Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Trying to Cut Back on Salt Is Hard to Do

February 4th, 2015 at 6:17 pm by timigustafson
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The warnings have been loud and clear for a long time: High levels of sodium (salt) intake are hazardous to our health. Especially the so-called “Western diet,” which is dominated by processed foods, is notorious for its sodium content that is often obscured in hard to decipher nutrition facts labels and ingredient lists. That makes it difficult even for health-conscious consumers to keep their daily sodium doses down.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 1,500 mg of daily sodium intake for people age 51 and older, those who suffer from hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, and African Americans in general; for everyone else, 2,300 mg is considered the tolerable upper limit. The average daily intake for most Northern Americans is about 3,400 mg – way above what is believed to be safe.

The potential consequences are multiple. While a small amount of sodium – approximately 180 mg to 500 mg per day – is necessary for the body to function properly, excessively high amounts can cause a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, and certain forms of cancer. At an advanced age, it can also contribute to osteoporosis. And, as a recent study found, even the brain can get affected by an elevated sodium presence, leading to adverse biochemical changes in its neurons.

Still, experts remain divided over the actual effects of dietary sodium on overall mortality. A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that higher sodium intake was not correlated with greater mortality risk from all causes, at least not in healthy older adults, regardless of gender or race.

As it is too often the case, contradictory findings of various studies such as these leave consumers ever more confused. Of course, only by continuously questioning and testing its work science can progress, but first ringing the alarm bells and then backtracking on issues of public interest is not always the most helpful approach. There should be a minimum of what we can agree upon before releasing guidelines and recommendations that are meant to influence people’s behavior.

This, it seems to me, is one these occasions. None of the studies I’m aware of calls for more consumption of salt in any form. None advise against keeping levels low. There is only disagreement over its impact on people’s health and well-being. For this, empirical evidence is hard to come by because it requires large-scale, long-term investigations, which are laborious and expensive. But that doesn’t mean we are completely in the dark without them.

One of the main reasons why people consume so much salt is that they are unaware of its many sources. It’s not the saltshaker that puts us at risk but sodium used by food manufacturers in countless food items, many of which don’t taste salty at all. High amounts can be found in most canned and packaged foods, including breads, breakfast cereals, soups, lunch meats, pasta sauces, pancake mixes, cheese, condiments, salad dressings, pizza, frozen dinners, even medications and nutritional supplements. In other words, sodium is nearly omnipresent in much of our commercial food supply, which makes it next to impossible to avoid.

So, if you are absolutely determined to escape the sodium trap, the best you can do is to stick with whole fruits and vegetables, lean, unprocessed meats, fresh seafood, beans and legumes, and unrefined whole grains.

On a personal note, I decided a long time ago not to even own a can opener. I like my meals made from scratch with minimally invasive cooking techniques like steaming and sautéing. To me, this is preferable to anything that can be purchased in ready-to-eat form. Soups, salads, or pasta sauces of almost endless varieties can easily be created on a whim without using any ingredients other than what Mother Nature provides. Yes, that sometimes comes with a little more work and a little less convenience, but to me, that’s part of my investment in my health and certainly worth the effort.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Too Much Salt and Too Little Potassium Makes for a Deadly Combo” and “Reducing Salt Intake by Small Amounts Could Save Thousands of Lives Every Year.”

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

More Government Advice for Healthy Eating – Do We Care?

January 28th, 2015 at 2:30 pm by timigustafson
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Every five years or so, the U.S. government updates its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, advising us how to eat to stay healthy. 2015 is the next due date.

Starting in 1980, two government agencies – the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS) – have periodically released new recommendations based on their latest findings, which over the years has lead to well-known icons like the Food Pyramid (1992), MyPyramid (2005), and MyPlate (2011). But despite all their efforts, obesity rates and related health problems have soared in this country and elsewhere, and don’t seem to abate any time soon.

The government’s purpose of issuing dietary recommendations is to encourage people to maintain balanced and health-promoting eating habits, manage their weight, and prevent diseases. They also serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs.

