Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

The Flexitarian Diet – Not as Simple as It Sounds

February 8th, 2014 at 9:04 am by timigustafson
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As more Americans are getting concerned about their nutritional health, loading up on fruits and vegetables while cutting back on meat products is becoming increasingly popular. These so-called “flexitarians” – not complete vegetarians but discriminating omnivores – are receiving a lot of attention lately from nutrition and health experts who notice the benefits of this rather loose diet prescription.

The term “Flexitarian Diet” was first coined by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Registered Dietitian and author of a book she published in 2009 under the same title. Based on her experience as a nutrition counselor, she advocates a mostly plant-based eating regimen for people who don’t want to give up meat altogether.

Eating flexitarian-style is about adding more nutritious food groups to your existing diet, rather than taking away items you like and are used to, she explains. For this, she offers fixed weekly meal plans or lets you pick and choose as you make gradual improvements. For example, going meatless at least once or twice a week can be a good start.

Once a meat-lover gets used to the idea that plant foods can be equally as tasty and satisfying, the “conversion” process can continue until a pattern is established where the nutritionally healthiest foods dominate – but not at the exclusion of all others.

Research has shown time and again that plant food eaters tend to consume fewer calories and are far less likely to develop weight problems compared to their meat-eating counterparts. They are also, generally speaking, in a better position to receive essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. But that doesn’t mean all vegetarians automatically meet their dietary needs.

Essential nutrients are the kind the body must have on a regular basis and cannot make on its own. Therefore, they have to come from food. Among these are dietary vitamins and minerals as well as carbohydrates, certain fats, and amino acids.

Some are easier to come by than others. For example, B-12, an essential vitamin, can only be found in animal food products. Strict vegetarians, a.k.a. vegans, must find ways to avoid B-12 deficiency, e.g. by taking supplements.

Likewise, vitamin C is limited to plant foods. If you don’t eat enough of these, you may encounter health problems in the long run, such as a weakened immune system.

Carbohydrates may have gotten a bad rap among dieters, but they provide necessary fuel for many parts of the body, including the brain. They are abundantly present in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. They are also the only source of dietary fiber there is.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. A sufficient supply of complete protein, which contains all essential amino acids, is important for any number of health reasons, including muscle mass, bone density, organ tissue replacement, and the healing of wounds. It is not impossible to cover your needs for complete protein solely from plant-based sources, but it is easier for someone who eats meat, fish or poultry once in a while.

Obviously, a healthy human body is sturdy enough to endure shortages of certain nutrients for short periods of time. Unfortunately, the so-called Western diet – which is increasingly becoming today’s most popular eating style, not just here but worldwide – is notoriously lacking in wholesome nutrients. The consequences are plain to see.

But even for those who want to make changes for the better, maintaining a perfectly balanced diet is not always easy. The oftentimes inconsistent, if not contradictory, messages conveyed by the latest diet ideas leave people more confused than educated. Experimenting in a ‘flexitarian’ way may be one of the better options we have left – until we get it eventually right.

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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).

Most Seniors Adapt Well to Reduced Mobility and Other Ailments, Survey Finds

February 5th, 2014 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson
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Despite of the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, a majority of older Americans find ways to manage life’s challenges and keep their independence, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. Unlike most previous studies of this kind, this one tried to take a more nuanced approach to issues of age-related disability and dependence of assistance.

Age-related disability is commonly defined as a reduced capability of performing everyday activities like maintaining basic hygiene, getting oneself dressed, moving around without help, or other routines like shopping and cooking.

According to the study, which looked at 38 million older adults enrolled in Medicare, including residents of nursing homes, about 12 million (31 percent) were fully able to manage on their own without any assistance; 9 million (25 percent) successfully learned to cope with limitations by using devices like electric wheelchairs, walkers, canes, hearing aides, and by making other adjustments to their homes; about 2 million (6 percent) were unaware of or failed to acknowledge their diminishing independence; 7 million (18 percent) found it hard to keep functioning without support but tried anyway; and nearly 8 million (20 percent) relied on caregivers, with about 1 million living in nursing homes.

Those who took precautionary measures like downscaling their households and simplifying their living environment were considered “successful adapters,” while others who either struggled to get through their day or depended at least part-time on outside help were found at the greatest risk of losing their independence.

