Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Use of Pesticides Continues to Make Some Foods Unsafe for Consumption

April 28th, 2013 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson
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An apple a day used to keep the doctor away, at least according to folk wisdom. But not any more – unless it’s organically grown. Apples top the list of foods contaminated with pesticides, says the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental health research and advocacy organization, in its annual report called “The Dirty Dozen™.”

The listing of foods that may have toxic levels of pesticides is part of the group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce, which draws its data from tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Even after washing, more than two thirds of the tens of thousands of food samples tested by the agencies showed pesticide residues. The most contaminated fruits were apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches and imported nectarines. Among vegetables, the most contaminated were celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.

The contamination levels varied significantly between different foods. Potatoes had a higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop. A single grape tested for 15 different pesticides. So did sweet bell peppers.

Corn, which is widely used as an ingredient in processed foods, does not appear in the EWG’s guide because as such it’s no longer considered a fresh vegetable. Neither is soy. Still, concern over pesticide contamination should also include processed items.

In addition to its notorious “Dirty Dozen™” rating, the EWG also publishes a list of the least contaminated foods, called the “Clean Fifteen™.” These show the lowest levels of pesticide residues and are generally safe for consumption. They include pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapefruit, corn, onion, avocado, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, asparagus, eggplant, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

Pesticides have long been linked to a number of health concerns, particularly to developmental problems in young children. Some pesticides have been found to be carcinogenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There are currently about 350 different pesticides registered with the government and permitted for use on food crops. Among the most toxic ones are organophosphate, a potent neurotoxin that can adversely affect brain development in children, even at low doses; and organochlorine, a once widely used pesticide that is now officially banned but still persists in the environment and continues to pollute plant foods grown in contaminated soil.

Particularly disconcerting is that pesticides have been found in processed baby food. For example, green beans used for baby food tested positive for five pesticides, including organophosphate, and pears showed more than twice as many.

While there is only so much consumers can do to protect themselves and their loved ones against the exposure to pesticides and other toxins in their food supply, it is important to have the information available that allows for better-informed choices. Buying organically grown produce may be the best option, but it’s not affordable for everyone. Mixing both organic and regular foods can be a workable compromise, thereby avoiding the worst offenders and limiting the damage to your budget with the rest.

In addition, you may also want to visit your local farmers market once in a while. Ask the farmers about their farming methods and whether they use pesticides. Some small farms may not be certified “organic” because of the costs involved but still adhere to eco-friendly procedures.

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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).

Lifestyle-Related Ills Tend to Multiply with Age, Study Finds

April 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am by timigustafson
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Seniors who suffer from chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease often develop a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cognitive impairment like memory loss and dementia, according to a new study based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of hundreds of thousands of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities and found that most had at least one chronic health condition. What was more alarming, however, was that many had overlapping ailments. While high blood pressure and heart disease were most common, nearly half of the assisted-living residents showed signs of dementia.

“These findings suggest a vulnerable population with a high burden of functional and cognitive impairment,” the authors of the study report wrote.

Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Therefore it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems, he added.

But that may be easier said than done. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cythia M. Boyd, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to the New York Times. “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”

What makes things more complicated is that most doctors are not sufficiently trained in preventing or reducing lifestyle-related illnesses – not in the general public and certainly not in older patients – other than through medicating. For instance, the importance of nutrition as a part of preventive care is rarely ever mentioned in medical schools. The approximate time devoted to nutrition science over the first two years of medical education is six hours, which is clearly inadequate, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The same goes for other health-promoting measures such as exercise, especially for the aging population.

Yet many studies have provided compelling evidence that diet and exercise play a significant role for physical and mental health at any time in life but increasingly so as we age.

For example, a more recent study from Britain concluded that the so-called “Western diet,” which typically includes fried, sweet and processed foods, red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, increases the risk of chronic diseases, which in turn can adversely affect both physical and mental health in later years. Eating a Western diet makes it less likely to have an ideal aging process, says Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly, a researcher at the University College of London and lead author of the study report. Conversely, making dietary improvements can yield multiple benefits in this regard.