But only a small fraction of Americans ever seem to consider the Guidelines or follow them, if at all, only for short periods of time. According to the NPD Group, a leading marketing research firm that studied long-term data on American eating preferences, even many health-conscious consumers live up to the recommended standards for no longer than a week out of the year. The study also found that when people attempt dietary improvements, they often tend to overeat, believing that healthier foods will do them no harm, no matter the quantities they consume.

Admittedly, the Guidelines have routinely been vague and confusing to many people, and this year’s latest update probably won’t be much different in that regard.

For instance, preliminary drafts of the coming updates suggest a substantial reduction of calorie intake from added sugars to about 10 percent of all daily calories. Currently it is estimated that most Americans get about 13 percent of total calories from added sugars. Children, adolescents, and young adults consume probably much more from sugary sodas.

Added sugars are now considered by experts a greater health threat than sodium. The problem is that, as with sodium (salt), it is hard to avoid eating sugar since it is present in most processed foods, including those that don’t even taste sweet like baked goods and condiments. So it is up to the individual consumer to detect and calculate the sugar amounts he or she’s getting by carefully deciphering nutrition facts labels and ingredients lists – not an easy task for the most committed dieters among us, and food manufacturers will probably not be too willing to help along.

As they did before, the authors of the 2015 Guidelines will likely caution against high intake of meat products, especially red and processed meats. The current recommendations call for using a wide variety of protein sources, including lean meat cuts, fish, poultry, and also vegetarian alternatives like beans and peas.

One issue that could be addressed for the first time this year is the impact of both food production and consumption on the environment. Here too, increasing meat consumption worldwide plays a significant role. A diet that is lower in animal-based foods would not only be health-promoting but could also help lessen environmental damages, an advisory panel to the government agencies suggested.

If the government’s goal of advising people about their eating habits is to improve public health and cut medical expenditures, its recommendations cannot be in the abstract. The latest version of the Guidelines, MyPlate, has been praised for being more intuitive, intelligible, and actionable than some of its predecessors. But still, when it comes right down to the dinner table (or more likely, the TV tray), to be truly beneficial, the given advice must take a hands-on approach. Let’s hope there’s more progress to be made.

The final version of the Guidelines is scheduled to be released later this year.

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

Dietary Guidelines to Better Address Environmental Concerns

January 21st, 2015 at 5:57 pm by timigustafson
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As you may have heard, the city of Seattle, my hometown, has adopted new waste management policies that require food scraps to be disposed of in separate containers, instead of mixing them in with regular garbage. The ordinance, which was approved last September, has gone into effect on January 1st, 2015.

The purpose of the new law is to prevent rotting food waste from ending up in dumps and landfills where it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly more to the risk of climate change than carbon dioxide (CO2), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Other government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), are also beginning to pay greater attention to the environmental impact of food production and consumption.

As reported in the press, an advisory panel to the USDA is scheduled to submit new recommendations that not only address healthier diet choices but also concerns about costs to the environment. According to these reports, an early draft of the recommendations suggested that reducing animal-based food intake in favor of greater plant-based food consumption would not only be healthier for consumers but also the environment and would be more sustainable than currently prevailing diet patterns.

One study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that especially raising livestock for food takes a heavy toll on the environment.

“There may be no other human activity that has a bigger impact on he planet than raising livestock,” a Time magazine report stated in reference to the PNAS study.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock is responsible for about a fifth of all greenhouse gases caused by human activity worldwide, a number some critics say is in reality more than twice as high.

Livestock-related greenhouse gas emission is a global problem. Most of what we are currently seeing stems from developing countries, according to the PNAS study. An ever-greater demand for land to raise cattle in particular leads to further deforestation, which is dramatically noticeable in South America and parts of Asia. Increasing appetite for meat in countries with rapid economical growth only adds to the equation.

Some of the steps now considered or taken on local or regional levels may seem insignificant and insufficient in the face of such immense challenges, but they are helpful in raising greater awareness that much of our food production as well as consumption is reaching its limits and won’t be sustainable forever. This is not only a political or economical issue but foremost a matter of personal responsibility. Granted that changing behavior is always a complicated and uncertain undertaking, it is still the only way we can hope to succeed.