Most seniors fear the loss of independence and having to move into a nursing home more than death, according to several studies on the subject. A vast majority (89 percent) hope to die in their own home, and more than half are concerned about not being able to do so. Most also don’t expect or desire to receive support from their children or other relatives. Only 1 percent reported wanting or actually receiving financial aid.

On the other hand, especially now retiring baby boomers are very keen on utilizing technological advances like computers and other devices and appliances in their homes to maintain an independent lifestyle.

But despite of such unprecedented opportunities, health concerns do weigh heavily on today’s seniors. Because of rising rates of chronic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and others, older Americans are actually less healthy than the generations that came before them. This may have potentially devastating consequences for how well they age, and so far the signs are not encouraging.

Other leading health concerns for the elderly include arthritis, osteoporosis, respiratory problems, and of course, cognitive decline like memory loss and Alzheimer’s.

The good new is that at least some of these trends could be turned around through better diet and lifestyle choices, and for implementing those, it is never too soon or too late. It would be surprising if Americans who have the most to lose could not find ways to protect what’s dearest to them.

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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).

Childhood Obesity Has Lasting Consequences, Study Finds

February 1st, 2014 at 2:34 pm by timigustafson
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Parents of overweight children may think that a little baby fat is harmless and will disappear over time as their kids grow older, and often that is indeed the case. However, according to a new study, kindergartners with weight problems are four times more likely to become obese as adolescents than their normal-weight peers. The sad fact is that certain tracks are set early, and they can lead to struggles with weight and related diseases for a lifetime.

“A lot of risk may be set by the age of five, so you really have to focus on those very young ages,” said Dr. Solveig Cunningham, professor of global health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and lead author of the study report. “What we are seeing is, among the kids that become obese, a lot of that happens the first few years in elementary school,” she added.

Even an excessively high birth weight may be associated with obesity risk, said Dr. Cunningham. Her research found that obesity rates at kindergarten age were twice as high for babies weighing more than 8.8 pounds at birth compared to those whose birth weight was lower.

The findings confirmed previous studies on correlations between obesity during childhood and throughout adolescence and adulthood. All concluded that the earlier children become overweight, the harder it will be to overcome weight problems and undo health damages later on, which can include diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in young children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The percentage of obese children aged 6 to 11 years in the United States increased from 7 to 18 percent; similarly, the percentage of obese adolescents aged 12 to 19 years went from 5 to 18 percent over the same time period.

In order to curb these dismal trends, parents, healthcare providers, schools and policy makers must work together to create a health-promoting environment from the start.

“It will take a groundswell effort from all partners to make a lasting impact on getting kids to eat right,” says Jill Castle, a Registered Dietitian who specializes in pediatric nutrition.

Parents are bombarded with information about nutrition for their young ones, but it is a hodge-podge of ever-changing and sometimes contradictory advice, which leaves them more confused than educated, she says. It is up to pediatricians and other healthcare professionals to fill in the gaps and help parents better understand the extraordinary importance of nutritional well-being at a young age.

Parents need to lead by example, meaning that their own actions matter greatly when it comes to cultivating good eating habits at home. That starts with making healthy choices at the grocery store. All kids can find in the fridge or pantry is what parents put there. At least as long as their children are too young to buy their own food, parents function as gatekeepers – and they should take that job seriously.

Schools also play a major role, and much more work needs to be done here. Despite of increased legislative efforts to improve the nutritional quality of school lunches, not enough funding is made available to make a real difference. Especially children from low-income families desperately need these meals, which are oftentimes the only food source they can depend on all day.

Last but not least, as a society, we must come to a clearer understanding that millions of overfed and undernourished children are a concern for all of us. As the First Lady, Michelle Obama, once put it, “Childhood obesity isn’t just a public health issue, or just an economic threat, it’s a national security threat as well.”

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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).

FDA Plans to Update Food Labels, but Will It Help Consumers?

January 29th, 2014 at 12:58 pm by timigustafson
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It has been 20 years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last issued guidelines for food labels as they appear on bags and packages in supermarkets and grocery stores. Since then, consumer behavior has significantly changed and advocates have long called for making the information more user-friendly.

“The food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods who worked at the agency in the early 1990s when a universal labeling system was first introduced. “It’s important to keep this updated, so what is iconic doesn’t become a relic,” he added.

It wasn’t until the late 1960s that food manufacturers offered any nutrition information at all. Since people still cooked most of their meals from scratch at home, there was no real need for it. However, as consumers sought greater convenience, the demand for processed foods increased. Eventually those trends prompted congress to impose regulations.

