Examine your daily routines and habits, and question which ones are important and which ones have crept in over time without much notice.

Make sure you understand that choosing a healthier diet and lifestyle is not something you just do in one step. It is an ongoing process where you – and only you – set priorities and values for yourself and pursue them in a manner that is right for you.

Substitute the good for the bad
Once you have identified what got you off course in the first place, you can take stock and make changes – if necessary one or two at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a lot of dos and don’ts. Be realistic. Even your less-than-perfect habits once materialized for a reason.

If other components in your life can’t be altered – say, you travel a great deal and are forced to eat out a lot, or you can’t find appropriate outlets for exercising – you may have to be at bit creative to keep yourself on the right path. Identify new opportunities and remove as many obstacles as you can.

In any case, always stay focused on the larger picture and go about your goals with sufficient determination but also with the necessary patience and forgiveness.

Happy New Year!

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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).

Include Mindfulness in Your Meals

December 28th, 2013 at 4:24 pm by timigustafson
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If you have any interest at all in healthy eating, you probably have come across Brian Wansink’s book, “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think.” In a nutshell, the author, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University, wants us to pay more attention to our eating habits, something that may be easier said than done. But if mindless eating is such a central component of the ongoing obesity epidemic, as the professor suggests, what would its opposite – mindful eating – entail?

There has been increasing interest in the subject in recent years, and a growing movement that connects eating with meditation and other calming exercises has emerged. Even Google now offers mindful eating lunches on its headquarter campus in Mountain View, California.

“Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It is being more aware of your eating habits, the sensations you experience when you eat, and the thoughts and emotions that you have about food. It is more about how you eat than what you eat,” says Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of five books on the practice of mindful eating.

Our hectic lives usually don’t leave us much time for paying attention to the foods we consume. And when it comes to food preparation, efficiency and convenience trump almost all other aspects. So we never really become aware of the taste, smell and mouth feel of our edibles, let alone cultivate positive emotions like comfort and gratitude we could derive from eating.

Instead, Dr. Albers says, we regularly overeat, graze all day, skip meals, or do a thousand other things while munching on something or other that has little meaning for us. That kind of mindless relationship to food then can easily lead to overeating and unwanted weight gain or worse.

“The fundamental reason for our imbalance with food and eating is that we’ve forgotten how to be present as we eat,” says Dr. Jan Chozen Bays, a pediatrician and Zen teacher in Clatskanie, Oregon, who has written a guidebook on mindful eating. “Mindful eating helps us learn to hear what our body is telling us about hunger and satisfaction,” he says.

As we pay more attention to our food, we begin to better understand our need for being nurtured, not just for the benefit of the body but the mind as well. We notice how eating affects our moods and how our emotions such as joy, anxiety, or boredom influence our eating habits.

Especially the holidays are a time when we should pay more attention to our eating behavior. When we get stressed out over all the shopping and preparations ahead of us, and festive meals and treats are offered everywhere, we would be well-advised to stop once in a while and take time to relax and reflect a bit. That’s when mindful eating can play an important role, says Dr. Lilian Cheung, a lecturer on nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health who co-wrote a book on the subject with Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, titled “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.” “We need to be coming back to ourselves and say: Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Is this just because I’m so sad or stressed out?”

Thankfully, engaging in mindful eating does not require lots of practice or training. You can begin at any time and without further ado. Just settle down and become quiet for a moment. Focus on something edible in front of you. It can be a three-course meal or a single raisin. Make yourself aware of aromas, tastes and textures, and also your responses, both physical and emotional. Eat in silence. Eat slowly. Chew with your eyes closed. Try not to let your mind drift elsewhere. If it does, bring yourself gently back to the present experience without judging.

It also helps to create an environment that is comfortable and keeps you safe from interruptions. Make sure your phone is off and you cannot be disturbed. You may like sharing the experience with others, or you may prefer to be alone.

In any case, you will be making progress simply by finding yourself slowing down and becoming better aware of your actions. Your body will take care of everything else.

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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).

Researchers from Harvard University found that eating healthily costs more than sticking to junk food. While this shouldn’t come as a great surprise, it is the first time anyone has tried to put an exact price tag on what it takes to follow nutritional recommendations.

On average, a person who wants to maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources must cough up an extra $1.50 per day, or about $550 a year, based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories, as recommended for adults by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“People often say that healthier foods are more expensive, and that such costs strongly limit better diet habits. But until now, the scientific evidence for this idea has not been systematically evaluated, nor have the actual differences in cost been characterized,” said Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study report.

Less than two dollars a day difference doesn’t sound too prohibitive, but even these small amounts add up over time, and low-income families may be hard pressed to make consistently costlier, albeit healthier, choices.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), most Americans adhere to diets that do not meet its proposed standards. Whether food costs are a decisive factor is not always evident in the view of the agency, noting that some highly processed foods are not necessarily cheaper than many fresh varieties but may be preferred by consumers because of greater convenience.

Also, food prices can vary considerably depending on location and season, making it difficult to set clear measuring standards. And it is not always apparent which foods are truly healthy and which are not. For instance, are items like apples acceptable, which are certainly nutritious but may contain traces of pesticides? Or should they be eaten only when organically-grown, making them much more expensive?

Geographic variations also play a significant role, not only in terms of the neighborhoods people live in but also in which part of the country they are. Larger cities may be better served but tend to be more pricey, while rural areas typically require longer driving distances to outlets, adding expenditures for gas or public transportation.

The government’s Dietary Guidelines would benefit from a reality check, says Dr. Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-author of a study on the effects of food prices on consumers’ behavior. He warns that dietary guidance often overlooks the issue of affordability when making recommendations about food choices.

