Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Even Small Amounts of Alcohol May Cause Cancer, Study Finds

March 15th, 2013 at 3:05 pm by timigustafson
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Moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages can have a place in a healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The question is what counts as moderate. Two drinks for men and one drink for women per day are permissible, says the agency. Excluded from these recommendations are children and adolescents, women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, and individuals who cannot control their alcohol intake, are on certain medications, or plan to drive or operate machinery.

All that is well known and widely accepted. But a new study found that even smaller amounts of alcohol than what is deemed acceptable by the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans may be too much when it comes to preventing certain diseases, including cancer. In fact, having just one drink per day can increase the risk.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) determined that alcohol-related cancer accounted for three to four percent of all cancer deaths in the United States annually and that even light drinkers were at an increased risk.

Well over half a million Americans die from cancer every year. Of these, approximately 20,000 cases are linked to alcohol, according to the study.

We talk a lot about tobacco and poor diets, but alcohol use is a factor that is often missed in the discussion over preventable diseases and deaths, says Dr. David Nelson, director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the NCI and lead author of the study report. While the majority of cancer-related deaths from alcohol occurred in people who consumed substantially more than what is considered moderate drinking, Dr. Nelson’s team found that 33 percent of the diseased had no more than one alcoholic drink per day on average.

Although only 18 percent of men and 11 percent of women are heavy drinkers, meaning they have more than the recommended daily amount on any given day, it is still a significant health concern, said Patricia Guenther, a nutritionist at the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and author of a separate study on the issue, in an interview with Reuters

Among men, 31 to 50 year olds consume the most alcohol, according to the study. Among women, the heaviest drinking takes place between ages 51 and 70. The researchers did not investigate the reasons for the differences in age.

Besides cancer, other well-known health risks from alcohol use are high blood pressure, heart disease, liver damage, pancreatitis, nerve damage, depression and dementia.

Moderate alcohol use has long been considered as harmless if not beneficial. Especially red wine is thought of by some as heart healthy. But conflicting messages like these only confuse consumers, says Dr. Nelson.

“The purported benefits of alcohol consumption are overrated when compared to the risks,” he says. “Even if you take into account all the potential benefits of alcohol, it causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents worldwide.”

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Almost Half of All Cancer Cases May Be Preventable.”

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Searching for the Cause(s) of Obesity

March 13th, 2013 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson
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Two thirds of Americans are overweight. One third is obese. Obesity and a host of illnesses related to weight problems kill more people than any other disease. Experts are scrambling to find answers for what causes the epidemic and seem to come up with new explanations every day, only to be contradicted by the next study. Unsurprisingly, consumers are confused and stop paying attention.

How is it that we are eating ourselves to death, not just here but increasingly around the world? Does the so-called “Western diet,” consisting of cheap, highly processed, highly caloric foods, make us fat? Or is it sugary sodas? Are portion sizes too big? Does the food industry turn us into addicts? Do we just not exercise enough?

So far, none of the countless studies on these subjects have had much impact in practical terms. Lobbying efforts and political gridlock are oftentimes blamed for the maddeningly slow progress. But that may not be the only reason. Some experts warn that despite of all the research, finding definite answers may prove elusive for some time to come.

“If we can find the causes of obesity, we can try to eliminate or counter them,” wrote Christopher Chabris, a professor of psychology at Union College, together with his colleague Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. “Unfortunately, finding causes is easier said than done, and causes we think we see can turn out to be illusions.”

Hoping for a smoking gun that lets us clearly identify causation may not be in the cards, ever. As an example, the authors cite a study that analyzed potential connections between food advertising on billboards and prevalence of obesity in certain parts of Los Angeles and New Orleans. The study results showed that areas with more outdoor food advertisements had a higher proportion of obese people than those with fewer ads. So, there seems to be a direct link.

