Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Both Marriage and Divorce Can Cause Weight Gain

August 25th, 2011 at 12:18 pm by timigustafson
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After marriage, both men and women tend to gain some weight, but men tend to gain even more after divorce, according to a study that followed over 10,000 people to better understand the impact of people’s marital status on their health.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth – a biannual survey of men and women from 1986 to 2008 – researchers tracked the body mass index (BMI) of folks who were never married, were married or were divorced. The results showed that within two years of marriage most couple’s BMI values increased. But divorce also turned out to be a significant marker.

“After marriage, women will take care of their families and maybe eat the way their husband does or their children do,” said Dr. Zhenchao Qian, a sociology professor at Ohio State University and one of the lead authors of the study. The change in routine that comes with married life can trigger weight gain, at first more so for women than for men. “Men tend to be healthier after marriage in terms of diet,” said Dr. Qian.

With regards to their overall health, men clearly benefit from marriage. Married men are more likely to go for routine medical checkups and take better care of their health needs than bachelors. After divorce, however, things can quickly turn for the worse.

“Joy and grief are strong emotions that can lead to an increase or decrease in appetite,” said Susan Heitler, a marriage counselor and writer for poweroftwomarriage.com. “Newlyweds often gain small amounts of weight because they’re content. But in people who are newly divorced, depression can cause substantial weight gain,” she said.

Of course, there are other factors besides change of marital status that must be considered. Pregnancy, parenting, career changes, financial problems, aging and widowhood all leave their own mark on people’s health and wellbeing.

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t seem to get easier with age. On the contrary. People who get married and/or divorced while they are still young seem to be less affected by weight gain in response to their experiences. “Both marriages and divorces increase the risk of weight changes from about age 30 to 50, and the effect is stronger at later ages,” said Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University and co-author of the study. “As you get older, having a sudden change in your life like a marriage or a divorce is a bigger shock than it would have been when you were younger, and that can really impact your weight,” he added.

Weight gain affects relationships
Weight problems do not only affect people’s physical health but also their relationships. In a different study conducted at Cornell University, researchers found that physical appearance plays an especially significant role at the dating stage but also throughout marriage. According to the study, young normal-weight women are more willing to date overweight men than the other way around. Once married, overweight wives seem to be happier in their marriages than many normal-weight ones. Still, females tend to be more concerned about weight issues than males, regardless of marital status. At any age, men seem less tolerant of overweight partners and less comfortable in dating overweight people than women.

“While the population of this country – and the world for that matter – is getting fatter, ideals about body weight increasingly emphasize slimness. Society tends to reject obese individuals and subjects them to severe stigmatization and discrimination,” says Dr. Jeffrey Sobal, a nutritional sociologist at Cornell University who studies the sociology of obesity and one of the authors of the study, which was subsequently published in a book titled “Overweight and Weight Management” (ASPEN 1997).

While the study found that body weight was not associated with most aspects of marital quality, several connections were identified as significant. For instance, men who gained weight while they were married reported more marital problems than men who kept their weight down. By contrast, married women did not seem to be as affected by their weight changes.

“One theory about why obese women are happier with their marriages is related to recognizing their decreased value in the marriage market in a society that stigmatizes obesity. As a result, obese women are more likely to be satisfied with their current marital condition compared with opportunities for seeking a new partner. In other words, women appear to internalize and accept the negative assessments of their obesity [better than men],” the study concludes.

Weight gain and sex
While many women are concerned about losing their man because of weight issues, some also use sex to pressure their partners into weight loss. “Women often withhold sex as a weapon of last resort when their partners refuse to or don’t lose weight,” said Dr. Laura Triplett, a professor at California State University in Fullerton who conducts research on body image and social implications of physical appearance. She found that especially women in their 20s stop having sex with partners who don’t meet their expectations of what a man should look like.

It’s not just a matter of vanity or loss of respect when Mr. Right turns wrong because his waistline expands. “When men gain weight and become physically unattractive to their partner, what usually happens is the woman takes it much more as a sign that he doesn’t love her. Women tend to personalize things, said Mary Jo Rapini, a psychotherapist specializing in intimacy and sexuality at the Methodist Weight Management Center in Houston, TX. “At one point, women feel like their partners don’t care,” she said.

Women are not all that different from men when it comes to aesthetics, according to Veronica Monet, a sexologist who does research in relationship dynamics. “It’s great that women are realizing that we are also visual creatures and that we are sexually stimulated by what we see and that we have the right to ask our partners to gift us with the benefit of good grooming and regular visits to the gym. But any time we threaten our partners with withholding sex or love, whether we are male or female, we take the relationship in a negative direction.”

Instead, she suggests, couple should share their feelings and talk frankly about weight problems with one another. “It’s extremely important to avoid negative statements, name-calling or accusations,” Monet said. “Ultimately, you have to realize that your overweight partner is only going to lose weight when he [or she] wants to.”

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 at http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD

Why Bill Clinton Became a Vegetarian

August 22nd, 2011 at 1:36 pm by timigustafson
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As the 42nd president of the United States, Bill Clinton has changed positions a few times before. But that the man who famously favored fast food for breakfast and countless other occasions has turned to veganism is a noteworthy shift.