“Unrealistic advice is useless. People eat the foods they can afford,” he said to Food Navigator USA. “Given current food preferences and eating habits, more nutrient-rich diets do cost more,” he added.

Of course, for those who are able and willing to spend more money at the grocery store, higher quality foods have many advantages. Eating healthily makes it easier to control weight and avoid diet-related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, all of which affect millions of Americans. Reducing some of these afflictions would make a huge difference in healthcare spending and people’s quality of life.

Poor eating habits of individuals, however, are not the only cause of our current health crisis. Our food policies that give subsidies to producers of commodities like corn, soy and sugar, but nothing to fresh produce farmers, will only perpetuate the existing unbalance between food prices, very much to the detriment of consumers who would love to eat better.

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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).

Fighting the Cold Season More Effectively

December 14th, 2013 at 3:24 pm by timigustafson
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You’ve had your flu shot, you wash your hands more often, you avoid crowded areas, and still there is no guarantee that you will escape the common cold or worse this year or any other. One reason why there is no ironclad protection against the cold is that over 200 different viruses can cause cold symptoms, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH). Most of these are relatively harmless in terms of lasting health effects, but some can lead to serious respiratory infections, especially among the elderly and the very young. Complications include bronchitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, and ear infections.

Over one billion colds are counted in the United States every year, meaning that most Americans get hit more than once throughout the season. Children are particularly prone to spreading cold viruses in schools, playgrounds and homes. But office spaces, shopping malls, restaurants, and public transportation means can be equally as hazardous.

Most common are the so-called Rhinoviruses (from the Greek word rhin, meaning “nose”), which are responsible for up to half of all colds. Over 100 different types of this strand have been identified so far, and more seem to emerge every year. Researchers believe that between 20 and 30 percent of all causes of colds remain unidentified.

The reason why there is such a thing as a cold season is not necessarily a drop in temperatures but rather human behavior. When the weather turns nasty outside, people tend to spend more time indoors and in closer proximity to one another, which gives the viruses a better chance to spread from person to person. Breathing dry, cold air may also play a role since this dries out the inside lining of the nose, making it more vulnerable to viral infections. Paradoxically, fewer people who stay physically active outdoors in the wintery weather seem to get sick than their hibernating counterparts, perhaps because exercising helps strengthen their immune system.

Boosting your natural defenses may be the most effective way to fend off cold threats. Eating lots of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources will help, as will managing stress, getting enough rest, and abstaining from smoking and alcohol/drug abuse.

If it’s already too late and you’ve come down with a cold, it is important to get you back on your feet as quickly as possible. For this, you should stay in bed and drink lots of fluids, not only to keep hydrated but also to thin mucus and ease congestion.

Warm liquids can soothe a sore throat and help you get some sleep. Fruit juices may sound right because of their vitamin C content, but be careful not to put too much sugar into your system because excessively high sugar levels can hinder white blood cells from fighting infections. Soups and stews are also a good provider of fluids. When made from scratch, a vegetable soup is a nutritional powerhouse, and it goes down more easily than solid foods.

If you take cold medications, make sure you follow instructions and don’t overdose in an attempt to speed things up. Don’t drive or operate machinery while under the influence, and don’t mix with alcohol.

Besides following these recommendations, getting enough rest and letting your body do its job is the most important measure you can take. Patience is a necessary part of the healing process and should not be overlooked.

Best of luck for this year’s season.

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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).

Obesity and Health Don’t Go Together, Study Finds

December 7th, 2013 at 3:32 pm by timigustafson
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For quite a while some experts believed that a little extra body fat would not necessarily trigger health problems like metabolic syndrome, a cluster of diseases that often accompanies weight gain. There was even talk of an “obesity paradox,” meaning that some people could derive certain benefits from being obese. But all that may just be fantasy, according to a recent study from Canada.

“Obese persons are at increased risk for adverse long-term outcomes even in the absence of metabolic abnormalities, suggesting that there is no healthy pattern of increased weight,” wrote Dr. Caroline K. Kramer of Mount Sinai Hospital’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto and lead author of the study report.

Whether being overweight is immediately harmful depends on a number of factors, including a person’s genes, activity level, hormonal functions, and the source of calories, said Dr. David L. Katz, founder and director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, to HealthDay. Fat accumulation, especially when it affects inner organs like the liver, can do serious damage even at low levels, he warned.

The notion that fat and fit are not necessarily exclusive of one another stems in part from studies that found overweight but physically active people to be healthier than normal-weight folks who never exercised.

Also, judging someone’s health status based on body-mass index (BMI) alone has been widely criticized as an inaccurate measure in terms of overall health. Instead, most healthcare providers now prefer waist circumference as an indicator for weight-related health issues.

According to guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), overweight people can be considered healthy if their waist size does not exceed 40 inches for men, or 35 inches for women, and if they don’t have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or high cholesterol.

However, when it comes to obesity (BMI of 30 and above), almost all studies agree that even being relatively fit cannot offset the health risks.

The issue is not so much the extra weight itself but what is called “metabolic health.” For any person – obese, overweight, or normal-weight – to be metabolically healthy, his or her blood pressure must be less than 130/85 mmHg, triglycerides under 150 mg/dL, fasting blood sugar equal to or lower than 100 mg/dL, and HDL (“good”) cholesterol above 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women.

But what about the so-called “obesity paradox,” a finding that overweight and moderately obese patients who suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease sometimes outlive their normal-weight counterparts with the same disease? There may be a number of explanations for this, including genetic differences and access to treatment options. Either way, the fact remains that both weight management and fitness are important factors for good health, as is dietary quality.

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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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