Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Is Eating Alone Becoming the Norm?

November 7th, 2012 at 7:11 am by timigustafson
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It’s a familiar picture: People eating while talking on the phone, reading e-mails, staring at computer screens, hurrying from appointment to appointment. Our hectic lifestyles rarely allow for lunch breaks exclusively dedicated to nourishment or sit-down dinners to reconnect with loved ones.

Nearly half of all adults in America now eat most of their meals alone, according to a new survey by the Hartman Group, a marketing research firm that specializes in consumer culture. “In fact, 46 percent of all adults eating occasions happen alone, with nobody else present; 40 percent of all adult meals (not just snacks) are eaten alone; and 51 percent of all adult snacking is done alone,” it says in the report.

The changes in eating habits are most obvious in the workplace where long, uninterrupted working hours have become the norm rather than the exception. But also hard-to-coordinate family schedules are impacting the way we used to have our meals at home, says Laurie Demeritt, the Hartman Group’s president.

Although it’s now more common than ever, the trend toward eating solo began a long time ago. As women joined the workforce in great numbers after World War II, preparing elaborate meals at home became less attractive, even as modern kitchen appliances eased the task. The ability to eat out or pick up frozen dinners offered much-welcomed relief.

Today, we have what Demeritt calls the “snackification of meals,” where frequent eating of snack items and smaller dishes has taken the place of the traditional three-meals-a-day pattern. Consumers are looking for flexible meal schedules that fit their demanding lifestyles. Oftentimes, this is only feasible when they eat by themselves.

While eating without company is not necessarily a bad thing and can from time to time be quite enjoyable, there are certain downsides. When you’re all by yourself, nobody will judge you, your table manners, your food choices or your portion sizes. You can focus on your meal or do a thousand other things at the same time. But that’s where it can get tricky, according to Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam, 2006). If you are not paying attention or there is no one else to give you any cues about your eating behavior, you may end up overdoing it – and gain weight in the process, he says.

To be sure, not all snacking, even if it occurs frequently, is automatically unhealthy. The trick is to stay away from the salty, sugary and highly processed items that unfortunately dominate the snack food sections from supermarkets to gas stations. And as with all foods, moderation is key.

And what about the social interactions solitary eaters miss out on? “Some of us love eating alone,” says Diane Shipley who writes for the British paper, The Guardian. Eating alone should not make you feel awkward, not even as a women going on her own to a bar or a restaurant or when travelling, she says. “Spending time with someone whom you have little in common with can feel far more alienating than being alone.”

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “Despite of the Obesity Crisis, the Eating Habits of Most Americans Remain Unchanged.”

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Chronic Malnutrition May Cause Dire Consequences Later in Life

November 4th, 2012 at 1:09 pm by timigustafson
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Large parts of the American population are diagnosed as overfed but malnourished, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s called the obesity paradox. While we have easy access to calorie-dense, highly processed foods, a balanced, nutritious diet is much harder to come by.

“The mistake is to think that if you eat an abundance of calories, your diet automatically delivers all the nutrients your body needs,” says Dr. Mark Hyman, author of “The Blood Sugar Solution” (Little, Brown & Co., 2012). “The problem is that the Standard American Diet (SAD) is energy dense (too many calories) but nutrient poor (not enough vitamins and minerals).” As a result, “Americans are suffering from massive nutritional deficiencies,” Hyman adds.

For years and years consumers were told by the food industry that it really doesn’t matter where calories come from. “A calorie is a calorie” is an often-heard mantra. Not so, says Dr. David Ludwig of Boston’s Children Hospital. In his studies, he found that from a metabolic perspective, all calories are not alike. Wholesome, nutrient-rich foods offer innumerous health benefits their high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt, highly processed and refined counterparts cannot match.

New research suggests that the adverse consequences of malnutrition due to calorie-dense but nutrient-poor diets become even more evident as we age. One study from Sweden concluded that the “consumption of fat laden foods can have huge implications for the risk of malnourishment in older age.” Participants in the study who had the highest fat intake during middle age showed the greatest risk of malnutrition as seniors.