There is also further evidence that exercise can give a boost to the aging brain. Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that older women who suffered from mild cognitive impairment could improve their memory through weight training and brisk walking.

The connections between physical and mental decline may not yet be completely understood, but it seems clear that chronic diseases play a major role in the process. While these are widespread, the encouraging news is that many, if not all, are preventable by healthier lifestyle choices.

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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).

Testosterone Treatment for Older Men Shows Only Limited Benefits, Study Finds

April 21st, 2013 at 12:27 pm by timigustafson
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What is a guy to do when he starts feeling his age? What if he’s less energetic, less playful, less romantically inclined than he used to be? Should he accept it all as an inevitable part of life or should he fight back?

If you watch television at all, you cannot miss the onslaught of ads directed at male baby boomers who wonder where all their mojo has gone. Could it be low testosterone, “low T,” as the abbreviation goes? If so, the advertisers assert that hormone therapy, or more specifically testosterone replacement therapy, can do the trick.

Sales of prescription hormones have more than doubled since 2008, reaching $1.6 billion last year, not including supplements purchased over the counter, according to IMS Health, Inc., a company that analyzes healthcare-related data.

Men are bombarded by these advertising campaigns, urging them to ask their doctor about low testosterone, says Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, in an interview on the subject with WebMD. So they come complaining about feeling fatigued, weak, depressed and without sex drive, which are all common symptoms of a drop in testosterone.

Testosterone levels can be determined by a simple blood test. A normal testosterone range is between 300 and 1,200 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood. Less than 300 is considered low T.

In Dr. Mezitis’ estimation, about a quarter to a third of the patients he tests have levels below normal. But in most cases, the symptoms have other causes. While lower levels are to be expected with aging, he says, lower than normal scores can have a number of different reasons, including diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease.

Testosterone is a hormone responsible for a man’s libido, sperm production, and also for muscle and bone strength. A gradual decline in testosterone usually begins after the age of 30. Other health problems in addition to natural aging may accelerate the process.

Treatment for low T. comes in multiple forms, including injections, patches, pellets, tablets and gels.

Ideally, the goal would be to keep testosterone at levels consistent with those of a 25-year-old male. But hoping for that kind of rejuvenation may be a stretch.

A new study found that older men who used testosterone gels saw small improvements in their muscle-to-fat-ratio, but not too many noticeable benefits to their physical wellbeing in terms of energy, flexibility and endurance.

Based on these findings, it is not altogether clear what testosterone therapy can do in addition to physical exercise, said Dr. Kerry Hildreth of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, the lead author of the study in an interview with Reuters. The therapy may be “widely used in people where it really may not be appropriate or may not provide the benefits that people think it’s going to,” she added.

There are also concerns over side effects. Skin irritations such as acne and rashes as well as premature balding and breast development have been reported in cases of prolonged use of testosterone boosters. There are also risks of liver damage.

Besides the physiological effects, there can be a psychological impact as well. Mood swings, irritability and aggressive behavior have been noticed.

To maintain physical vigor at an advanced age, regular exercise, especially strength and endurance training, may still be the best way to go. As the study mentioned above showed, testosterone therapy brought few if any advantages beyond what could be achieved by exercising alone. In addition, I would advocate a healthy diet and stress management, both issues that grow in importance with aging.

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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 Makes Us Stray from Eating Right?

April 18th, 2013 at 11:15 am by timigustafson
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Part of our ongoing struggle with weight problems is that most of us eat without thinking, according to Brian Wansink, professor for marketing at Cornell University and author of the landmark book, “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam Books, 2006). “Distractions of all kinds make us eat, forget how much we eat, and extend how long we eat – even when we are not hungry,” he writes.