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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).

Where Did All the Food Go?

January 12th, 2015 at 5:24 pm by timigustafson
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The holiday season is behind us, and while the cheering was a lot of fun, it is now time to go back to a healthier eating regimen, especially if the scale indicates that you’ve been overdoing it a little. Unfortunately, the pound or two you may have acquired over the past few weeks tend to stick around and will not easily be gotten rid of even with dieting and exercise.

The reason is that most people get used to eating more over the holidays, and while they plan to cut back after New Year, they often still hold on to larger servings, which by now have become the new normal, says Dr. Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam Books, 2006) and lead researcher of a new study on the subject of holiday weight gain.

Following hundreds of families over an extended period of time that included the holiday season, the researchers found that participants indeed bought more healthy foods like fruit and vegetables in the days after New Year but also kept eating junk like sugary snacks and fast food, which led to hundreds of additional calories, in some cases twice as many as they consumed during the holidays themselves. So much for good intentions.

The problem is that once people start eating larger portions on special occasions, they tend to continue doing so, although they may believe they are not. Insidiously, it becomes a regular habit that leads to ever-increasing food consumption year after year, with all the well-known consequences of unhealthy weight gain, says Dr. Wansink.

And those consequences are no laughing matter. For both men and women it only gets harder to lose body fat as they grow older. Especially at menopause, most women begin to store more fat around the waist, even if they don’t get much heavier.

And as waistlines increase, so do a number of serious health risks, according to research conducted at Harvard University.

Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it is a key factor in a variety of health problems, the study report warns. Visceral fat, which is situated in the spaces between the abdominal organs, has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.

The simplest way to determine abdominal fat amounts is to measure your waist size. A waist circumference of 40+ inches for men, and 35+ inches for women is considered an elevated health risk, although this can slightly vary by ethnicity. Also, abdominal fat can be problematic even in people whose Body-Mass-Index (BMI) is within a healthy range.

So, if you wonder where all the goodies from your recent celebrating have ended up, and your belly size gives you a clue, be advised that you have work to do.

Yes, real, not just perceived, reduction of food servings may be in order. But equally important is to improve the nutritional quality of your diet. In addition, greater efforts in the gym, the pool, or on the bike path may be required. Strength training (a.k.a. weight lifting) is highly recommended. But foremost, make changes in your eating and lifestyle habits for the long run, so you don’t have to start over next time the holidays come around.

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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).

New Year’s Resolutions That Don’t Stand a Chance

January 6th, 2015 at 5:25 pm by timigustafson
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We all like to start anew once in a while, get a makeover, leave behind what doesn’t suit us anymore, or simply try something different. Then there is also that nagging feeling that we should change our ‘evil ways.’ When people make promises to themselves this time of the year, it is often about the latter.

Among the most popular New Year’s resolutions are losing weight and getting in shape, followed by kicking bad habits like smoking and drinking. Other favorites include making more time for family, charity, education, travel, and other goals of personal improvement. Interestingly enough, working harder, finding a better job, and earning more money do not even make most top ten lists.

The unfortunate thing about these good intentions is that they usually don’t last and cause only more pressure and stress, according to Achim Achilles, a professional athlete and author of books and columns on sport and fitness issues.

For example, he says, “I will exercise more” is a classic resolution. That’s why gyms and fitness studios are so crowded in the early days of January. But soon things quiet down again. The reason is that such plans are much too vague. They don’t offer specific objectives that can be clearly defined and measured in terms of progress. Consequently, most people lose interest because there is not enough to hold their attention. A better idea would be to take up one particular activity that is fun and provides concrete benefits.

Also, some goals aren’t realistic. If your aspiration is to run a marathon by spring, even though you’ve not been performing on that level for some time (or ever), you’re bound to fail. And if you train too hard, the outcome will be equally as frustrating. The best approach is to have reasonable expectations and work diligently towards fulfilling them. If that means being able to run one, two, or five kilometers at a time, that is a great accomplishment and should be appreciated as such, Achilles says.