In a highly publicized interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and frequent anchor/correspondent at CNN, Clinton said that he now considers himself a devout vegan and abstains from eating meat, dairy products, eggs and most oils. The main reason for his adherence to a strictly plant-based diet is to slow down the progression of heart disease, which has plagued the former president for quite some time.

“I essentially concluded that I had played Russian roulette,” Clinton said in the interview, “because even though I had changed my diet some and cut down on the calorie total of my ingestion and cut back on much of the cholesterol in the food I was eating, I still […] was taking in a lot of extra cholesterol. So that’s when I made a decision to really change.”

In 2004, four years after leaving office, the 58-year old Clinton had to undergo quadruple bypass surgery to restore blood flow to his heart. “I was lucky I did not die of a heart attack,” he told Dr. Gupta. But last year, he needed another heart procedure, having two stents implanted to re-open one of the veins from his bypass surgery. After consulting with his physicians, Clinton realized that moderate diet- and lifestyle changes were just not enough to keep his disease from further progressing. More radical steps were required – measures that actually could help reverse some of the damage that had already been done.

Two of the president’s medical advisors are Dr. Dean Ornish, director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who directs the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Both doctors are strong advocates for a plant-based diet to prevent and, in many cases, reverse the damage from heart disease.

If you consider following a similar dietary regimen, you need to know that keeping to a strict vegan diet is easier planned than done. “‘Vegan’ is not a synonym for ‘healthy,’” said Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian and author of “The Flexitarian Diet.” It’s a common mistake among newbie vegans to remove meat from their diets without knowing how to add sufficient amounts of complete plant-based proteins.

According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), a strictly vegetarian diet can be healthy, but vegetarians, and especially vegans, need to make sure they’re getting enough of the important nutrients that are mostly present in animal food products. A vegan diet (the strictest form of vegetarianism) may lead to an increased risk of deficiency in vitamin B12, vitamin B2, calcium, iron and zinc. Some of this can be avoided by taking supplements.

A particular challenge for vegans is access to high-quality protein. Only animal- and soy proteins are considered “complete” proteins because they contain all the essential amino acids the human body requires. Amino acids are the building blocks that make up protein. Plant foods, such as grains, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, are “incomplete” because they lack one or more of these essential amino acids.

Fortunately, vegans can make up for the missing nutrients by taking a mix and match approach. For instance, grains consumed with legumes (beans, peas) make complete proteins. So do combinations of vegetables and legumes, vegetables and nuts as well as grains and nuts. Because amino acids stay in the blood stream for several hours, complementary proteins don’t have to be eaten all at once but can be stretched over several meals throughout the day.

A healthful vegan diet should more or less look like a healthy non-vegan one, according to Blatner. “The plate should be about half veggies and fruits, a quarter whole grains and a quarter protein. And vegans should be sure to include healthful fats like guacamole, nut butter or tahini dressing in their diets,” she said.

Also, keeping tabs on calories is still a must. You can gain too much weight from any kind of food if you overindulge. Surely, the president has been reminded of that little fact, too.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in reading “Vegan Nation,” “Are Vegetarians at Higher Risk for Iron Deficiency?” and “Strictly Vegetarian, Too Radical?

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 at http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD


Watching Too Much TV Can Kill You

August 19th, 2011 at 1:02 pm by timigustafson
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Spending excessive amounts of time in front of the tube has long been considered a factor for weight gain. But now researchers in Australia say there’s evidence that watching TV can shorten your lifespan.

For every hour spent sitting and watching TV after the age of 25, your life expectancy falls by approximately 22 minutes, according to a just released study. That means that if you watch six hours a day – not an uncommon habit – you shave off around five years of your life. By comparison, smoking after the age of 50 cuts you short 11 minutes for every cigarette or four years in total.

So, is watching TV deadlier than smoking? Not quite, said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. “The harms of TV are almost certainly indirect. The more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eating mindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active. More eating and less physical activity, in turn, mean greater risk for obesity, and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”

There is also the argument to be made that people who spend much of their time at home with nothing else to do than surfing the channels are often lonely, isolated and depressed, which are all factors that can contribute to premature mortality, according to Dr. Katz.

For the study, which was published in the “Journal of the American Heart Association,” the researchers analyzed data on thousands of Australians aged 25 and older from a national diabetes-, obesity- and lifestyle survey that also included information about the people’s TV watching habits.

Critics of the report caution that the researchers have only shown an association between the amounts of time people spend watching TV and their lifespan but not a cause and effect relationship. Others have pointed out that it doesn’t really make a difference whether you sit in front of a TV, a computer, or a lazy-boy chair reading a book. It’s our sedentary lifestyle that makes us sick. We sit in our cars commuting, sit in the office all day and then sit down and relax at home. Humans are not made for this kind of lifestyle and the negative consequences are becoming more and more obvious. The answer is exercise and more exercise.