Although distractions are easy to come by in our busy lives, it doesn’t mean that we keep munching all day long without noticing, although for some that may be the case. Mostly, however, we tend to fall into the mindless eating trap when we are relaxing, for example on a vacation, over a nice dinner out, or when we get a little tipsy. That’s when our control mechanisms seem to break down the fastest.

“Vacations take us away from our regular routine,” says Lori Rice, a nutritionist and health and travel writer. “This is beneficial to our mental wellness because we experience new scenery and can rejuvenate ourselves, but it also can take us away from our healthy habits.”

Of course, you should allow for some splurges when you go on a holiday, but don’t use it as an excuse for getting completely off track, only to be sorry later on for the damage you’ve done to yourself, she advises.

Especially on cruises, vacationers tend to throw all caution to the wind. When the food you’ve already paid for is laid out so seductively, it can take considerable willpower to resist temptations. Seeing your fellow-travelers indulging with abandoned pleasure doesn’t help either.

But even the atmosphere in a simple eatery can lead to overeating. You don’t even have to like the food all that much. A nice ambience with candlelight and soft music can have you dig in more than you should, says Wansink who has conducted numerous experiments on people’s behavior in restaurants, from fast food joints to high-end establishments. We follow our expectations, he says. If we expect to have a good time, or it’s a special occasion, we will make the most of it. And that often means too much of a good thing.

Another factor is alcohol. As a recent study found out, most people eat more unhealthy foods on days they drink. When participants in the research had two or three alcoholic drinks with their meals, they consumed on average 100 to 200 more calories from food (not the drinks) than when they had none. The types of food they chose also changed. Both male and female participants ate about nine percent more fat when they drank alcohol.

The best way to counteract these tendencies is obviously to increase awareness. But instead of becoming your own party-pooper every time you are ready to let loose a bit, it might be more helpful to set a few parameters upfront.

For example, if weight gain is a regular occurrence when you are away from home, you may want to choose a kind of travel that challenges you to be more physically active and less exposed to culinary pleasures.

If you have a lot of time to kill at airports and hotels, be sure you don’t fall for convenience stands, vending machines and snack bars. Instead, bring some healthy snacks and lots of water, in case you need a quick energy boost or get dehydrated.

When it comes to alcohol consumption, you are the only one who can judge your responses. For some, there is a fine line between relaxing and becoming uninhibited or losing control. A lot of people also don’t know or don’t think about how many calories are in their drinks.

Perhaps a good way of keeping things together is to ask yourself: How do I want to feel when this is all over? Will it be an altogether great memory or will I have to deal with regrets and start over?

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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).

Spring Fever Season

April 13th, 2013 at 2:51 pm by timigustafson
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Do you feel energized, restless and impatient? You may have spring fever. Are you irritable, weary, listless and unable to concentrate? You may have spring fever. Or are you in a constant state of tiredness and exhaustion? It may be spring fever as well. Why so many different symptoms that even seem to contradict each other? It can be your body’s reaction to the changing seasons, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as the phenomenon is sometimes called.

During the winter months the body protects itself against lower temperatures and reduced sunlight by adjusting its metabolism and hormonal balance. Body temperature dropsblood pressure rises, and secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin increases, making us more sleepy. As the weather gets warmer and sunnier in the spring, the opposite happens: body temperature goes up, blood pressure goes down, and the feel-good hormone serotonin begins to dominate.

The problem is that the transitions between these different stages don’t always go smoothly. In any case, hormonal imbalances take place that can cause all sorts of physical and mental responses. Some experts say that spring fever or spring fatigue are a bit like having a “hangover” after a period of dormancy, perhaps a lighter version of what hibernating animals go through.

Because our experience of seasonal changes has become so much mitigated through artificial light and heating, our natural reactions may be even less predictable.