Many of the symptoms of malnutrition worsen when people reach an age where they become more frail and vulnerable to diseases. These are not isolated instances. Surveys have found that about 25 percent of Americans age 65 and older suffer from some degree of malnutrition. Common results are unhealthy weight loss and diminishing muscle strength, weakening of the immune system as well as declining mental health.

Malnutrition also becomes of greater concern with age because of changes in body composition, according to studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As muscle mass decreases, the percentage of body fat often rises, therefore elevating the risk of stroke, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

Involuntary loss of weight caused by dietary deficiencies may lead to negative energy balances. Low energy may be compounded by loss of appetite or inability to maintain a healthy diet regimen.

Other risk contributors can be a diminishing sense of smell and taste, gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. malabsorption), interactions with medications, physical disability and other inhibiting factors. Psychological components like suffering from social isolation, depression, bereavement and anxiety can make things worse. Lifestyle issues such as lack of knowledge about food, cooking and nutrition facts, reduced mobility and financial constraints may also play a role.

The key to prevention or treatment of malnutrition is early diagnosis and appropriate countermeasures, including adherence to sound dietary guidelines and regular physical exercise for muscle strength and enhancement of metabolic health. Implementing these cannot start too soon but is also never too late.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “How Malnutrition Causes Obesity.”

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Enhancing the Quality of Life Wherever We Can

October 31st, 2012 at 12:45 pm by timigustafson
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For the longest time, there has been nothing but bad news coming from Greece: An economy in complete shambles, high unemployment, drastic tax hikes and cutbacks in social services, unrest in the streets, a society at the brink of collapse. And yet it is precisely in this region where people seem to live longer, healthier lives than about anywhere else on the planet. What’s their secret?

Based on years of research, Dan Buettner, best-selling author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons in Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” (National Geographic Society, 2008), and two of his colleagues found that the inhabitants of the Greek island of Ikaria were reaching the age of 90 at two and a half times the rate Americans do.

“Ikarian men in particular are nearly four times as likely as their American counterparts to reach 90, often in better health. But more than that, they were also living about 8 to 10 years longer before succumbing to cancers and cardiovascular disease, and they suffered less depression and about a quarter the rate of dementia.” By contrast, Buettner says, almost half of American seniors show signs of Alzheimer’s by the age of 85.

Despite of its remoteness and rugged, mountainous landscape, the island has been known for centuries for its health-promoting climate and soothing hot springs. A slow-pace, leisurely lifestyle is still prevalent among the people here who savor tasty meals and long afternoon naps. Time seems to stand still – most villagers don’t even wear watches.

Many of the young people who once left the island in search of better paying jobs in the cities have returned, disillusioned with their fading prospects. Because of high unemployment rates, some have no choice but to move back in with parents and grandparents, but others see the lifestyle of their forbearers as a viable alternative.

Besides tourism, small-scale agriculture is the only industry on Ikaria. When it comes to food supply, most families are self-sufficient. Gardening and tending to livestock fills the day that starts late in the morning and ends with dining and socializing with family, neighbors and friends.

The latter is as crucial as the diet the Ikarians adhere to. The social structures might turn out to be even more important, says Buettner. The cultural attitude that honors and celebrates old age keeps seniors more engaged in their communities. Studies have shown that the concept of retirement, common in industrialized countries, actually reduces life expectancy. Such “artificial punctuations” in life, as he calls it, deprive retirees unnecessarily of a sense of purpose and meaningful existence.

Another puzzling phenomenon is that Ikarians also live longer than other islanders in the region who share a comparable environment. Obviously it’s not one specific thing that sets these people apart, says Buettner, but rather a host of “subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work” such as a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, lack of stress and time pressure, daily physical activity through walking and manual labor, and being part of a functional community. In other words, it’s the high quality of life that results in the extraordinary longevity.

Obviously, not everyone can move to an idyllic island and grow vegetables, milk goats, bake bread and snooze the afternoon away. But what we all can do is to stop once in a while and consider whether our days really have to be as hectic and exhausting as they often are. Perhaps we would be better off if we took regularly inventory and separated what’s necessary from what just crept in on us.