Not so fast, say the professors. Studies like these have a significant problem: They can show association between separate phenomena but not causation. In this particular scenario, interpretations of the findings could go in totally different directions. Even if you accept the existence of a correlation between food advertisements and obesity, you still have to consider a wide field of possible explanations. One could be that food vendors tend to invest more of their advertising budget in places where they believe food consumption is especially high. Obesity then may be an indicator that this is a good market for them. Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

So does this mean there is no proof that food advertising influences people’s eating habits, and not necessarily in a good way? Studies like these can at best provide some indication that there may be a link, but they don’t provide evidence for causation, the professors conclude. Only the gold standard of scientific research, which is the randomized controlled trial, could prove such connections, they say. And these standards are often not achievable in the real world.

The question is what does that mean in terms of taking anti-obesity measures. Do we have to remain indolent in the face of this alarming health crisis just because we can’t pinpoint its causes with the highest standards of certainty? Food manufacturers and restaurant operators support that view. But if no compelling evidence can be had that advertising works, why would they keep spending billions of dollars every year on doing just that?

With all due respect for scientific standards, I can’t help but think that calling for more and more studies on the causes of obesity only delays critical action that ought to be taken now. We may not know whether food ads influence everyone’s eating habits, but we still can ban them from children’s programs on TV. We may never be sure whether drinking sugary sodas or consuming sweet snacks cause diabetes, but we still can stop offering them on school campuses. It may be unclear whether posting calorie counts in restaurants will make patrons order smaller portions, but we should at least give them the option, so their choices can be better informed. How many more studies and trials do we really have to conduct before we take at least a few steps in the right direction?

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “How Serious Is the Food Industry About Helping in the Fight Against Obesity?” and “Obesity Must Be Addressed on Multiple Levels.”

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Making Our Cities More Conducive to Healthy Living

March 11th, 2013 at 1:32 pm by timigustafson
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Health experts have long insisted that improving our public health requires improving the environment we live in. This, of course, includes environmental protection measures such as pollution control and management of resources but also attention to housing and living conditions. Part of the latter is a better understanding of how land use, residential development and architectural design impact our health and well-being.

“Virtually everything in our built environment is the way it is because someone designed it that way. We now realize that how we design the built environment may hold tremendous potential for addressing many of the nation’s greatest current public health concerns, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, injury, depression, violence, and social injustice,” says Dr. Richard Joseph Jackson, professor for environmental health sciences and urban planning at the School of Public Health of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

There is a growing awareness in communities across the country of the need for health-promoting surroundings. And city planners begin to pay attention. They realize that sidewalks, bike paths, pedestrian zones and parks not only add to public safety but also enhance the quality of life in general. Here are a few examples:

New York City has tasked its Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to come up with new guidelines for the promotion of physical activity and health in architectural design to make future building projects “more livable and hospitable.” The guidelines are meant to give designers the tools to facilitate healthy lifestyle choices and to address health concerns such as obesity and diabetes through intelligent design, according to Arch Daily an architectural online magazine. New York City, of course is already one of the most walkable cities in the country. Still, there is room for improvement, e.g. better public transportation to recreational facilities and open spaces.

The Seattle Housing Authority has created a program called “Breathe Easy Homes”, which subsidizes affordable housing projects with features to improve air quality and reduce the risk of asthma, especially among children.

The Denver Housing Authority uses a procedure called “Health Impact Assessment” (HIA) for all its urban redevelopment plans as part of its wellness initiative, “Denver Healthy People 2020”. HIA is an assessment tool that has been put into practice in other parts of the world for many years and is increasingly accepted here as well.

“The [HIA] process is one of the foremost tools used to plan for healthy, sustainable communities. Used around the world, it promotes and assesses environmental effects upon physical and mental health. With land use policies, designs and plans influencing individual and community health, it is more important than ever to strengthen the relationship between planning and public health,” the agency states on its website.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also recommends HIA as a good resource to measure the impact of community projects on health issues.