But it wasn’t an easy process, and to some extent, it still isn’t. Especially the listings of serving sizes are utterly confusing to most people who often don’t realize that many food containers hold multiple servings, which can distort other data on the so-called Nutrition Facts labels as well.

“The agency is working toward publishing proposed rules to update the nutrition facts labels and serving size information to improve consumer understanding and use of nutrition information,” said Julie Putnam, a media spokesperson for the FDA, to TIME magazine. “For example, the initial nutritional facts label focused on fat and diet. There is now a shift to focus on calories to help consumers construct healthy diets.”

Also the positioning of food labels needs reviewing. Most labels are placed on the back or one side of the packages and can be hard to read, especially for seniors. A front-of-package design using sufficiently large fonts could be more helpful.

While today’s consumers are arguably better informed about issues of nutrition and nutritional health than ever before, they also get sometimes overwhelmed with data they don’t readily understand. For instance, the metric system that measures ingredients in grams and milligrams is not familiar to many Americans and often leaves them at a loss for what the numbers truly mean.

And although there is some evidence that more people are interested in food labels nowadays, studies have shown that only a fraction – fewer than 10 percent – actually looked at calorie counts, and only a miniscule number – about 1 percent – viewed additional components like fat, trans fat, added sugar and serving sizes. Still, well over one-third claimed to check at least for one ingredient they deemed important.

Regardless of these rather disillusioning findings, a recently released report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed that more Americans indeed consume slightly fewer calories, prepare more of their own meals, and want to know about the quality of the foods they buy. The report also found that a growing number are aware of nutrition guidelines and pay attention, at least to some degree, to what they recommend.

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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).

Workers’ Health, a Priority for Business Leaders

January 25th, 2014 at 5:55 pm by timigustafson
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At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, issues of health and wellness are at the center of numerous events and gatherings. Those topics have been addressed here before – an initiative called Workplace Wellness Alliance was started in 2009 – but interest has increased substantially since then and has now gotten the attention of leaders and representatives of businesses and countries from around the world.

“In today’s environment of economic uncertainty, individuals, institutions and countries are striving for greater adaptability and resilience against setbacks while continuing towards improving competitiveness in an ever-changing world,” wrote Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the Forum in the opening statement of this year’s program. “In this context, organizations, in their role as employers, have an even greater responsibility to nurture employee resilience; there is strong evidence that a healthy workforce is vital to a country’s competitiveness, productivity and well-being.”

Dismal statistics about growing stress and burnout at work underline the importance of paying greater attention to work-related health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 350 million people suffer from mostly stress-related depression worldwide. It is one of the leading causes of disability and a contributing factor in multiple so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.

While a certain amount of stress in the workplace is considered unavoidable and can even be an integral part of productivity, unhealthy stress levels are reached when workers face demands and pressures that exceed their abilities or are beyond their control or leave them feel unsupported. By contrast, the WHO states, “a healthy working environment is one in which there is not only an absence of harmful conditions but an abundance of health-promoting ones.” This includes, but is not limited to, the “availability of health-promoting organizational support practices and structures.”

As self-evident as some of these descriptions may seem, employers have not always been quick to recognize their role in addressing the health concerns of their workforce. Traditionally, even employer-sponsored healthcare systems like in the United States have not systematically engaged in preventive measures to reduce illnesses and injuries in the workplace. But with rising insurance premiums and other healthcare-related costs, businesses feel the need to invest more in the welfare of their workers, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it is in their own interest.

According to Buck Consultants, a global consulting firm specializing in human resources, work-related stress is now considered a top health risk and drives workplace wellness programs in many parts of the world. In addition to skyrocketing direct healthcare expenses, absenteeism (sick leave) and presenteeism (workers show up for work but are not fully productive) cost companies billions of dollars in annual losses, much of which could be prevented.

The issue should not only concern the business world. The last thing any society can afford is to have a large part of its working population burned out and forced into early retirement because of disability, said Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s former labor minister who became lately the country’s first female defense secretary. “These cases are no longer just the exception. It’s a trend that we have to do something about,” she said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the French news agency.

Nearly one out of every 10 sick days is due to psychological illness, yet labor protection still covers almost exclusively physical health problems, even in Germany where labor laws are already relatively strict compared to other countries, including the U.S.

Under von der Leyen’s leadership, the German government has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the risk of burnout among workers and vowed to explore possible solutions.