Another of these classic vows is, “I will lose weight.” It’s too ambitious and too prone to failure, again because there is no clear definition of success. If losing weight only means lower numbers on the scale, that won’t suffice. Rather than starving yourself for days and weeks on end, ask yourself how the unwanted weight gain occurred in the first place and how its causes can be eliminated. Listen to your body and understand its needs first, Achilles recommends. Then act accordingly.

What you hear often after the holidays is, “I will never eat cookies or candy again.” This, too, is a good intention, but not very practical. Yes, it is helpful to understand how sugary treats contribute to weight gain, and the same goes for other less-than-healthy items like snacks and fast food. But nutrients like sugar and salt are hidden in countless foods we consume every day, so they are not easily eliminated. It would be more constructive to ask yourself how much of these temptations you are prone to fall for and why. Do they give you a boost when you are tired or bored, do they come in handy when you are stressed? If so, perhaps you can find better solutions than reaching for the sweet stuff.

After all the stress from shopping and preparing for celebrations, a lot of people pledge “to spend more time on what really matters.” This one, by contrast to many other resolution ideas, may not be so hard to realize. But it takes discipline and a willingness to set priorities, says Achilles. First, you need to figure out what you want to make time for. It shouldn’t just be another activity or distraction but rather something you can truly profit from. That can be as simple as sitting still by yourself, meditating, or finding something meaningful to do that helps others but also gives you pleasure and a sense of purpose. There is no definition of “what really matters in life” – there is only what you can do to fill the void.

Happy New Year, and best of luck with your plans, whatever they may be.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, 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).

Do Something Health-Promoting Every Day

December 31st, 2014 at 1:40 pm by timigustafson
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“Resolution season” is upon us, that notoriously short period at the beginning of the year when people take notice of the fallout from their holiday celebrations. For some, it’s almost an annually reoccurring event, like the holidays themselves. Gym memberships are initiated or renewed, commercial weight loss programs sell like hotcakes, nutritionists and fitness coaches work overtime. Then after a few weeks (at best), things go back to normal as interest in better eating and lifestyle choices wanes or becomes an intermittent afterthought.

I’m not a cynical person, but the numbers don’t lie. According to a report by the New York Times, Google searches for the word “diet” fall to an all-year low in December, especially in the second half of the month, and then jump up sharply on New Year’s Day and throughout the following week, only to descend to an average level shortly thereafter. By February it pretty much bottoms out again, and on Valentine’s Day nobody cares about dieting at all any more.

You might say, that’s human nature. Attention spans are short and distractions are many. It’s just too hard to stay the course when a diet and fitness regimen requires long-term commitment and serious sacrifice. And of course, you would be right. No pain, no gain.

What concerns me more, however, is the apparent idea that taking better care of one’s health and well-being is only necessary in the aftermath of some serious transgression, and that a quick repair job – like going on a crash diet or some other obscure fad promoted by a celebrity or fashionable media outlet – will do the trick.

The truth is that maintaining good health is not a trick but a lifelong task. How well we fare, of course, depends on multiple factors, including genetic makeup, upbringing, education, financial and social circumstances, as well as diseases or injuries we may suffer along the way. But more importantly, the status of our health depends on the lifestyle choices we make every single day – what we eat and how we eat; how much we exercise and what kind of exercise we do; how much sleep we get and how good the quality of our sleep is; how much stress we encounter and how well we handle it; the list is almost endless.

Health-promoting measures are only beneficial if taken on a continuing basis. It’s an ongoing, never-ending process. There is no on- or off-season. There is no time for short-lived observance followed by neglect. It doesn’t work that way.