But governmental action alone will not suffice in the creation of more health-conducive living spaces. Private developers will have to come on board as well. To ensure that today’s students of architecture and urban planning will be more sensitive towards these issues, Clemson University in South Carolina offers a program called “Architecture Plus Health,” where relationships between architectural settings and the health of their inhabitants are researched. The goal is to teach future architects and designers how to apply their skills with the well-being of individuals and the larger population in mind, says Dr. David Allison, the program’s director.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Making America’s Cities More Walkable – The Benefits Are Endless” and “Your Surroundings Can Sabotage Your Commitment to Healthy Living.”

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss, a Bad Idea

March 5th, 2013 at 4:47 pm by timigustafson
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A new diet has become all the rage in Britain and is now making landfall on our shores as well. It’s called the “Fast Diet” and millions of weight loss candidates already swear by it.

Like all commercial diet programs, this one promises quick results without much effort and little changes in established eating habits. Followers can eat anything they want for five days but then have to undergo a fasting period of 48 hours where they cannot consume more than 500 to 600 calories per day.

The authors, Dr. Michael Mosley, a medical journalist, and Mini Spencer, a food and fashion writer, claim they both have experienced amazing weight loss successes themselves while experimenting with various forms of intermittent fasting. They also believe their approach can promote overall health and even longevity.

The idea of submitting oneself to periods of food deprivation is nothing new, of course. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did it, although perhaps not voluntarily, and many religions recommend it as a ritual for cleansing, both physically and spiritually.

“Voluntarily abstaining from eating for short periods of time will allow you to eat what you like, most of the time, and get slimmer and healthier as you go,” the authors proclaim on their website. “The joy of the Fast Diet is that the side-effects are all good,” they say.

But are they?

Even if its true that our bodies are genetically programmed to endure periods of famine, as our forbearers were forced to with regularity when food supplies ran scarce, that doesn’t mean it is a good idea to disrupt your metabolism every so often just to shed a few extra pounds in a hurry.

For example, when the body is subjected to severe calorie restriction, it goes into a different metabolic mode where it switches from burning carbohydrates (glucose), its preferred fuel, to burning fat. This may at first sound like a good idea since body fat is what dieters want to get rid off. However, if this process continues for too long, it can lead to a state known as ketosis.

When fat stores become the primary source for fuel, weight loss will occur – but not without side effects. During ketosis, the body builds up substances known as ketones, which can cause a number of health problems. Loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, irritability, tiredness and bad breath are among the milder symptoms. More serious consequences include dehydration, gout, kidney stones and even kidney failure.

For healthy individuals, short-term ketosis may not carry serious risks. However for diabetics, restricting carbohydrates in their diet may give rise to complications. In extreme cases, ketone levels can become so elevated that a situation develops where high blood sugar is met with a severe shortage of insulin. This is known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). The results, if not immediately treated, can be fatal.

Many followers of weight loss diets are plagued with one or more of these conditions. Experimenting with one’s metabolism, especially when done without supervision by a medical professional, can only make matters worse.

Last but not least, there are the long-term implications to be considered. Are we to believe that a five-day period of no dietary restrictions followed by two days of disciplined fasting is a viable option for most people? It seems to me such a regimen bears a strong resemblance to many of the crash diets that may produce quick results but inevitably fail over time.

In response to this latest diet craze, Britain’s National Health System has posted a warning on its website that says: “Despite its increasing popularity, there is a great deal of uncertainty about IF (intermittent fasting) with significant gaps in the evidence.”

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Diabetes Can Be Caused by High Sugar Intake Alone, New Study Finds

March 3rd, 2013 at 2:43 pm by timigustafson
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Diabetes affects over 25 million Americans today, more than 8 percent of the population. One in four seniors suffers from the disease, and the numbers among young people, including teenagers, are dramatically on the rise. Over a third of all diabetics in the United States remain undiagnosed and are not treated, according to the latest statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In most cases, type 2 diabetes (traditionally known as adult onset diabetes) develops in connection with overweight and obesity. A new study, however, found that consuming large amounts of sugar may cause the disease independently from weight problems.