In addition, weather conditions can fluctuate to a larger degree in the spring than at any other time of the year. Global climate change may only intensify these variations. Extreme weather changes have become the new normal in recent years. 2012 had the warmest spring on record in the United States, with over five degrees above average. It also had some of the coldest winters months. As I write this article, temperatures at the east coast are approaching 90 degrees, while western states like Colorado report freezing conditions.

The effects of seasonal changes on the body’s equilibrium are stress-producing, says Karina Seizinger, a homeopath and yoga teacher who recommends taking a number of measures for the treatment of spring fatigue symptoms. Among them are eating a healthy, balanced diet consisting of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, exercising, exposing the body to sunlight and engaging in calming practices like yoga and meditation.

“First and foremost, just be aware, and know that your body is in a state of transition,” she emphasizes. “Be kind and patient with yourself, and give yourself some time to adjust.”

While feeling fatigued for some time due to seasonal changes is no cause for concern, chronic tiredness may have other roots. Feeling drained or exhausted from stress or lack of sleep can be a normal response. It can also be a sign of a more serious physical or mental condition that should be examined by a doctor.

Outside of that possibility, getting enough sleep, watching your diet, exercising, managing stress and avoiding alcohol, nicotine and drugs should get you back on track for the coming summer.

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

The Pros and Cons of Competitive Workouts

April 10th, 2013 at 3:10 pm by timigustafson
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I always enjoyed a competitive spirit. Throughout my life, I was convinced I could accomplish more when I was challenged by formidable rivals, both at work and sports. Playing in the streets of my childhood neighborhood in London taught me that. Only as I grew older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I gradually allowed myself to keep to my own pace, although I still welcome a good contest because it brings out the best in me.

So it naturally peeked my interest when I heard the other day about a gym opening in my neighborhood that offers competitive workouts. Actually, it is part of a chain called “CrossFit” with over 3,000 affiliations worldwide.

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that includes endurance training, weight lifting, gymnastics and other exercises. It is rigorous, to say the least. Originally designed for police and military training, CrossFit has developed an almost cult-like following.

According to the founder’s website, anybody can benefit from the training sessions, regardless of age or initial fitness level. There are also seminars and certifications for those who want to teach others. Even competitive CrossFit games are conducted annually to determine “the fittest human beings on earth.”

What sets CrossFit apart from other fitness regimens is mainly its intensity. The studio, or as followers call it, “the box,” in my area has an ominous slogan on its homepage that says, “You can rest when you’re dead.” Critics say that’s only half joking because participants are regularly driven to utter exhaustion.

Even that may be putting it too mildly. Injuries are to be expected when people constantly push themselves to (and sometimes over) the limit of what their bodies can tolerate. But there are reports of rhabdomyolysis (among fitness extremists also known as “rhabdo” or “uncle rhabdo”), an event where muscle fiber breaks down from overexertion, releasing protein myoglobin into the blood stream, which can lead to kidney damage and even kidney failure.

Regardless of warnings by health experts, extreme workout schedules such as CrossFit are becoming increasingly popular not just among athletes and fitness enthusiasts but also in today’s corporate culture.

“For us, CrossFit was a major teambuilding exercise,” said Jonathan Hefter, the C.E.O. of a New York City-based software startup company who expects all of his employees to partake in workout sessions at least three times a week. “If someone didn’t join in, it caused problems,” he revealed in an interview with the New York Times.

Proponents of corporate fitness programs agree that there are more than just physical health benefits to working out as a team. “If you can sweat and groan and moan with your co-workers you’ll have no problems working with them in a meeting,” said Karin Eisenmenger, a director of order management at Datalogix, a company in Colorado that specializes in data transactions, who was interviewed for the same article.

There is no doubt that employees should take advantage of corporate-sponsored health policies whenever they are offered to them. Things become more complicated when undue pressure is exercised to join in because it fosters the corporate culture and benefits the company in other ways.