In my book, “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still have Fun,” I have included a graphic that shows a number of different containers, all connected with one another through small pipes. Each container stands for an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Each is filled with content, although not necessarily to the same level. How much is put in each container depends on the person who is filling it. But if one or several of the receptacles run low, the others are beginning to get drained as well by virtue of their interconnectedness through the pipes. So let’s say, if the container named “Nutritional Health” is emptying out, it will also affect the others, including “Physical Health,” “Emotional Health,” even “Intellectual- or Mental Health” and “Social Health.” In other words, what we neglect in one area haunts us eventually in others because they all depend on each other. So, it’s not only important to adhere to a healthy diet – every day, not just once in a while – but to get it right in all departments.

Balancing Your Health Needs

That’s what being healthy really means – an all-encompassing state of wellness. But this is never completely achieved. It is always a work in progress that needs to be attended to at all times, all year round, for a lifetime.

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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).

Getting Back in Shape After the Holidays – Don’t Rush It!

December 27th, 2014 at 5:02 pm by timigustafson
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Now that the holidays are behind us, the damage inflicted on waistlines and other body parts bearing the marks of every dietary misdeed, no matter how harmless and forgivable it seemed at the time, will be lamented by millions. But I say, no need for self-flagellation. What’s done is done. Let bygones be bygones, we’ll do better from hereon in.

My regular readers know that I am no friend of New Year’s resolutions because they only lead to greater pain and frustration and, for most people, don’t produce lasting results anyway.

Don’t go on a guilt trip
The last thing you want to do is blame yourself for lack of willpower and discipline. Unless you avoided all the holiday cheer by hiding in a place with no contact to the outside world, there is little chance you could stay on the straight and narrow of a perfect diet regimen. It’s just the nature of the beast. So don’t beat yourself up over the inevitable.

Don’t diet right away
If you have been overeating on numerous occasions or for extended periods of time, your body has become used to the higher food intake and will want to continue on that level as the new normal. If you cut back too quickly and/or too substantially, as panicked dieters tend to do, you will feel deprived, and your body will protest with all the hunger pangs it can muster. It’s not a good recipe for successful weight loss.

Take small steps
A better approach would be to wean yourself gradually from your lately acquired eating habits by reducing portion sizes, avoiding sugary snack foods and soda drinks, and decreasing or eliminating alcohol consumption. Remember, you only have to lower your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day in order to shed one pound per week. Losing weight at a slower pace also makes it more likely that you can keep it off long-term, which, of course, should be the ultimate goal.

Stay away from crash diets
Because of their initial effectiveness, so-called crash diets are very popular, but they can do more harm than good. Don’t engage in what is known as “yo-yo dieting,” meaning that you slim down real fast but gain everything back – and oftentimes more – soon thereafter. Such weight fluctuations can damage your metabolism and make it even harder to control your weight later on.

Eat more healthy foods
If you decide to cut back on your food intake, you should not only consider the amount of calories you are planning to reduce but also important nutrients you might be missing on a weight loss diet. In fact, it is recommended that you actually increase your consumption of highly nutritious foods like fruit and vegetables, while excluding others of lesser nutritional value such as processed and refined items, to provide your body with the necessary fuel to function properly and to avoid the risk of malnutrition.

Keep stress in check
It’s easy to forget how stressful the holidays can be. You may have enjoyed yourself, but all the preparations and gatherings with colleagues, family and friends can take a toll, whether you are aware of it or not. So, when things start slowing down again, it might be a good idea to pause and take stock. Perhaps it’s time to put your own needs first for a while and be kind to yourself by taking a break. Yoga, meditation, massage, or simply taking long walks – whatever lets you calm down and become yourself again – can be helpful. Also, don’t get too stressed out right after returning to your workplace. This may be easier said than done, but you have to be aware that leftover stress from the holidays plus new stress from the workload you’re resuming can quickly burn you out before the new year has even started.

Get more sleep
Chances are the holidays have left you sleep-deprived, perhaps even more than usual. So you may want to go to bed a little earlier or sleep in for a few days, if you can. There are plenty of things you can do to readjust your sleep pattern, so you wake up refreshed instead of hung over.