For the study, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) compared the availability of sugar and diabetes rates in 175 countries. The underlying data came from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the International Diabetes Federation.

The scientists believe they have clearly identified a correlation between rising sugar consumption and the growing diabetes epidemic. Specifically, they found that an additional 150 calories from sugar per person per day – the equivalent of just one 12-ounce soda drink – increased the prevalence of diabetes by one percent in that population. The longer the exposure to the higher amount of sugar lasted, the more pronounced the diabetes risk became. Conversely, whenever sugar consumption was reduced, diabetes rates diminished as well. These variations still registered when other potentially contributing factors like weight, age, gender and race were taken into account.

While the research cannot prove direct causation, the evidence is compelling, said Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF and senior author of the study. “This study is proof enough that sugar is toxic. Now it’s time to do something about it,” he was quoted saying by the New York Times.

Many of his colleagues in the science community agree. “The results make clear that sugar consumption is fueling the global epidemic of diabetes and that reducing that consumption is an essential step in controlling the rise of the disorder,” said Dr. Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, to the Los Angeles Times.

Based on his findings, Dr. Lustig said, manufacturers of sugary sodas can no longer claim that calories from their products don’t differ from those of other sources.

In an op-ed article written in response to the study, Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times, called for immediate action by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that should include re-evaluating the toxicity of sugar and removing fructose (the molecule that gives sugar its sweet taste) from the list of products the government considers safe to use.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group, has reportedly petitioned the FDA to revise safety limits for sugar consumption.

By contrast, the American Beverage Association (ABA) has rejected the conclusions drawn from the study. “This study does not show – or even attempt to show – that consuming sugar causes diabetes,” the trade group says in a statement on its website.

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

To Prevent Heart Disease, Follow a Mediterranean Lifestyle

February 27th, 2013 at 12:46 pm by timigustafson
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Southern Europeans are among the healthiest and longest living humans on the planet, according to studies on quality of life and longevity in different parts of the world. Considering the economic crisis that has taken hold of the region over the past few years, this seems almost a paradox. Experts have long suspected that good eating habits as well as a slower-paced lifestyle are largely responsible for these advantages.

A recently completed study from Spain has now confirmed some of these assumptions. It found that people who followed what is called the “Mediterranean diet” could lower their risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent.

As the name indicates, the Mediterranean diet is based on the culinary cultures of countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. It consists mainly of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, lean meats, whole grains, olive oil, nuts and also wine with most meals.

Even by comparison to Northern Europeans who have a similar or even higher standard of living, Southerners show overall lower rates of heart disease. One of the reasons for this may be that olive oil and nuts contain monounsaturated fats, which are more conducive to maintaining artery health than saturated fats in butter and lard, more commonly used in the north.

For the study, over 7,400 participants between the ages of 55 and 80 were assigned slightly different diet regimens. All were at an increased risk of developing heart disease at the outset of the study because of other illnesses such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure as well as weight problems, family history and poor lifestyle choices. Surprisingly, those who were given olive oil and a selection of nuts in addition to their regular food intake did best in improving their health condition.

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet seem also applicable to age-related mental health. In a separate study, researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York found that participants who followed the dietary guidelines most strictly could cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 40 percent. The reasons are similar to those for heart disease. Experts believe that uninhibited blood flow to the brain, enabled by good heart functions and unobstructed arteries, is crucial for the prevention of mental decline.

Of course, it would be naive to assume that dietary improvements alone would make us altogether healthier and let us live longer. For instance, to prevent heart disease, it is not only important to eat right but also to exercise regularly, manage stress, get enough sleep and also have loving relationships in one’s life. We affect our health not only by the way we eat but also how we behave, said Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California. It’s not just one thing that will make us well but a “spectrum program” of choices, as he calls his comprehensive approach to disease prevention and better health.

One of the most important aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle is having close ties with family and friends. Sharing meals, taking time for conversation, celebrating special occasions surrounded by loved ones – all of that contributes to people’s well-being.