We don’t have to aim at living forever. Longevity itself doesn’t have to be the primary goal. Being around a few years longer is not worth the effort if we’re only getting more of the same. A better quality of life, on the other hand, is something we can always strive for at any time and anywhere.

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment

October 28th, 2012 at 12:48 pm by timigustafson
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More and more companies are enrolling their workforce in health and wellness programs to cut staggering health care costs, reduce absenteeism and foster productivity as well as morale and loyalty, according to several studies on recent changes in employer-based health care policies. There is a fast growing interest in taking preventive measures such as promoting weight control, physical activity and cessation of tobacco use, not only among big corporations but also small and mid-size businesses.

Lifestyle-related (and therefore preventable) illnesses make up approximately 80 percent of the burden of health care costs for companies and 90 percent of all health care costs, according to one study.

Health and wellness incentives have long been considered a luxury only large corporations can afford, not a strategic imperative for all businesses to keep ever-increasing health care costs at bay, say the authors of a study published in the Harvard Business Review. That view is rapidly changing.

There is no shortage of examples where investments in employees’ social, mental and physical health has paid off. For instance, Johnson & Johnson has estimated that their wellness program, which started out in 1995, saved the company about $250 million in health care costs over a decade, according to the report.

Despite of these encouraging case studies, many wellness programs continue to evolve and companies are still trying to figure out exactly how or if their initiatives affect their bottom line, according to analyses by business insurance companies.

To be sure, not all employees welcome these programs in their place of work. Sometimes additional incentives such as reductions in premiums and co-payments and other cash bonuses are needed to get them to join.

A few employers have begun requiring health risk assessments and biometric screening for their workers to qualify for health care coverage, a step some may consider an undue intrusion in their private affairs.

Experts warn against an antagonistic climate around the issue of health in the workplace. Employers should design their policies and programs around the needs of their employees, advises Judith A. Monroe, MD, State Health Commissioner of Indiana. If there are a number of smokers in a company, offering cessation counseling may be important. If weight problems are of concern, access to exercise and nutrition programs could be provided.

“One of the components that is key to the overall success of wellness programs is the development of a culture of health within the organization,” says Dr. Steven Noelder, a consultant with Total Health Management in Newport Beach, California. “Not only do you need top-down support, you also need support at the grassroots level.” In other words, only when everyone feels that the measures taken are in his or her own best interest can health and wellness programs produce the desired outcome and make a difference for the better.

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Did I Gain Weight?

October 24th, 2012 at 4:27 pm by timigustafson
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Many Americans find it hard to judge whether they are successfully managing their weight or not. Despite of increasing awareness of the obesity crisis in this country and around the world, most people don’t see themselves as being affected by weight issues. What’s more, misperceptions – some call it denial – about weight changes are widespread, according to a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

“If people aren’t in touch with their weight and changes in their weight over time, they might not be motivated to lose weight,” says Dr. Catherine Wetmore, a former Fellow at IHME and now a biostatistician at Children’s National Medical Center, who is the lead author of the study report.

For the study, Dr. Wetmore and her colleagues compared self-reported changes in body weight between 2008 and 2009 by using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), an annual survey that was designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track health and lifestyle indicators in American adults. The survey included data from almost 400,000 participants in both years.

Based on their self-reporting, most participants actually gained weight between the 2008 and 2009 surveys but were not aware of it or even thought they had slimmed down a bit, although they hadn’t.

There may be many reasons why people misjudge their weight. It’s not always the case that they deliberately lie or live in denial. “It may be related to optimism or vanity or a real lack of awareness,” says Dr. Wetmore.

According to her findings, women seem more in tune with their body weight than men, and younger adults also do a better job than older ones.

Still, she calls the study results “surprising and alarming.” Self-awareness of one’s body weight is an important factor in the fight against the obesity epidemic, she said in an interview with WebMD.

Misperceptions and denial are also common among those who are already overweight or obese. This is particularly unfortunate because other health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure often occur in connection with weight gain and can remain undiagnosed and untreated until it’s too late.