Exercise
It is still the best measure you can take to get back in shape. The weather may be less than inviting to go outside, but give yourself that proverbial kick in the butt and put on your running or hiking shoes, then deeply inhale some much-needed fresh air. The gyms may be extra full in early January, but resolution season is notoriously short, and within a few days you’ll be able to find plenty of vacant treadmills and stairmasters again.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, you’ll stick with your program, and all will be well in almost no time. Happy New Year!

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

More Protein, More Muscle, Better Health?

December 16th, 2014 at 4:02 pm by timigustafson
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Protein has been getting a lot of attention lately. In fact, nothing short of a “high-protein craze” is taking place according to press reports, and food manufacturers of breakfast cereals to ice cream are cashing in on sudden concerns about protein deficiencies in people’s diets. The truth is that the so-called “Western Diet” provides enough protein, and more likely too much.

So why should we worry? Besides the usual hype that accompanies new dietary trends, there are also some serious reasons why protein intake deserves a closer look. One is demographics. People live longer, and age-related health problems are becoming more predominant. One of those is loss of muscle mass (primary sarcopenia), which begins around the age of 30 but accelerates significantly after 70. Natural muscle atrophy as part of aging can be worsened by nutritional deficiencies, including lack of protein. Another possibility is muscle loss due to exceedingly sedentary lifestyles or long periods of recovery from an illness (secondary sarcopenia), which can occur at any time in life. Here too, unsound nutrition can make matters worse.

And not only the elderly and the sick have to deal with such issues, vegetarians and dieters who abstain from entire food groups can risk inadequate protein intake, with sometimes serious consequences.

We are not just talking about keeping your arms and legs in shape or your skin and hair shiny. Because proteins in the body break down due to daily wear and tear, they need constant replacement from the foods we eat. So, insufficient protein supply negatively affects every organ, tissue, and cell.

The good news is that it is relatively easy to cover protein needs. Most adults fare well if they get 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein-containing food sources, or about 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams for men, according to recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These can come from meat products, dairy, and also from plant foods if taken in the right combination. Amounts can vary from person to person, depending on activity level and other factors.

Vegetarians and Vegans need to pay greater attention to their protein consumption because plant-based diets can fall short of what is called “complete protein,” which is found only in animal food products and provides all essential amino acids (protein building blocks) the body needs but cannot produce otherwise. By contrast, plant foods are considered “incomplete protein” sources, and can only be made “complete” if consumed in certain combinations such as vegetables with legumes, grains, nuts and seeds – although not necessarily all at once.

Another question is whether it is possible to overdose on protein? The answer is, yes and no. Most healthy people who eat more protein than necessary don’t experience harmful effects. However, many protein-rich foods, especially animal products, also tend to be caloric and sometimes high in saturated fat, which is linked to elevated LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Also, too much dietary protein can be detrimental to kidney functions in people suffering from kidney disease.

Rather than exclusively focusing on protein needs, it is preferable to adhere to an overall balanced and health-promoting eating regimen that provides sufficient amounts of protein as well as all other important nutrients, the CDC advises.

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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 Drives Your Eating Habits?

December 10th, 2014 at 2:57 pm by timigustafson
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If asked why they eat, most people would respond because they are hungry. But that seemingly obvious reason is the exception rather than the rule, according to a recent study on the psychology of food intake and portion control. The fact is that our eating decisions are motivated by numerous factors, and only a small fraction of those is based on actual hunger.

The need for nourishment can have multiple causes, many of which we are not even aware of. When we reach for food, we may seek to satisfy emotional as much as physical needs, perhaps even more so.

“Reasons for consumption are many and varied,” said Dr. Katherine Appleton, a professor of psychology at Bournemouth University in Dorset, England and author of the study report.

“Few of us eat just because we are hungry. Most of the time, we eat as a result of how we feel, or what we think, or even, where we are and whom we are with. Most of these psychological factors, though, also result in us eating more than we know we should,” she said to Food Navigator.

Her findings confirm what prior studies have also suggested, including those by Dr. Brian Wansink, the author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam Books, 2006).

“We eat largely because of what’s around us. We overeat not because of hunger but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers. The list is almost as endless as it’s invisible,” he writes.