But ultimately it will be up to business leaders to create more health-conducive work environments where workers can thrive instead of being used up for the sake of increased but short-lived productivity.

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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).

Outlook on Life May Influence Longevity, Study Finds

January 22nd, 2014 at 2:07 pm by timigustafson
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That staying physically and mentally fit is important for healthy aging is old news. But how our attitudes can also influence how long we live is not as well understood. Now, a new study from England concluded that being happy, enjoying life, or at least having a sense of contentment may play a much larger role in the way we age than previously thought.

For the study, researchers from the University College London monitored physical and mental functions and also the emotional states of 3,200 male and female participants, all over the age of 60.

Those who reported having fun, doing things that gave them pleasure, maintaining an active social life, etc. were found to develop fewer impairments and showed slower declines compared to those who were less upbeat.

In fact, differences in attitude seemed to produce remarkable results. People with a lower sense of well-being were three times as likely to end up with health problems as they got older than those whose outlook remained positive.

Not surprisingly, those suffering from chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and depression tended to enjoy life the least, which obviously did not help improve their condition either.

The study also found that the happier people were not necessarily younger, richer, or even free from illness. The influence of their state of mind on their aging process persisted independent of these other factors, although financial security did apparently play a role, but only to a certain extent, according to Dr. Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care in the Faculty of Population Health Sciences, and British Heart Foundation professor for psychology in London, England, and author of the study.

These latest findings confirm those of another study he published in 2011. Back then, researchers found that participants who considered themselves the happiest could reduce their mortality risk by an astounding 35 percent compared to their least happy counterparts.

Five years into the study, the differences in terms of health status and mortality rates already showed. The happier people were overall healthier and aged better, even when taking other factors into account like gender, education, marital status, and financial situation.

What was methodically different in these two studies compared to others on the subject is that the researchers asked participants to rate their happiness level several times on one particular day, instead of having them answer general questions about their usual state of mind. By focusing on concrete situations and events and by observing specific responses, the researchers say they were able to discern attitudinal differences much better than they would have been by conducting surveys on a wider range of issues and relying on recollections of participants over longer periods of time.

While it remains undetermined whether positive emotions play a key role for longevity or are just one factor among others, there seem to be clear indications that how people feel about their lives at any given moment can have a significant impact.

Of course, what constitutes happiness is not easily defined. Some may say that people who seem outwardly grumpy or melancholic may not necessarily be devoid of pleasure or satisfaction. It could be just a matter of individual personality or how they behave socially. How emotions are expressed can also depend on cultural particularities.

One study from Austria found that more than momentarily occurring feelings, a deeper and lasting sense of contentment and gratitude that comes with growing maturity may produce the greatest benefits, including in terms of health and longevity.

The least we can take away from these findings is that people should take their moods more seriously, said Dr. Laura Kubzansky, a professor for social and behavioral sciences at Harvard University.

“I think people sort of undervalue emotional life anyway. This highlights the idea that if you are going through a period where you’re constantly distressed, it’s probably worth paying attention to how you feel – it matters for both psychological and physical health,” she said.

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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).

Experts Are Beginning to See Changes in Eating Patterns of Americans

January 18th, 2014 at 6:01 pm by timigustafson
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More Americans cut back on calories, choose healthier foods, cook meals at home, and eat out less often than they used to, according to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

On average, adults are consuming 118 fewer calories per day than they did a decade ago. While the reasons for the decline in consumption are not altogether clear, experts say there may be multiple factors at play, including greater awareness of diet-related health problems, the economic downturn, and also modifications made by food manufacturers and restaurant operators. They warn, however, that the latest findings are not to be interpreted as a turning of the tide, meaning that we are probably not seeing the end of the current obesity crisis just yet. Over one-third of Americans are still diagnosed as obese, and those numbers haven’t noticeably changed.

“These are not huge shifts, but they are positive ones,” said Dr. Kelly Brownell, dean of Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, who is best known for his work as director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, to the Wall Street Journal in response to the study release.

In any case, the reduction in calorie intake, even as miniscule as it is, may already have led to dietary improvements and overall diet quality for many Americans, said Dr. Jessica E. Todd, an agricultural economist at the USDA and author of the study report. Especially the fact that home-cooked family meals are on the rise again is a welcome step in the right direction.

Critics of the study, however, dispute these conclusions as overly optimistic and rather see the economic decline large parts of the population have gone through in recent years as the real reason for the changing behavior of consumers, including with regards to food consumption.