Also, it does not always seem clear how closely monitored these workouts and how experienced trainers are. Critics warn that CrossFit, for example, certifies trainers after just one short introductory seminar, which entitles them to start their own gym and train as many members as they want. Every month, the company says, it receives 150 applications for affiliation with new gyms, or about five a day. (At its peak expansion, Starbucks opened an average of six stores per day). That’s a lot of new “boxes” opening up. It can’t be easy to ensure they all play by the rules. But then, competition is what these guys are looking for.

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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).

Healthcare Costs for Alzheimer’s Disease Will Top All Others, Study Predicts

April 6th, 2013 at 5:11 pm by timigustafson
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One of the most feared health problems the aging Baby Boomer generation will face is dementia. And it won’t just affect those suffering from mental decline but also those who care for them and society at large, at least in financial terms.

A new study predicts that healthcare costs in connection with age-related dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, will soon surpass almost all other medical expenses, including for heart disease and cancer, two of today’s leading causes of death.

The study, which was conducted by economists at the RAND Corporation and sponsored by the federal government, found that expenditures for dementia patients will at least double by 2040.

3.8 million Americans age 71 and older are now diagnosed with some form of age-related cognitive decline. In another generation, the researchers say, there will be over 9 million.

Direct healthcare costs, including nursing home care, per dementia patient run currently between $41,000 and $56,000 a year. Total expenses in the United States in 2010, the year the study collected its data, ranged from $159 billion to 215 billion. It is projected that these numbers will increase to well over $500 billion annually by mid-century.

Not included in these calculations are the costs of what is considered “informal care,” which is usually provided by family members and voluntary caregivers. It is hard to put a price tag on their efforts, but the study estimates a total of $50 billion to $106 billion spent per year.

“The long-term care costs associated with people with dementia are particularly high because of the nature of the disease,” said Donald Moulds, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in an interview with the New York Times. “People eventually become incapable of caring for themselves, and then in the vast majority of cases, their loved ones become incapable of caring for them.”

So far, there is no cure or effective treatment for dementia. However, there are numerous studies suggesting that certain preventive measures may be helpful, at least in terms of delaying or slowing the debilitating effects.

For instance, certain health and lifestyle factors associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease can be controlled, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists are exploring whether prevention strategies like physical exercise, diet and intellectual stimulation can counteract deterioration. Controlling body weight and blood pressure are among the most common recommendations experts give in this regard. Also, keeping the brain engaged by constant learning and participating in a lively social environment are thought to be helpful.

Unfortunately, most of this is guesswork. The truth is that we don’t know why dementia is so dramatically on the rise. Is the reason that we live longer, that we eat the wrong foods, that we exercise too little, that we watch too much TV, that we find ourselves increasingly isolated as we grow older – all of the above and more? We don’t know.

Still, we cannot sit idly and ignore the facts. In any case, adherence to a healthy lifestyle will do no harm. We may not find out the specific causes, if there are any, and there may not be an effective treatment available for the foreseeable future.

But in the meantime, we can and should do everything in our power to stay as healthy and active as possible for as long as we can. A good way of going about that is to satisfy all our health needs in every aspect by eating right, exercising regularly, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, nursing relationships, reading books, learning foreign languages and computer programs and so forth. Not one but all of these together make for what I have called the “pillars of our wellbeing.” Until there are better options, that’s all we can do, and that’s not nothing.

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 FacebookTwitter and Pinterest

Pillars of Wellbeing

April 3rd, 2013 at 10:51 am by timigustafson
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I practice a special kind of meditation on an almost daily basis. Perhaps meditation isn’t the right word since it doesn’t require me to sit in silence with my eyes closed and legs crossed or anything like that. It’s more a form of taking stock of where my life is going at any particular time.

For this, I have five issues to consider: my physical health, my diet, my emotional state, my intellectual rigor and my social/relational life. These I think of as the pillars of my wellbeing. Each one matters greatly by itself, but each must also be in balance with all the others. If one goes missing, the rest will suffer as well.