“There is increasing evidence that the amount of time spent in sedentary activity […] may adversely impact health,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Staying active and reducing time spent sedentary may be of benefit in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to improve cardiovascular health,” he added.

In an unrelated study, Taiwanese researchers found that people who exercise as little as 15 minutes per day, can reduce their risk of dying from cancer by 10 percent. That gives them a three-year longer life expectancy over those who don’t exercise at all.

A 30-minute daily exercise routine, which is widely considered a healthy regimen, would be more desirable, but not all people can fit that in their busy days. “Finding a slot of 15 minutes is much easier than finding a 30 minute slot in most days of the week,” said Dr. Chi-Pang Wen of Taiwan’s National Health Research Institute, who is the lead author of the study. The best impact comes from the first 15 minutes and they can be “very beneficial,” according to Dr. Wen. His research also found that every additional 15 minutes of exercise per day can reduce the risk of cancer by another one percent. (The study report was published in the medical journal “The Lancet.”)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get no less than 150 minutes moderate to intensive aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. (Moderate aerobic activities can include brisk walking or climbing stairs, while vigorous training involves running, jogging, long-distance swimming or bicycling and the likes.)

“There are a myriad number of ways we can engineer exercise into our lives,” said Dr. Paul Thomson, director of the Athlete’s Heart Program at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. It’s the little things that add up and make a real difference in the long run. He recommends taking the stairs instead of using the elevator, parking at a far corner of the parking lot instead of the closest spot, or mowing the lawn on weekends instead of hiring someone else to do it. All it takes is a little imagination and the will to follow through.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com

Even Going on Vacation Can Be Scary

August 19th, 2011 at 12:55 pm by timigustafson
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Americans used to take time off and kick back during the summer months. Not so any more. In bad economic times, many people are too afraid to leave the workplace for a few weeks or even just a few days.

Those who already feel apprehensive about their job security don’t want to take any unnecessary chances. Especially when many businesses undergo downsizing or restructuring, employees are extremely hesitant to leave work behind. For some, it can be more stressful to be absent from the office than to stay put. “People are worried that a temporary vacation could lead to permanent time off,” wrote Cindy Goodman, a business columnist at the Miami Herald. “The people who still have a job are really feeling overwhelmed and overworked. But they’re afraid to take vacations […] at a time when they need them more than ever.”

Not all employees actually believe they would be fired for using their hard-earned vacation time. But many do fear that the company could come to consider their position as redundant, that co-workers could sabotage their projects or take otherwise advantage of their absence, or that important decisions could be made without their knowledge and input, among other concerns.

Many older workers still think of vacations as a luxury that does not sit well with their conservative work ethic. There is a long-held belief that working harder than anyone else is what has made America great. And then, of course, there are the hard-charging, never-tiring, always-doing-what-it-takes workaholics who think that taking breaks is only for sissies. “Forfeiting vacations can be a ‘macho thing,’ said Mitchell Lee Marks, a psychologist, management consultant and president of JoiningForces.org, a consulting firm in San Francisco.

Today, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not have labor laws that include minimum leave. The European Union, for example, requires that all workers take a minimum of four weeks vacation time every year. Many member states exceed that mandate. Those numbers are unfathomable for most Americans.

Expedia.com, a travel reservation company, conducted a survey that compared the vacation habits of citizens around the world. According to this research, 34 percent of Americans don’t take the full vacation time they earn each year. By contrast, only 22 percent of French and 24 percent of German workers don’t use up their allotted time. Only the Japanese vacation less than we do – just 8 percent take off every day they’re owed.

There are multiple reasons why Americans are less inclined to enjoy their holidays. “In countries where vacation time is mandated by law, it’s not something that people think about in terms of their relationship with their employer,” said Jennifer Schramm, a manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization that serves human resources professionals. “In the U.S., our vacation allotment is part of the employment relationship. Given that our paid leave is closely tied to our relationship to our employer, our willingness to take advantage of it is likelier to change in response to external factors, especially the economy or the job market,” she added.

That doesn’t mean that workers here would not like more paid time off than they are getting from their jobs – if they get any at all. Survey after survey has shown that Americans are dying to have more quality time for themselves and their families, even if it would mean a cut in pay.

Still, “sacrificing your vacation won’t necessarily save your job,” said Joe Robinson, author of “Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life,” who is also an advocate for a federal paid-leave law. “I talked to a woman who worked at a company for 25 years and had five or six weeks of paid leave. She only used three, four or five days a year – and she got laid off like everyone else. This does not insulate you from layoffs. It does leave you wondering why you gave up your life,” said Robinson.

Even those who dare to venture off once in a while don’t always know how to separate themselves entirely from their work place. Many workers find it unthinkable to leave their laptops and smart phones permanently switched off during vacations. “Because of modern technology, it has become almost impossible to completely disengage ourselves from the office,” said Daniel H. Pink, author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” “The border between what is work and what is personal is more porous than ever. Whereas the transition from working to going on vacation used to be like an on-off switch, it’s now more of a dimmer switch.”