“Study after study has shown that people who are lonely and depressed and isolated – and I think that’s a real epidemic in our culture – are three times more likely to get sick and die prematurely than those who have a sense of love and connection and community,” he said in an interview. “In part this is because when you are feeling lonely and depressed, you’re more likely to smoke, overeat, drink, work too hard, abuse yourself in different ways, as a way of just getting through the day.” In the end, he added, what matters most is your overall way of living.

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Obesity Must Be Addressed on Multiple Levels

February 24th, 2013 at 2:36 pm by timigustafson
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Obesity has grown into an alarming public health crisis, and there is no telling when or even whether we will be able to get this epidemic under control. Over two thirds of Americans now struggle with weight problems, and there is no consensus among the experts over the precise causes. Recommendations for countermeasures range from calls for more government involvement to greater responses from food manufacturers and restaurant operators to better health education of the public.

Recent legislation for the improvement of nutrition standards of school lunches and initiatives like “Let’s Move” to reduce childhood obesity have gotten some traction, but progress remains slow and uncertain, according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Overall, there is no significant change in the current trends, and so the battle for America’s health continues unabated. There is general agreement that more, much more needs to be done.

Demands for tougher regulation of industry and policies to influence the behavior of consumers have become louder in recent years, but we have not seen the results we had hoped for. In a recent op-ed articleNew York Times columnist Mark Bittman has faulted the current Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, for being “missing in action” in the fight against obesity, especially childhood obesity. On this issue, he writes, “Benjamin, like most of her predecessors, is virtually invisible.” Even with regards to seemingly straight forward measures like curbing children’s exposure to junk food via advertisements on TV or banning soda sales from school campuses, the government remains inexplicably passive. Instead, it still lays most of the blame at the feet of the victims by overemphasizing personal accountability.

Voluntary commitments by food manufacturers and restaurant operators have not produced much success either, despite of ample promises to show more cooperation by making food labels less confusing, offering healthier alternatives on fast food menus, or limiting exposure of kids to food advertisements.

But there is another aspect to this discussion that is often neglected. It is people’s real life experience that is not taken enough into account. By this I don’t mean to lend credence to oversimplifying statements that people are responsible for their own actions and should not blame others for their demise. Those who read my columns and blog posts know very well that I am a strong supporter of many of the measures Mr. Bittman and others are proposing.

Asking folks to make better nutritional choices makes no sense if they live miles and miles away from food outlets that carry fresh produce or in neighborhoods where getting physical exercise is difficult because of safety concerns and lack of public facilities like bike paths and parks. It is also futile to make dietary recommendations that completely ignore financial limits or access to health education.

But still, no matter what we will try from here on in terms of legislation and policy making, changing individual behavior will always play a predominant role. Eating habits are rarely just about food. They are also about stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, addiction, past traumatic experiences, and more. By exclusively focusing on the quality and quantity of our food supply, we will not be able to really understand these concerns and make them part of the equation, as they need to be. As they say, all politics are local. And all health issues are personal.

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Most Weight Gain Comes from Stress, Scientists Say

February 20th, 2013 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson
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People get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. At least that’s the most widely held explanation for the growing obesity crisis around the world. But it’s not that simple, says Dr. Achim Peters, a professor of neurology at the University of Lübeck in Germany and author of “The Selfish Brain – Why Our Brain Sabotages Dieting and Resists the Body” (Ullstein, 2011).

The worldwide obesity epidemic is in truth a stress epidemic, and unhealthy weight gain is just one of the ills that plague an increasingly stressed population trying to cope with the ever-growing demands of modern life, he says in an interview with the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” (2/9/2013).

In reality, weight issues are often rooted in socio-economic difficulties like job loss, poverty, rising food prices and other existential uncertainties, he says. It puts tremendous pressure on people. Stress-producing situations can be immensely damaging to our health, especially when they persist over long periods of time with no reprieve in sight.