For some people accepting their unhealthy weight and not doing anything about is an option they think they can live with. Also, as a society we are increasingly becoming accustomed to obesity and are beginning to see it as an unfortunate but unavoidable part of modern life. According to another recently published study, the number of severely or morbidly obese people (with a BMI of over 40) in the U.S. has increased by a whopping 70 percent over the last decade, making it the fastest growing segment of Americans with weight problems.

As a result, there are many more folks who suffer from weight-related disabilities to the point where they cannot live productive lives anymore. “People may basically be forced into retirement because they can’t work,” says Dr. Roland Sturm, an economist at the RAND Corporation and leader of the study.

Experts estimate that treatment of obesity and related illnesses add annually close to $200 billion to health care costs in the U.S. It is self-evident that these trends are not sustainable.

Obviously, there are no simple solutions and well-meaning measures like curbing soda consumption through taxes and limiting serving sizes, or posting calorie counts in restaurants can only scratch the surface, if that. But something needs to happen and soon. What comes to mind is a song by the late Michael Jackson: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Remembering Harvest Season

October 21st, 2012 at 7:04 am by timigustafson
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Although I grew up as a city girl, a memorable period of my childhood was spent in the English countryside. Of those days, I recall most fondly the harvest season. Because the local farmers couldn’t handle the workload by themselves (we are talking agriculture before heavy machinery came into use), all able bodies in the nearby villages, including young children, were enlisted to bring in the crops.

Harvesting then was a race against time and we all had a sense of urgency. Having enough food to get us safely through the winter was not to be taken for granted. Relying on imports from far-flung places around the world was not an option. “Locally grown” was not a slogan back then, it was all we had available to us.

Having successful harvests is a major concern in all societies, including ours. ‘Thanksgiving’ is one of our most celebrated holidays. Harvest festivals of all sorts are observed around the globe and they have a similar meaning, namely to commemorate the fact that survival is not guaranteed but depends on hard work as well as the cooperation of forces beyond our control. In a way, as joyful an event as it may be, this should be a rather humbling experience. It shows us that we are ultimately not in command of our fate, at least not at all times and in every regard.

When news broke last summer that record heat waves were devastating crops all over the country, dramatic increases in food prices were announced almost immediately. That put families on already tight food budgets further at risk of malnutrition and diet-related diseases. Widespread hunger, in the past only considered a persistent problem in developing countries, is becoming a reality here as well.

It is also a sad fact that hunger and obesity often go together, especially among poor children. The most affordable foods are typically highly processed and laden with refined carbohydrates, fat, salt and sugar, all ingredients known to cause weight gain while offering little nutritional value.

Buying locally grown fresh foods can offer a better alternative for everyone, including low-income families. “By focusing your diet on products grown and raised within 100 miles of your home, you will likely end up eating more fruits and vegetables as well,” says Tara Parker-Pope, a health and nutrition writer and frequent contributor to the New York Times/Well blog. She recommends that consumers shop as often as possible at local farmers markets, not only because of the higher food quality at lower cost but also to support food producers who practice more sustainable farming methods.

People need to understand that processed, pre-packaged foods like fast foods and frozen dinners may be convenient and readily available throughout the year, regardless of season or choice of ingredients – but they come at a steep price that is not reflected at the drive-through or checkout counter. To comprehend the real costs of our modern eating styles, we also have to consider the heavy dependency on fossil fuels for fertilizers and pesticides as well as long-distance transportation and refrigeration.

For these reasons and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend making buying locally grown and harvested foods a priority in every household. Eating nearby grown produce is not only healthier, according to the agency, it also helps the environment and climate by reducing the amounts of energy it takes to put dinner on the table.

So, when you and your loved ones get together this coming Thanksgiving to count your blessings, why not discuss some ideas how you can personally make a few smart diet and lifestyle changes. They eventually may add up to significant differences for both you and the world around you.

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

A Better Deal?