Not everyone thinks that “working vacations” are a good idea. “Workers who don’t take vacations hurt themselves and their companies,” said Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of “The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World.” “Overworked employees get sick more often and place themselves at risk for long-term illnesses, such as heart disease. Companies suffer because their employees are too tired or ill to be productive.”

Today, many companies understand better the importance of a health-promoting work environment and establish their policies accordingly. But often it is easier to make structural changes than to overcome the habits of individuals. If people don’t know how to silence their inner taskmaster once in a while, encouraging flexibility and offering more options won’t be enough. For many, it’s a cultural issue, or perhaps it’s generational, according to Dan Ryan, head of a business consulting firm in Nashville, Tennessee. “I’m a baby boomer… and I’m accustomed to working. My kids have a different perspective. They’re more likely to take a vacation,” he said. Well, as they say, you can teach even an old dog new tricks.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com

Sleep Apnea Linked to Memory Loss and Dementia

August 13th, 2011 at 2:48 pm by timigustafson
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People who suffer from sleep apnea are at a high risk of developing memory problems and dementia as they get older, according to a recent study by the University of California, San Francisco and California Medical Center.

Sleeping disorders, and sleep apnea in particular, have long been associated with dementia, but this is the first time researchers have suggested that sleep problems may actually contribute to the development of cognitive impairment as we age.

For the study, a team of scientists followed almost 300 women in their early eighties for an average period of five years. At the outset, all participants tested normal in terms of cognitive abilities. The researchers found that the women who were diagnosed with sleep apnea were twice as likely to develop memory decline and other symptoms of dementia.

Although this particular study involved only women, there is no reason to believe that the results won’t apply to men as well. The disorder affects between 10 and 20 percent of middle-aged and older adults in the U.S., according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Sleep apnea causes sufferers to literally stop breathing while they’re asleep, sometimes hundreds of times a night. The reason is blockage of the airways. Consequently, blood oxygenation levels fall lower and lower until the body wakes up and normal breathing is resumed again – but only for a while. Typically, the person does not fully awake and is not aware that this is happening.

For their tests, the researchers looked at a number of specific factors connected with sleep apnea, including oxygen flow during sleep, duration of sleep and frequency of interruptions throughout the night. The risk of developing dementia appeared to be directly linked to the amount of time the women experienced a decrease of oxygen flow – not to the hours of sleep they had or the number of sleep interruptions they went through.

“The findings indicate that people with sleep apnea should be screened for cognitive problems,” said Dr. Kristine Yaffe, professor of psychiatry, neurology and epidemiology and lead author of the report that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Although additional research is required, the study has already been acknowledged as an important step toward a better understanding of the seriousness of sleep apnea and the need for more effective treatment. “It makes sense that good sleep is going to be protective to the brain,” said Dr. Robert Thomas of Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who is an expert on the subject but was not involved in this study.

The most common way to treat sleep apnea is to force oxygen up a patient’s airways to prevent blockage with the help of a device that is placed in the mouth, a.k.a. Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). Unfortunately, not everyone gets easily used to this procedure.

The disease affects often people who are overweight or have heart- and blood pressure problems. “There is only one cure for apnea so far we’ve found, and this is weight loss,” said Dr. Seva Polotsky, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Aside from the issue of effective treatment, the study also gives rise to questions about the importance of sleep for both physical and mental health. The problem is that we don’t really understand yet what sleep does for us. “There is quite a broad consensus that supports the notion that memories are consolidated during sleep. But obviously the field is still not clear about what the mechanisms for memory formation are,” said Dr. Luis de Lecea, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California, who studies sleep disorders and their effects on memory and other brain functions in lab animals. “The new research shows a much more dramatic effect from sleep disorders than simple memory loss. Cognitive impairment is a whole different ballgame,” he added.

Of course, treating sleep apnea does not prevent all age-related decline of cognitive functions. But these latest results could change how the medical profession views the importance of sleep for both physical and mental health in general. The hope is that early diagnosis and effective treatment of chronic sleep disorders could at least help to slow down the spreading development of dementia as the average life expectancy continues to rise.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com

The Older, the Merrier

August 11th, 2011 at 11:18 am by timigustafson
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We all know that our outlook on life changes over time. Scientific studies, however, show that many people grow happier or at least more content as they mature. That seems to be a counterintuitive notion, since aging is rarely considered a positive thing in our society. And yet, researchers found that feelings of happiness peak for most folks after the age of 50 plus.

The authors of one study, which was recently published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, readily admit that much of their findings boil down to how people define what being happy means for them. “The study indicates that there are at least two different kinds of happiness,” said Dr. Cassie Mogilner, professor of marketing at Wharton University of Pennsylvania, who was involved in the study. “One is associated with peacefulness and one is associated with being exited.” The difference is that the young are more focused on the future and are more hopeful about their prospects. As people age, they learn to place higher value on the present, perhaps because they are more satisfied with their lives or because their expectations have diminished.

For this study, the researchers conducted several tests, including one where participants of different age groups were asked on what they would spend $100. Not altogether surprisingly, the 20 and 30 year olds opted for buying possessions or fun experiences, while the older folks were more interested in something calmer, like a spa treatment and the likes.