Dr. Peters is best known for the “Selfish Brain Theory,” which he developed together with an interdisciplinary team of scientists over a decade ago when researching the origins of obesity. In essence, the theory describes how the brain takes care of its own needs first when regulating energy distribution throughout the body. It is “selfish” in the sense that it always wins out in any competition for energy resources, at the expense of all other organs if necessary.

In times of stress, the brain spends particularly high amounts of energy, which requires an increase in food intake. During acute stress situations, a rapid spike in energy demand is natural and not harmful. It is different when stress is prolonged. Then it can become a chronic state and as such quite dangerous.

To shed some light on these dynamics, it is important to understand our body’s hormonal responses to stress. Energy in the body is regulated and mobilized by a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol selects the right type and amount of energy to meet the body’s demands when responding to a particular situation. Cortisol is also responsible for mobilizing energy by tapping into the body’s fat stores and moving it to where it’s most needed, primarily in the brain.

Studies in animals and humans have shown that heightened secretion of cortisol is associated with increased appetite, especially for sugar. In cases of enduring stress, this can stimulate food consumption to the point of overeating with all the detrimental consequences we are so familiar with. Moreover, too much cortisol can slow the metabolism, causing more weight gain than would normally occur. It can also affect fat distribution. Fat in the stomach area is considered a greater health risk than when it’s stored around the hips and thighs.

Ultimately, we will not be able to address the obesity crisis effectively if we continue to ignore the effects of chronic stress on our hormonal system, says Dr. Peters. Asking people to diet and force themselves to lose weight through deprivation can only make things worse. The solution is to de-stress our lives. This doesn’t mean more yoga and meditating, although that can help too, but mostly better socio-economic security and, as a result, peace of mind for more people.

As a point in case he cites a study conducted by the University of Chicago that compared two groups of single mothers from low-income neighborhoods. One group of women was moved to a more upscale area with safer streets, greater job opportunities and better schools, the other was left in place. Within a few years, most of the women who had moved away showed considerable improvement in their health, especially in reduction of diabetes and obesity. As their stress lessened, their well-being increased on every level.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading Can’t Lose Weight? t Could Be Stress

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Less salt in our food supply could save at least half a million Americans from dying prematurely over the next ten years, according to separate studies conducted at three universities, two American and one Canadian. If the average daily salt intake were to drop to 1,500 milligrams, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the number of lives saved could more than double. All study results were published in the medical journal Hypertension, a publication of the American Heart Association (AHA).

Americans currently consume on average 3,600 milligrams of salt daily, mostly in form of sodium, widely used as an ingredient in processed foods. Sodium is considered a significant contributor to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke, all leading causes of death in the U.S. today.

About a third of American adults, or 68 million, suffer from high blood pressure, a.k.a. hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition was identified as a primary or contributing cause of nearly 350,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2008, the last time the CDC has updated its research on the subject.

Despite of these alarming statistics, there are currently no signs of improvement. Even better treatment has only shown mixed results. Less than half (46 percent) of high blood pressure patients have their condition under control, according to the CDC.

Because the salt content in processed food is already added before it reaches the consumer, there is little opportunity to make changes on an individual basis other than limiting one’s choices to fresh items like produce. This would also exclude many options in restaurants.

“Individuals can’t make this choice easily,” said Dr. Kirstin Bibbins-Domingo, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to ABC News. “So maybe we should find ways to work with the food industry,” she suggested.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative, a partnership started by the New York City Health Department that has expanded to nearly 100 city and state health organizations across the country, has been trying to get food manufacturers and restaurant operators to cut salt by 25 percent or more since 2008, the year of the organization’s inception. The current goal is to achieve a reduction of 20 percent by 2014.

Critics say that such measures are impractical and would make little difference. Public health advocates have been focusing on hypertension as if no other health threats existed, said Morton Satin, Vice President of science and research at the Salt Institute, a trade association for the salt industry, in response to the recent studies to ABC News. The association warns that low salt intake could produce its own set of health problems, especially for the elderly.