October 17th, 2012 at 2:43 pm by timigustafson
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I used to have a lot of memberships. Price Club, Costco, Sam’s Club, you name it. Living in the suburbs more than 20 miles away from the next major city, it made sense to buy in bulk and save money. As a family with growing teenagers (and many of their friends as regular house guests) plus three big dogs, we went through mountains of supplies in no time. So there seemed nothing wrong with stockpiling everything from toiletries to hardware goods to frozen foods to snacks. Making fewer shopping trips also helped to keep gas expenses down.

Of course, there were added costs for storage, especially for perishable items that needed refrigeration. A larger fridge and an additional freezer in the garage left their mark on the electricity bill, but still, we thought it was worth it.

What began to concern me more, especially as the kids went off to college and our needs for provisions lessened, was that our shopping habits had become so ingrained that we still tried for the “best deals,” even if it meant overstocking on items we didn’t really need, at least not right away and in such large quantities. Fortunately, we were not “hoarders” by nature and made soon the necessary adjustments. But it became clear to me how seductive the whole concept of “the more you buy, the more you save” really is.

The ability to buy in bulk, as smart as it may be as a strategy for some people and in certain situations, has been shown as a leading contributor to overconsumption that is now all too common in our society. “Overconsumption is as American as apple pie,” says a consumer report by Investopedia, a finance and investment advisory group, calling it a source of many negative financial and health consequences.

“More pressing than the financial problem is what increased consumption does to you and your family’s health,” warns the report. “While using extra shampoo doesn’t exactly harm the environment in a way that is immediately noticeable, consuming more mayonnaise, peanut butter, cereal, frozen meals and other popular items available at the bulk stores will almost certainly affect your health in a way that you will be able to see in a full-length mirror.”

Dr. Lisa Young, a professor of nutrition at New York University and author of “The Portion Teller“, agrees with that assessment. Psychologically, she says, wholesale clubs like Costco compel members to buy more to recoup their membership fees and for the obvious reason of saving money in the long run. It encourages increase in consumption, which may be harmless with items like toilet paper but not a good idea when it comes to food. “The more you buy, the more you eat,” she says.

Some would argue that this shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion. Why would having a well-stocked refrigerator or pantry make us overeat, just because the food is there? Because it is much harder to judge our consumption volume than our food choices, says Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University and author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam Books 2006). In other words, even if we have the best intentions to eat more healthily, whether we get the servings right is still another matter.

Our consumption volume – how much food we actually eat – depends on many factors other than the need to still our hunger, Wansink argues. Package size, plate shape and a variety of other outside influences like lighting, sounds, social settings and many more environmental components play a significant role in our eating behavior, many of which affect us on a subconscious level.

Especially package and portion sizes can have a considerable impact. Container sizes can influence our consumption of snack foods like chips and popcorn or inedible products like shampoo and detergent. Stockpiled items are typically used up much faster than those in smaller supply. It’s just how we relate to the things we have at our disposal.

Can we counteract these trends that seem to be all too human? Sure we can, says Dr. Wansink. What’s important is to alter the environment in which detrimental behavior can take place. For some, this can mean to stay away from bulk purchases altogether. For others, solutions can be as simple as repackaging bulk food into single serving containers or plating more modest amounts. As people become increasingly aware of their existing tendencies, they can find ways to work around them until new (and better) habits form.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “Weight Management – Not Just a Matter of Self-Control.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

For Maximum Diet and Exercise Benefits, Timing Is Everything

October 14th, 2012 at 1:38 pm by timigustafson
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Diet and exercise are the two main pillars of a healthy lifestyle. For both weight management and physical fitness, they are equally important and go hand in hand. But how do they relate to one another? Scientists suggest that coordinating your eating and workout schedules can improve results.

Our busy lives make it oftentimes hard, if not impossible, to maintain a health-promoting regimen. We eat at different times, skip meals, snack in between, work out irregularly. While flexibility can be both a necessity as well as a virtue, keeping to a schedule has advantages that are hard to substitute.

“Every organ has a clock,” said Dr. Satchidananda Panda, a researcher at Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. “That means there are times that our livers, intestines, muscles and other organs work at peak efficiency, and other times when they are – more or less – sleeping.”