Dr. Mogilner warned that her research should not lead to further stereotyping of generational differences. Individuals vary considerably in how much excitement or tranquility affects their sense of happiness. “People should expect the things that make them happy and their experience of happiness to change,” she said.

Still, strikingly similar results were reported after a 2008 Gallop poll, which found that people tend to become happier as they get older “by almost any measure.” In a telephone survey that covered 340,000 people between the ages 18 to 85 from every part of the country, pollsters asked various questions about personal interests, aspirations, concerns, worries as well as overall life satisfaction. The data showed that most people start out at the age of 18 feeling pretty good about their lives. Things change for the worse in the mid- to late 20s and it’s downhill from then until the age of 50. At that point, there seems to occur a sharp reversal. People start getting happier, seemingly independent of their particular circumstances. By the time they reach 85, they are more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.

“It’s a very encouraging fact that we can expect to be happier in our early 80s than we were in our 20s,” said Dr. Andrew J. Oswald, professor of psychology at Warwick Business School in England, who has published several studies on the subject of human happiness. “It’s not being driven predominantly by things that happen in life. It’s something very deep and quite human that seems to be driving this,” he added.

There may be more than just one reason for a possible connection between aging and increasing contentment. “It could be that there are environmental changes, or it could be psychological changes how we view the world, or it could even be biological – for example brain chemistry or endocrine changes,” said Dr. Arthur Stone, author of a separate study based on the Gallup survey.

If you don’t buy the idea that happiness grows over time, you are not alone. When asked, older participants in similar surveys often report having been the happiest in their 30s. By contrast, younger participants mostly anticipate a decline of happiness when they reach old age.

“It is possible that people misremember how happy they were in the past, putting rose-colored glasses on as they reflect on bygone years,” said Dr. Heather Pond Lacey of the University of Michigan’s Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine, who conducted her own research on the subject, which was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies. “After all, old age is associated with real deterioration […], including failing health and diminishing financial resources, as well as the onset of widowhood and other social losses. So the question remains, given the difficulties of old age, why don’t people become less happy as they get older?”

While no one has come up with any definite answers yet, there are plenty of theories why the inevitable decline through aging does not necessarily dim people’s spirits. They may get better at handling the curve balls life throws at them. They may become more patient. Their past experiences may help them to put things in perspective. They may be able to focus more on the positive and overlook setbacks. And, as the years pass, people may lower their expectations and set more realistic goals, which makes success and satisfaction more likely.

Another reason may be that we are just surprised to realize that life is not necessarily over after a certain age. Perhaps, cultural influences play a role here. In our youth-oriented society, it seems unfathomable to think that older folks should be happier than younger ones, despite the loss of physical beauty and vitality.

But there is also an element of comfort in this for all of us. No matter how dire the warnings and predictions about the graying of America may sound, there is a good chance that an aging America will be the happiest America we have ever seen. And that’s something to look forward to as well.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com

Not All Healthy Foods Let You Lose Weight

August 11th, 2011 at 11:13 am by timigustafson
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Eating healthy is commonly associated with successful weight control. While many healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, are indeed less fattening than their processed counterparts, it is still important to understand that being nutritious does not automatically equate to being low in calories or even fat content.

Overindulging in healthful foods, regardless of the nutritional benefits they provide, can sabotage your weight loss goals just as much as having bad eating habits. Therefore, calorie density should always be a consideration when you try to eat right and also hope to shed a few (or more) extra pounds. Here are a few examples.

Most nuts contain several important nutrients, including protein and fiber. They are also high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. The bad news is that nuts pack lots of calories. Almonds, peanuts, cashews and walnuts have about 160 calories per ounce; pecans have twice that amount. Trail mixes are notoriously caloric because they are meant to provide you with energy while you are hiking the trails – not to serve as a snack to get you through the afternoon slump at the office.

Because nuts are mostly eaten by the handful, it is especially hard to keep track of your intake. To avoid overeating, you may want to divide the original bag into smaller portions and enjoy only an ounce or so at a time. This way you receive a healthy boost that is also kind to your waistline.

Dried Fruit
Depending on the variety or assortment, dried fruit can have up to 500 calories and 100 grams of sugar per cup. Although the nutritional benefits are considerable, including plenty of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they don’t change the fact that each serving has the equivalent of more than 20 sugar packets. With loads of sugary carbohydrates, munching on handfuls of dried fruit can quickly leave you getting hungry again and you’ll reach for more.

Fruit juices
Even 100% fruit juices, freshly made from scratch, are loaded with calories from sugar. Yes, it is naturally occurring fructose and you get lots of health benefits from vitamin C and other nutrients, but the calories from juices don’t fill you up like those from whole fruits, which also provide important fiber.

The same goes for the popular fruit ‘smoothies.’ Most of those are loaded with sugar but offer little or no protein or fiber to keep you feeling full and satisfied for a while. Some brands are extremely high in calories thanks to added sugars and artificial ingredients.