Let me give an example. When I injured my shoulder in a tennis game a few years ago, I realized how much was taken away from me, not just because I had to give up playing for a while but also because a dear routine was interrupted with all sorts of consequences.

During my prolonged absence from the court, I lost my tennis buddies whose comradeship I had enjoyed tremendously. One of them, a university professor and a true intellectual, had not only been a great partner in doubles but also a stimulating presence in my life that gave me many insights in a vast variety of subjects. Due to the reduced physical activity, I felt less energetic and not as motivated in my work. And I had to watch my diet more carefully to prevent unwanted weight gain.

Needless to say, I was saddened about losing a part of my life that was more important to me than I had been aware of. In fact, it made me miserable for quite some time.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said: “Health is not everything, but without it, nothing is anything.” I am a great believer in that. I know now that my physical health is the foundation of what I can do in life, whether it concerns work or leisurely activities. It also affects my state of mind, my interest and participation in the world around me, and my ability to relate to others. And it works both ways: The happier I am, the more fulfilled I feel, the easier it seems to stay healthy and fit.

Obviously, my little meditational routine is nothing original. If you are interested in taking up this kind of exercise, I can recommend using the so-called “Wellness Wheel”, which follows a similar pattern. As the name indicates, the different components of wellness relate to each other like spokes in a wheel. Each is necessary to hold the whole thing together, none is expendable.

Wellness Wheel

Good nutrition, regular exercise, weight management as well as avoidance of smoking and alcohol and drug abuse are at the core. But so are stress management and getting enough sleep. Our emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs must be cared for. Having goals, a sense of purpose and satisfaction and fulfillment in what we do are all part of it, just like having good relationships with loved ones, colleagues and community.

Not all areas will always be at peak performance. And that’s not even necessary. We can focus on work and put our social life on the backburner for some time. We can take a break from our exercise routine for a day or two and make up for the missed time on the weekend. We can overindulge for a special occasion and then go right back to a healthy diet afterwards. What we can’t do is neglecting or sacrificing entire segments of our wellbeing because, sooner or later, it will affect the whole person.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment” and “Healthy Eating – A Never-Ending Learning Curve.”

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, on Facebook and on Pinterest.

Why Eggs for Easter?

March 29th, 2013 at 12:30 pm by timigustafson
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I clearly remember a scene when my then two-year-old granddaughter participated in her first Easter egg hunt. We were invited to the home of a friend whose beautiful garden offered endless hiding opportunities for treats. My granddaughter had never been to such an event and was a little overwhelmed by the dozens of fellow-toddlers with parents in tow, all competing for the best treasures.

Every time she detected a colored egg, or a chocolate bunny, or whatever else the hostess had hidden behind grass bushels and tree trunks, she shrieked with delight. It was up to her father, my son, to collect all her findings and keep them safely stored in a hand basket given to him for the occasion. To ensure there was enough for everyone, he every so often put some of the growing bounty back in the grass only to be picked up by the child for a second time with undiminished joy. She had no idea she was having déjà vu experiences.

Only afterwards she asked me why she had gotten so many eggs. Because it’s Easter, I said. On Easter people like to eat eggs. Oblivious to the historical roots of Easter egg hunting, I hoped she wouldn’t want me to go into further detail. I was mistaken. She was at the age when everything had to have a specific reason for its existence. Why eggs? Why are they hidden in the grass? Who put them there? – she demanded to know.

I didn’t want to lie to my own grandchild, not in such important matters anyway, so I did some research. Here, in a nutshell, is what I found out. Mind you, this is the adult version.

Although Easter is a Christian holiday, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, many of its traditions predate Christianity. Even the name goes back to pre-Christian beliefs when early Saxons celebrated an annual feast in honor of the goddess Eostre on Equinox, around March 21. She was depicted holding a spring hare, symbolizing fertility and the return of life after the cold winter months – perhaps a precursor of today’s Easter bunny.