Lab tests showed that when mice were allowed to eat any time they wanted, they soon gained weight. But others who had access to food for only eight hours a day did not, although they consumed roughly the same amounts. “Metabolic cycles are critical for processes such as cholesterol breakdown, and they should be turned on when we eat and turned off when we don’t,” Dr. Panda said in an interview with MSNBC Today/Health. Squeezing in quick bites or snacking throughout the day and at night can throw off these normal metabolic cycles, he warned.

What about exercise? While there is no ideal time for running or lifting weights – early risers may prefer the wee hours before the day starts, night owls may put it last on their to-do-list – there is the question of how to maximize the benefits.

For those who aim for weight loss, it can be important to coordinate their food intake, both in terms of quality and quantity, with their work-out schedule. Studies have suggested that intense physical activity like running, swimming or bicycling on an empty stomach can increase fat burn and therefore promote weight loss.

Other experts, however, caution against pre-exercise fasting. They say running on empty may help you get rid of fat faster, but you won’t have enough energy for a more rigorous training. “If you have a long, hard run without breakfast once a week, that hard run will train you to burn fat,” said Dr. Ron Maughan, a sport science professor at Loughborough University in Great Britain. For the rest of the week, however, he recommends eating plenty of carbohydrates, provided you can keep exercising. Also, if you allow your body to become too depleted, you may be tempted to overeat afterwards, thereby undoing all your good efforts.

“People often skip pre-exercise meals due to lack of time or not knowing what to eat,” said Manuel Villacorta, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics. He recommends consuming appropriate amounts of carbohydrates and protein to keep you fueled and give you energy and a steady stomach. But be careful: “Even the best foods can come back to haunt you mid-workout if not allowed to properly digest,” he said, “so it’s best to eat 45 minutes to an hour before you work out – longer after heavy meals.”

Some foods settle more easily and enter the bloodstream faster than others, he explains. These should be your preferred choices. Avoid those that make you feel sluggish or cause you having stomach cramps.

After you finished exercising, your muscles need to recover and nutrients need to be replenished. Focus on protein, especially after resistance training, and carbohydrates for refueling. Even if you are not hungry after being active, you must rehydrate by drinking plenty of water and perhaps some diluted juice or sports drink.

Obviously, there are no clear-cut rules that satisfy everyone’s needs. Experts recommend you pay attention to how you feel during exercise and how your performance is affected. Only your own experience can guide you and help you get optimal results.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

In Praise of Taking Naps

September 29th, 2012 at 1:39 pm by timigustafson
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Many Americans are chronically sleep deprived. Our busy work schedules, long commutes and countless demands at home don’t leave us enough time for a good night’s rest, let alone daytime breaks. In contrast to other cultures, taking siestas is often associated here with laziness and lax work ethics. We rather push through and, if necessary, fuel up on caffeine and power bars when our energy level goes down.

In terms of productivity, that may be a virtuous attitude, but staying awake all day followed by six to eight hours of slumber is not necessarily “natural” for human beings. In fact, we are in the minority among mammals when it comes to sleep habits. Studies on sleep patterns of animals have found that 85 percent of mammalian species are polyphasic sleepers, meaning they sleep for several shorter periods of time in a 24-hour cycle. Monophasic sleepers like us adhere to two distinct periods of wakefulness and rest. But that may have developed culturally rather than out of biological necessity.

Historically speaking, the idea that we should ideally spend long stretches of uninterrupted sleep is relatively recent. It’s a narrow concept, according to David K. Randall, author of “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep,” and we don’t even share it with all of the world’s population.

With regards to productivity, there is no guarantee that working longer and harder always produces better results. Some of the greatest achievers in history, among them Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, insisted on regular afternoon naps.

Even corporate America is discovering the benefits of allowing workers to doze off a bit when they feel sluggish. There is an increased tolerance for napping and other alternative schedules at many of today’s workplaces, says Randall. He names Google as an example where napping is not only permitted but even encouraged because the company believes it promotes creativity.