While a glass of real fruit juice (not from concentrate) can be part of a healthy breakfast, having several drinks throughout the day is not recommended. One glass (8-ounces) of orange juice has 112, grapefruit juice has 96 and apple juice (unsweetened) has 114 calories.

Breakfast cereals
Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is an important part of any health-conscious lifestyle. If you normally skip breakfast, try to change your habit. Cereals are popular because they’re considered nutritious and they don’t require much preparation. There are many brands and varieties to choose from. Some are better than others, some are not healthy at all. Check the sugar content per serving on the Nutrition Facts panel and go with a low amount. Also, if you eat only a bit more than the recommended portion sizes each day, the extra calories can quickly add up. For example, one 30g serving of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes has 111 calories. A 50g serving has 185 calories – a difference of 74 calories if your pour is just a little heavy-handed.

Wraps are widely thought of as a healthier alternative to traditional deli sandwiches, tacos, burritos and the likes. Still, most restaurant-style wraps carry up to 300 calories for the wrap alone before any filling is added. Depending on your choice of ingredients, the complete wrap can contain 800 calories or more. By comparison, you are better off with some lean lunchmeat, a slice of tomato and some lettuce on whole wheat bread.

Even the most diet-friendly looking salad can turn into a treacherous minefield if you don’t watch your add-ons and dressings. So, be careful with cheese, bacon, nuts, avocado, oils and creamy toppings. Depending on the brand, Caesar dressings can have between 60 and 80 calories per tablespoon (restaurants typically pour on more – so better ask for your dressing on the side). Ranch-, French- and Italian dressings have on average 70 to over 80 calories per tablespoon. Olive oil contains nutritious unsaturated fat, which is considered heart-healthy. But each tablespoon carries about 135 calories. Olive oil should therefore be used sparingly for both cooking and as dressing.

Yogurt and cheese
Both yogurt and cheese are widely recommended as good providers of calcium. Still, you should be discriminating in your choices. There are countless brands and styles of yogurts on the market today – regular, natural, low-fat, fat-free, Greek style plain, vanilla, with honey, with real fruit, etc. Be careful, though. Whatever version you pick, they all have calories. An 8-ounce (1 cup) serving can easily top 250 calories.

Cheese contains more saturated fat than nuts or olive oil, but it gives you a good amount of protein and calcium as well. An ounce of cheddar or mozzarella has about 100 calories. Preferably choose the low-fat or part skim versions because they have less saturated fat.

The bottom line is that even healthy foods should be enjoyed in moderation. While it is undoubtedly better to fill up on nutrient-dense foods than on empty calories, you need to keep track of your portions to avoid weight gain, even when you think you’re doing everything right.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com

Healthy Eating Is Too Expensive for Most Americans

August 8th, 2011 at 11:23 am by timigustafson
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Most Americans are unable to follow their government’s recommendations for healthy eating, simply because they can’t financially afford to do so, says a study that was recently published in the journal “Health Affairs.”

The updated food pyramid, now called “MyPlate,” encourages higher consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are typically more expensive than processed foods. Purchasing food items that provide important nutrients like potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin D and calcium, could add up to $380 annually to consumers’ grocery bills, according to the lead author of the study, Dr. Pablo Monsivais, professor at the Department of Epidemiology and the School of Public Health at the University of Washington.

Only the people who are able to spend considerable amounts of money on food get close to meeting the federal recommendations, the study found. “Given the times we’re in, the government really needs to make [its] dietary guidelines more relevant to Americans,” Dr. Monsivais said.

His assessment is based on a survey of about 2,000 residents of King County in the State of Washington, which included random telephone calls and printed follow-up questionnaires. Participants were asked to list the grocery items they typically bought, which then were analyzed for nutrient content and estimated costs.

The study results are at odds with the widespread assumption that people make their food choices primarily based on individual tastes and preferences. “Almost 15 percent of households in America say they don’t have enough money to eat the way they want to eat. Estimates show 49 million Americans make food decisions based on cost,” said Dr. Hilary Seligman, professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. “Right now, a huge chunk of America just isn’t able to adhere to these [government] guidelines,” she added.

Dr. Seligman agrees with the study’s conclusion that the government could and should do more to help people who struggle with ever-rising food prices. Government can affect the cost of food in a number of ways. Subsidies are available for big agricultural industries that specialize in corn, soy and sugar production but not for small farms that grow fresh produce. Those policies could be changed if there was enough political courage.

For now, it seems, a lot of people won’t have the luxury to improve their eating habits even if they understand the need to do so. According to a 2010 report published in the journal “Psychological Science,” the cost of fresh produce has almost quadrupled since the 1980s. Prices for processed foods, on the other hand, have hardly changed over the same time period. Sodas are now just 30 percent more expensive than they were 30 years ago.

When it comes to meeting daily calorie requirements, it is much cheaper to make do with lesser nutritional quality. According to a study published in the “Journal of the American Dietetic Association” (2007), consumers can buy 1,000 calories worth of processed foods for less than 10 percent of the price for the same amount of calories from fresh produce. Fruits and vegetables don’t only cost more, they are also less calorie-dense than processed items, which makes it necessary to buy larger quantities, just to meet one’s calorie needs.