“The good news is we’re getting healthier, the bad news is, we’re poorer, said Harry Balzer, an analyst with the NPD Group, a market research firm.

Food companies and restaurants may also have contributed by making their products leaner. A study sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that a number of leading food and beverage companies have substantially reduced calorie content in their manufacturing processes. It is unclear, however, to what extend consumers have directly benefitted from these modifications.

Cutting out a few calories here and there may be helpful, but it is not enough when it comes to weight loss, cautioned Dr. Marion Nestle, professor for nutrition and food studies at New York University (NYU). For most people, to lose weight requires at least a deficit of 350 calories per day.

We also have to be realistic about what the average person can accomplish when navigating a food environment that is not always conducive to nutritional health.

“From a consumer perspective, we need to live in reality,” said Dr. Joy Dubost, a dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) who just attended a meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which is tasked with giving recommendations for a coming update of the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “We can debate the science and look at the evidence, but we also need to spend some time in the shoes of consumers and think about what’s affordable and practical,” she said.

In an official statement to the DGAC, the Academy has urged committee members to recognize the “need for safe, sustainable and […] accessible food for the health of all Americans,” and to be mindful of the experience of “food insecurity and health inequity.”

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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).

For a Kinder, Gentler Approach to Weight Loss

January 15th, 2014 at 1:13 pm by timigustafson
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You have heard it all before: Crash diets – the ones that promise you to shed lots of weight in no time – don’t work, at least not in the long run. And yet, they continue to rank among the most popular plans because people want to see results pronto.

This year’s resolution season will be no different. Advertisements for quick fixes get the most attention. For some it will do the trick. But for many, it will be another round of disappointments. Initially pounds will come off, mostly through loss of water, and then they will come back with a vengeance, and in all likelihood even more will be added. It’s a vicious circle that can be devastating.

Weight loss, at least the intentional kind, is an unnatural event. Our bodies cannot readily be willed into deprivation. In evolutionary terms, we are programmed to ingest as many calories as possible when food is plentiful, so we can survive when scarcity sets in, which inevitably happened to our ancestors of yore. But those days are thankfully over for most of today’s population and perpetual overeating with all its detrimental health effects is the more likely scenario.

Some experts say that instead of attempting to cheat our genetic make-up, a better approach would be to take a good look at the lifestyle we adhere to now and navigate our present food environment to the best of our ability.

For example, people like Tom Rath, bestselling author of “Eat Move Sleep – How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes” (Missionday, 2013), propose taking small steps that are within our immediate reach, rather than trying to follow some grand strategy like a complex diet plan or other regimen that interferes with our established routines and makes it thereby so much harder to maintain.

Most of us are not cut out to look at the “big picture” when we make choices concerning our diet and lifestyle habits. Instead of torturing yourself over which foods to eat and which to avoid, recognize that sitting too much and moving too little is considerably more detrimental to your health than the occasional dietary lapse, says Rath. So make inactivity your primary enemy. The same goes for chronic sleep deprivation, a serious health concern that afflicts millions.

When it comes to weight loss, most people are too fixated on counting calories. Yes, those numbers matter, especially when they stack up. But it also matters where those calories come from. Contrary to what you may have heard from some “experts,” a calorie is not a calorie, regardless of its source. Some calories are loaded with important nutrients and others are empty and have little or no nutritional value. Regrettably, the latter are richly present in (mostly processed) foods that dominate the Western diet. Just by limiting your choices to more nutrient-dense items like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources, you can vastly improve your chances for successful weight management right away and with lasting results.

Good health is always a work in progress. You will never arrive at a point where you achieve perfection. Not even professional athletes and fitness fanatics can do that. But abiding by a few simple rules and sticking with them for the long haul can create a good foundation you can keep building on.

In my own life, I have also included other categories that go beyond the physical part of my well-being. In addition, I try to work on the emotional, intellectual, and also social and relational aspects, and check where things stand every day. It’s nothing fancy or complicated. But I know that if I allow myself getting off course too far or for too long in one area, all others will suffer as well.

Most of all, I try to be as kind, gentle and patient with myself as I am (hopefully) with my clients. I know that harshness and self-flagellation won’t get me anywhere. And I rather take another small but achievable step in the right direction than live in a fantasy that will never come to pass.