Health experts agree. “You can get incredible benefits from 15 to 20 minutes of napping” said Dr. Sara C. Mednick, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life,” in an interview with WebMD. “You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance. That’s what most people really need to stave off sleepiness and get an energy boost.”

Besides restoring alertness and enhancing performance, napping also has a number of psychological benefits. A nap can have similar effects as a mini-vacation or a spa treatment and can provide an easy way to get some relaxation and rejuvenation, according to researchers at the Sleep Foundation.

Especially older people can profit from taking daytime rests, not only for their physical but also their mental well-being. “People who nap generally enjoy better mental health and mental efficiency than people who do not,” says Dr. Andrew Weil, author of numerous best-selling books, including “Healthy Aging” (Knopf, 2005). But, he cautions, the “timing and duration of naps are important: Too much, too often, or at the wrong time of day can be counterproductive.” That is particularly true for seniors who suffer from sleep disturbances that come with aging. Still, napping, Dr. Weil says, is a good way to take care of the body’s need for rest, which increases with age.

To get the most out of your naps, Dr. Mednick recommends to keep them short, about 20 to 30 minutes max; to make them a regular habit and schedule them roughly at the same time; to take them in a place that is protected from light and noise and has a sleep-conducive room temperature, that is slightly cooler than your work environment but warm enough that you don’t freeze.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “The Importance of Sleep for Your Health.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

The New Great Divide: Longevity

September 26th, 2012 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson
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The United States of America have often been called a divided nation, separated by race, class, political affiliation, values, you name it. Now, one study has found that we are also drifting apart in terms of life expectancy. While the better-off can hope to live longer than ever, the rest falls behind and may even die at a younger age than their parents.

Educated white males seem to have the edge on longevity. Conversely, the least educated and often poorest Americans, regardless of gender or race, are moving in the opposite direction. The average life expectancy for them has fallen by four years since 1990.

The disparities are most dramatic between highly educated white men and the least educated black men, about 14 years, according to Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and lead author of the study report.

These widening gaps within our society have lead to “at least two Americas, if not multiple others, in terms of life expectancy, demarcated by level of education and racial-group membership,” said Dr. Olshansky.

The causes behind these trends are not altogether clear, although unhealthy lifestyles like alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, poor diets, obesity and lack of health care coverage are among the most likely factors.

A separate study predicts that obesity, along with multiple related diseases, will continue to rise across the nation, but especially in states with the poorest populations. The report, sponsored by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), concluded that the numbers of diet and lifestyle-related illnesses could increase tenfold by 2020 and double again by 2030.

Currently, more than 25 million Americans suffer from diabetes, 27 million from chronic heart disease, 68 million from hypertension and 50 million have arthritis. Every year, almost 800,000 have a stroke, and about one in three deaths from cancer are related to weight problems, poor eating habits and physical inactivity.

While many Americans are becoming more health-conscious, the majority continues on a dismal path. “This study shows us two futures of America’s health,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo, president and CEO of RWJF. “At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs,” she said. “Nothing less is acceptable.”

Treating obesity and related diseases already costs an estimated $147 to $210 billion annually in health care, and these numbers will increase by another $48 to $66 billion if current trends persist, according to TFAH. The only way to change course is “to invest in obesity prevention programs that match the severity of the problem,” said Jeff Levi, TFAH’s executive director, at a news conference for the study release. The report included a series of policy recommendations such as swift implementation of existing legislation (e.g. the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) as well as creation of additional prevention strategies and action plans.

Government can definitely play an important role in the fight against the obesity epidemic, said Dr. Thomas A. Farley, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Government regulations are a justifiable option when they lead to preventing excess calorie consumption and obesity-related health problems and deaths, he wrote in an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

In this country, we have long treated lifestyle choices as personal matters that should not be regulated or interfered with, even if they produce undesirable results. It’s a part of our individualistic culture. There is much to be said for that, but, as it is becoming increasingly apparent on so many levels, our attitudes have consequences, and sometimes they make the difference between life and death.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.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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