By nature, we are genetically programmed to eat whenever opportunity presents itself, presumably stemming from times when food was much scarcer than it is today. And although the “feast or famine” scenario is no longer as common as it used to be, our instinct for making the most of opportune encounters still exists and influences our behavior.

Even if we recognize these tendencies and consciously take counteraction, there is always the possibility that our control mechanisms get disrupted and overridden when we are faced with temptation, said Dr. Appleton, a response she describes as “disinhibition.” Based on her research, she found that even very health-conscious individuals proved vulnerable in this regard. The “what the hell effect,” as she calls it, is actually quite common, including among successful dieters once they start deviating from their regimen.

Keeping tabs on one’s eating habits is particularly difficult when it comes to snacking. More than sit-down meals, snack foods are typically consumed without much attention. A study from the Netherlands found that intensely positive as well as negative experiences led study participants to reach for snack items to help them cope. Enjoying celebratory occasions turned out to be the dominant driver behind unhealthy snacking bouts, followed by opportunity-induced eating, the researchers said. Other motivators were a desire for gaining energy and dealing with stress. On all accounts, women were more inclined to utilize snacks for emotional reasons (both positive and negative) than men.

The most effective way to counteract urges for overeating is raising awareness, the study concluded. Once people become more conscious of their actions and the resulting damage to their health, they are better equipped to recognize the signals and avoid detrimental behavior. In any case, knowing why we do what we do is always an advantage.

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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).

Why It’s Important to Keep Up Your Exercise Routine in Bad Weather

November 26th, 2014 at 6:01 pm by timigustafson
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Too dark, too rainy, too cold – there are countless obstacles to outdoor exercising in the winter months. It’s also a time for easy excuses. But what a shame to see that hard work you’ve put in all year go to waste because it’s less pleasant outside. It shouldn’t be this way, it doesn’t have to.

Admittedly, walking or running in foul weather is not everyone’s cup of tea. The temptation to remain sedentary is extra persuasive then, but the effects become evident all too soon, especially when you add in the extra food intake that seems unavoidable during the holidays.

So keeping an eye on your fitness routine is even more important. Not only does regular exercise benefit the body all year round but the mind as well and can keep the notorious “winter blues,” a.k.a. “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD), at bay.

Scientists at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, in cooperation with colleagues from the Witten/Herdecke University in Witten, Germany, have found that when people move less, their mood also changes, and not for the better.

Worse yet, prolonged lack of physical activity can lead to occurrences of negative emotions, including bouts of depression, according to their study results.

If that is not damaging enough, the researchers also detected connections between insufficient exercise and deficiencies in memory.

It’s as simple as observing someone’s gait that can tell a lot about whether that person is depressed or cheerful and energetic. Also, in memory tests that required recalling strings of words, participants who felt downbeat remembered predominantly negative adjectives like “boring” or “stupid,” in contrast to their counterparts with a more positive outlook who focused on descriptions like “courageous” or “attractive.”

The tests confirm what prior research has abundantly shown, namely that the way and the intensity by which we move affects our mental capacity as well.

Obviously, there is a correlation between body and mind when it comes to remembering information, Dr. Johannes Michalak, a professor of psychology at Witten/Herdecke University and lead researcher, concluded in the study report.

Besides the positive effects on the mind, there is also much to be said for the benefits of winter activities for the body.

The best defense against catching a cold or worse is to strengthen the immune system. This can be done by eating a diet full of immune system-boosting foods, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, managing stress and, of course, exercising.

Fresh air is especially helpful, says Achim Achilles, a long distance runner and health and fitness columnist for the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

Cold temperatures and precipitation don’t have to keep you inside. But there are some caveats, he says, that should be considered. For one, it takes longer for the muscles to warm up. In order to avoid injuries, it is important to stretch and increase intensity gradually. Also staying dry as much as possible by wearing protective gear and getting out of wet clothes quickly is a must. Other than that, there is no reason why anybody should forego their favorite outdoor activities, come rain or shine.

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

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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