The Easter egg has similar pagan roots. Many cultures around the world have long regarded the egg as a symbol for life and fertility. Engraved and decorated ostrich eggs found in Africa date back thousands of years. The early Christian communities adopted the custom of painting eggs, usually in bright red, as a reminder that the blood of Jesus was shed on the cross for them. Over the following centuries, the evolving Christian church often made use of symbols, rituals and festivities of other traditions and incorporated them as its own.

Some of those had important practical implications. For instance, during lent (also a tradition shared among many cultures and religions), believers were required to abstain from most animal products, including dairy. Eating eggs on Easter then also signaled the end of the fasting period.

Our contemporary ways of celebrating the Easter holiday is also a hodgepodge of customs and practices. Easter egg hunts and egg rolling were brought here by European immigrants. The idea of hiding eggs for children to hunt after is similar to a component of Seder, the Jewish Passover ritual, where a piece of matza bread is hidden by the head of the household and searched for by other family members.

Obviously, my granddaughter would not have known what to make of all these complex explanations at the time. But what intrigued me in my research was that although many of these traditions have become more or less opaque over time, they still have not lost their appeal entirely.

For example, I was struck by how important the time of lent must have been for our forbearers who had to carve out a living off their land and by their hard labor. Unlike for us, for many of them it was not merely a voluntary act of self-deprivation but also a necessity when food supplies ran low. Easter then was the end of a worrisome time and the beginning of a new season when all life returned – a resurrection, if you will. I’m sure, no matter what this holiday means to us now, we all can relate to that to some extent. Happy Easter.

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, on Facebook and on Pinterest.

Feeding Solid Foods Too Early May Cause Nutritional Problems Later in Life

March 27th, 2013 at 11:07 am by timigustafson
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Nearly half of all newborns in the United States are introduced too soon to solid foods, causing them digestive problems and nutritional deficiencies that can have lasting health effects as they grow older.

According to a recently published study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 percent of interviewed mothers said they gave their babies solid food before they were four months old. Nine percent started as early as four weeks.

Pediatricians recommend that infants should be given nothing but breast milk or, if that is not an option, baby formula or a combination of both at least until the age of six months.

The researchers found that many young parents were either unaware of these guidelines or found them hard to follow, often for financial reasons. Those who turned to solid foods too early were primarily young, less educated and single mothers, according to the study.

Expenses for baby formula can be quite high, between $50 and $100 for the first month and between $1,138 and $1,188 for the first year, according to one cost calculator. Many low-income families cannot easily afford them, especially when there are other children at different growing stages.

Still, nothing good can come from feeding babies food they cannot handle yet, said Dr. T. J. Gold, a pediatrician at Tribeca Pediatrics in Brooklyn in an interview with the New York Times. Before they can sit and hold their heads up without help, it can be difficult if not outright dangerous to put solid food in their mouths. They also don’t have the right gut bacteria for digesting it yet, which can lead to gastroenteritis and diarrhea and interfere with proper nutrient absorption. Long-term problems can include obesity, diabetes, eczema and celiac disease, he added.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), formerly the American Dietetic Association (ADA), recommends breastfeeding as an “important public health strategy for improving infant and child morbidity and mortality.” In a position statement, the AND says it regards exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and breastfeeding with complementary foods from six months until at least one year of age as the ideal feeding pattern for infants.

What makes breast milk the ideal source of nutrition for newborns is that it offers a good balance of important nutrients that are easily digestible. Moreover, the mother’s milk changes its composition over time to fit the changing needs of her growing child.

There are also important benefits from breastfeeding for the health of the mother, including bonding with the child, increased energy expenditure, leading to faster return to pre-pregnancy weight, decreased risk for postpartum depression and improvement of parenting skills, among others.

The AND advocates a number of measures for the promotion of breastfeeding, including professional counseling for pregnant and postpartum women and their families as well as public policy changes and legislation that favors and facilitates breastfeeding.

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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