So, is it illusory to expect Americans to better their diet because of financial constraints? Some experts have suggested that educating the public not only in terms of healthy eating but also smart shopping is a necessary first step.

Fast food and pizza are often falsely thought of as cheap. While you can get a basic meal at a drive-through for a couple of bucks, the costs can add up quickly when you order the bigger sizes, side-orders and soft drinks. A large pizza can easily set a family back $20 or more. For the same amount, you can buy at least a few potatoes, frozen vegetables and some chicken pieces to prepare at home.

Being a smart shopper can indeed make a difference in your pocket book. Grocery stores always have sales events going on, especially in the produce department where the most perishable items are offered. Look for coupons and specials in local newspapers and online. And you can get better deals at discount stores.

Planning ahead for several days reduces spoilage and waste. Leftovers can be reused for soups and stews. It is also important to understand portion sizes. For instance, a large banana or a whole grapefruit may be more than one serving. A fruit salad can give a healthy boost to a whole family.

There are countless ways to maintain high nutritional standards without breaking the bank. Does that make the issue of healthful eating versus affordability go away? Of course not. But, since these are the times we’re in, we have to start somewhere.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com

Healthy, Fit and Overweight – Can You Have It All?

August 4th, 2011 at 6:38 pm by timigustafson
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According to a new movement known as “Health At Every Size” (HAES), it is possible and even appropriate to carry a little extra weight as long as you exercise regularly and keep your eating habits within reason.

This seems good news for the countless folks who struggle, often for their entire lives, to keep the pounds from piling on. Most HAES followers have had prior experiences with dieting and exercise for weight loss – usually bad ones. “Diets don’t work,” is the consensus in the groups that meet all over the country at workshops and in summer camps where participants stop caring about their body size and just have fun being active and eating the foods they like without getting paranoid over the consequences. “Decades of yo-yo dieting have left me each time heavier than I was before,” said one HAES fan. “Eventually, I lost the will to exercise or watch my diet.”

The central idea behind the program is that not all health-promoting behavior has to result in weight loss. Besides physical fitness through exercise that is fun and not forced, much emphasis is placed on “intuitive eating,” which means paying close attention to personal tendencies like eating habits, cravings and emotional responses to food. “Intuitive eating is trusting in the wisdom of the body to know and choose what is good and avoid what isn’t,” said one HAES camp participant.

Love and respect for one’s body “just as it is,” no matter what shape, form or size, is at the core of the movement’s philosophy. Adherence to society’s ideals of physical health and beauty is not only seen as unsustainable but also as a bad idea.

By now, the HAES movement has gained both popular and scientific credence. For instance, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored a study where 80 women were assigned to different diet programs, one of which was HAES. The members of the HAES group were given general instructions how to adopt healthy eating patterns, be physically active and make a few other health-promoting lifestyle choices. Besides that, they were not subjected to specific rules or restrictions. They were also encouraged to join support groups to discuss issues of body image and self-acceptance. By the end of the study, almost all of the women in the HAES group showed improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, physical fitness and emotional health. Unlike many of the participants in the other diet plans, the HAES followers also maintained or further improved these results over a period of at least two years.

Dr. Steven Blair, P.E.D. of the Cooper Institute, which is renowned for its aerobics research, is convinced that the HAES philosophy is on the right track. “We’ve studied this from many perspectives in women and men and we get the same answer: It’s not the obesity [that is the problem] – it’s the fitness,” he said. “If the height/weight charts say you are five pounds too heavy, or even 50 pounds or more too heavy, it is of little or no consequence healthwise – as long as you are physically fit.”

One study that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition goes even further. It concluded that “unfit, lean men had twice the risk of all-cause mortality as did fit, lean men and also had higher risk of all-cause mortality when compared to fit, obese men. The all-cause mortality rate of fit, obese men was not significantly different from that of fit, lean men.” The study report recommended that “for long-term health benefits, we should focus on improving fitness by increasing physical activity rather than relying only on diet for weight control.”

“Not so fast,” said Dr. Johan Arnlov, M.D., the lead author of a study recently completed in Sweden. He and his fellow-researchers examined the medical records of some 1,700 middle-aged men. The participants were measured and tested periodically between the ages of 50 to 80. They were divided into several groups based on their body-mass indexes and metabolic profiles, which is a commonly used marker for physical health and fitness. Some were within their healthy weight range, some were overweight, some were obese. In each category, there were men who had normal metabolic profiles, while others were afflicted with a variety of health conditions known as “metabolic syndrome.” A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome means that a person suffers from three or more health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, elevated triglycerides and large waist circumference.

The Swedish team found that having metabolic syndrome was quite serious for the overweight and obese men. Those who were overweight had a 74 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease by the time they turned 80. Those who were obese with metabolic syndrome had a 155 percent higher risk. And the men who were within a healthy weight range but had high cholesterol and blood pressure readings had still a 63 percent higher risk of heart disease than those with normal weight and no metabolic problems.