While most experts would agree that multiple factors can be responsible for the development of high blood pressure, including genetic predisposition, gender, age and other non-modifiable components, poor diet and lifestyle choices, which are modifiable and therefore preventable risk factors, usually play a much greater role. In a milestone conference on the connections between sodium intake and blood pressure, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the participating scientists concluded that “an abundance of scientific evidence indicates that higher sodium consumption is associated with higher levels of blood pressure, [as demonstrated in] animal studies, observational epidemiologic studies, and clinical studies and trials.” They were also hopeful that more effective strategies could be developed to improve diet and lifestyles patterns that benefit the larger population.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading: “Too Much Salt in Our Food Creates Serious Health Hazards.”

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Your Eating Habits May Keep You from Getting a Good Night’s Rest

February 13th, 2013 at 1:03 pm by timigustafson
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Do you feel permanently tired? Do you get less sleep than you would like? Do you have a hard time falling asleep at night? Is your sleep frequently interrupted? Do you wake up from a deep slumber when your alarm clock goes off? Are you still sleepy or groggy in the morning? Are you regularly exhausted in the afternoon or evening? If so, it may not only be your lifestyle but also your diet that wreaks havoc on your sleep.

Millions of Americans are chronically sleep deprived. For many there seems never enough time for rest, and it takes a toll on people’s health. One often-seen response to sleep deprivation is increased food consumption, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. While clinical research has long shown connections between sleeplessness and weight problems, a new study has found that eating habits also influence sleep in ways that were previously not considered.

Researchers from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania studied how various diet and sleep patterns correlate by evaluating self-reported data from a survey by the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES), involving thousands of participants.

According to the study’s findings, people who slept fewer hours also had different eating habits and food preferences than those who allowed themselves more rest. For instance, short sleepers (usually five to six hours per night) consumed more calories on average but had less variety in their food choices than normal (seven to eight hours) and long sleepers (nine or more hours). Long sleepers consumed the least amount of calories but had a less varied diet than normal sleepers.

The reasons for these differences are not altogether clear. Short sleepers may generally have less time to take care of their dietary needs, such as food shopping, cooking and taking breaks for meals. Normal and long sleepers may have a more leisurely lifestyle.

Prior studies on diet and sleep have primarily focused on how sleep, or lack thereof, influences eating habits. There is growing evidence that overeating and binge eating are frequently linked to sleep problems. One particular study showed that participants whose sleep was restricted for a specific period of time increased their food intake by up to 500 calories per day. Poor sleep made them vulnerable to overeating and weight gain over time, says Dr. Virend Somers, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study. Surprisingly, the additional waking hours did not allow them to burn more calories than their better-sleeping counterparts.

How exactly insufficient sleep leads to greater appetite is not yet fully understood. One possible explanation is that many important functions in the body are affected by sleep deprivation, including hormonal functions that regulate appetite and satiety. A reduction in the hormone leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone that is released by fat cells during the night, may be a cause. The hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, which responds to sleep restriction with increased secretion, may also play a role. Furthermore, lack of sleep can reduce sensitivity to insulin, thereby weakening blood sugar regulation and the ability to metabolize blood sugar.

Obviously, it is not always easy to make changes to one’s sleeping habits because of pressures from work, long commutes and other chores. Still, there can be room for improvement by setting priorities.

Here are some suggestions: Neither food nor drink, especially alcohol, should be consumed later than two hours before bedtime. A full stomach is not conducive to restful sleep. Caffeine may keep you awake. Late intake of liquids may have you go to the bathroom during the night.

There are also issues that are not diet-related. The final hours of the day should be spent with as little exposure to stimulating events as possible. That includes late night exercising, watching TV, dealing with e-mails or discussing controversial subjects.

Observing good sleep hygiene is equally as important. Setting the right temperature, dimming the lights and keeping the bedroom uncluttered are just a few examples.

Some changes will require experimentation. What matters most is that your actions as well as your environment help you getting the rest you need.

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). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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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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