The study also showed that those who were overweight but were otherwise healthy had nevertheless a significantly higher potential for developing heart disease. “Men who were overweight (not obese) with healthy blood pressures, cholesterol readings, blood glucose levels and so on, still had a 52 percent higher risk of developing heart disease within 30 years than men who were of normal weight and had similar metabolic profiles. That risk rose to 95 percent among obese men who didn’t suffer from metabolic syndrome,” according to the report. In other words, those who had weight problems but were otherwise healthy based on their blood work readings were still left with a 50 percent greater chance of developing heart disease than those who managed to control their weight.

A much larger women’s health study in the U.S. that involved 40,000 participants concluded that women with a higher BMI faced a greater risk of coronary heart disease than those of normal weight, even if they were active and physically fit. “Being fit lessened but did not fully mitigate the health problems associated with being fat,” said the authors of that study report.

So, what’s the takeaway from all these contradictory messages? The bottom line, I think, is that it would be a mistake to underestimate the seriousness of health risks that come from weight problems. Those are real issues and can’t be ignored simply by hitting the gym a little more often. If you are overweight or obese, you eat (or have eaten) more than your body can burn off. The only logical conclusion is to reduce your food intake, improve the quality of your nutrition and exercise as much as necessary until you find a healthy balance. Once you achieve all that, weight loss should result almost automatically.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.com

Taking Vitamins May Boost Your Memory

August 1st, 2011 at 4:31 pm by timigustafson
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French researchers say they found a definite link between vitamins and cognitive performance in maturing adults. There is clear evidence that getting sufficient amounts of important nutrients can help to boost thinking- and memory skills as people get older, said Dr. Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot of the University of Paris, the lead author of the study.

For the research, 4,500 French men and women between the age of 45 and 60 were randomly split into two groups. One half was given a daily dose of vitamin- and mineral supplements, the other a nutrient-free placebo. After eight years, the researchers stopped assigning pills and left it up to each individual to continue taking supplements or not. Another six years later, both groups were invited back for a series of memory tests. Those included word- and number quizzes to measure different types of mental activities. Most participants performed similarly in a number of tests, however, those who had taken the supplements did better when it came to long-term memory performance in comparison to those who were given the placebo.

The researchers involved in the study were quick to caution against overreaching conclusions. “Our results have to be considered carefully,” wrote the authors of the final report, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Higher cognitive performance may indeed be based on a better diet, however, it may also be the case that people who have better thinking skills adhere to better eating habits as well, which may include taking vitamin supplements. At this point, it is hard to tell which one is the chicken and which one the egg.

Critics of the study report have warned that relying on vitamin supplements as mental performance enhancer is not warranted. “Boosting brainpower requires more than just taking a pill every day,” said Dr. Barbara Shukitt-Hale, a nutrition researcher at Tufts University in Boston. “Vitamins and minerals are important for memory, but they are not the only thing. The most important thing is eating a healthy diet, being active and keeping your brain sharp,” she said.

Still, there is general agreement among nutrition experts that taking vitamin supplements can bridge the gap if eating a balanced diet is not always possible. People who travel and dine out a lot or who rely mostly on take-out and TV dinners can certainly benefit from taking supplements to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Which foods are good for your brain?
Research has shown that foods high in antioxidants (chemicals that eliminate so-called “free radicals” causing cell deterioration) can slow down age-related loss of memory, motor coordination and balance. Good food sources of antioxidants are apples, berries, cherries, prunes, grapes, raisins, and also dark-green leafy greens like spinach. Similar benefits can be derived from foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. They include seafood, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring, and also walnuts and flax seed oil. Complex carbohydrates are also helpful. Peanuts, dried fruits, dried beans, whole grain breads and oat bran cereal are all good providers of complex carbohydrates. Selenium, a mineral found in grains, garlic, meat, seafood and some nuts is known as a “mood-enhancer.” Ginkgo Biloba is believed to improve memory by increasing blood circulation to the brain.

But most instrumental for keeping the brain healthy is a sufficient supply of B vitamins,
especially B6, B12 and Folic Acid (B9). They are readily available through a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, except for B12, which is only found in animal products. Taking B vitamin supplements can help prevent deficiencies.

Which foods are detrimental for your brain?
Certain types of fat are unhealthy, including for the brain. Polyunsaturated fats can cause chronic inflammation in the brain tissue. They are also harmful to the blood vessels and can inhibit blood circulation. These fats include safflower-, sunflower- and corn oils. Unfortunately, these oils are present in many processed foods. Even worse are the hydrogenated vegetable oils, the so-called trans fats.

Sugar is another menace for the brain. High sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, which imbalances the glucose level in the blood. Processed foods as well as sodas are typical sources of sugar, and so are simple carbohydrates, such as refined baked goods, white rice, pasta and the likes. Some food scientists believe that white potatoes should also be used only sparingly or altogether avoided for the same reasons.

The bottom line is that a balanced diet provides the best protection against age-related diseases, including those affecting the brain. Supplements can offer additional benefits, but they are no substitute.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.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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