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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 Diet Plan Works Best Depends on Multiple Factors, Not All of Which Money Can Buy

January 11th, 2014 at 3:43 pm by timigustafson
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It’s the time of the year again when purveyors of diet and weight loss programs vie most fiercely for our attention, hoping to convince customers that their product can do the trick much faster and more effortlessly than the competition. But the fact is that what makes one approach more promising than another depends on a variety of factors, many of which have little to do with what’s being sold to consumers.

According to an annual report published by U.S. News, some diets are indeed superior to others in terms of effectiveness, success rates, and health benefits. A panel of experts with professional backgrounds in nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, heart disease, and psychology of eating behavior reviewed 32 of the most popular diet programs and rated them in different categories, including short-term and long-term effects, safety, user-friendliness, and nutritional completeness.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) came in first as the overall best program, followed by Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). Weight Watchers won in the best weight-loss diet category, ahead of the Biggest LoserWeight Watchers also beat its competitors as the best commercial diet plan. The DASH diet showed the most health benefits, while the Mediterranean Diet ranked highest among vegetarian regimens. The so-called Paleo or Caveman Diet and the Dukan Diet took last places.

Letting independent experts rate commercial diet programs and products is certainly not a bad idea, especially when considering the onslaught of fad diets with their oftentimes unrealistic and unfounded claims that can border on outright fraud. Thankfully, the government is increasingly scrutinizing such deceptive practices and has recently imposed serious fines on several companies.

But ratings alone cannot guarantee success when it comes to the individual consumer who is trying to lose weight, treat an illness, or simply wants to feel better. The members of the panel readily admit they did not take into account the importance of exercise and other lifestyle changes.

Also, the high costs of many commercial weight loss products were not part of their investigation, although money concerns prevent many would-be-followers from taking up or sticking to these plans long-term.

It is a simple fact that when it comes to weight management, food is only part of the equation. What and how much we eat is just one thing to consider. Why we reach for food even when we are not hungry – e.g. to cope with stress, boredom or addiction, or for other physical or psychological reasons – is an equally important question. Some people may find it hard to make the smallest lifestyle changes because of work-related circumstances such as travel, lack of sleep, or being forced to frequently eat out. Or they don’t get enough support at home, which can be crucial for their chances to make improvements. And then there is lack of education. It is no secret that many of us (experts included) are ignorant or confused about the ins and outs of staying healthy and fit. Also, what works well for one person can result in total failure for another – because, as they say, the devil is in the details.

So, instead of looking for one-fits-all solutions, my recommendation for this year’s resolution season is this:

• If you had successes in the past, try to recall what happened then and re-implement what you did. Also, ask yourself what made you fall off the wagon again.

• If a particular commercial program has worked for you once, go back to it. If it left you unconvinced, try another, but carefully study the differences.

• Most importantly, keep in mind that everything you do in your life is connected. You may have to cut back on your calorie intake, but you also want to eat more nutritiously. Regular exercise is a must, no matter how closely you watch your diet. Stress management and getting enough sleep count as well. The more you step back and look at the whole picture, the more likely you will reach your goal and be able to maintain your achievements.

I wish you a happy and healthy 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).

For Healthy Aging, Just Keep Moving

January 8th, 2014 at 2:50 pm by timigustafson
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The healthier and more physically fit you are, the better your chances will be to live a long and active life. While that may be true to a large extent, researchers now say that you don’t need to be a senior athlete to reap benefits from your physical condition. It may be enough to do just a little bit every day to keep you going. The rest is just icing on the cake, but it won’t make a decisive difference in how well you age.

A recent study from Sweden found that a generally active lifestyle, even without regular exercise sessions, can promote heart health and longevity. So-called “background activity,” the usual wear and tear your body undergoes as you navigate your day, has all too often been disregarded or underestimated in clinical studies on the importance of physical exercise in older people, the researchers said.

Whether someone exercises rigorously for half an hour or runs errands all day doesn’t make that much of a difference. What matters more is that there are no long periods of time sitting near motionlessly while watching television, reading, or doing work on the computer. A lifestyle that is excessively sedentary for whatever reason is the real culprit when people age badly, not only in physical but also in mental terms.

The difference in likelihood of dying from a heart attack or stroke between the most and the least active participants in the study was roughly 30 percent, which is substantial.

“These are fascinating findings,” said Dr. David Dunstan, head of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who was not involved in the study. “But [they are] not really surprising since other studies have looked at […] the detrimental relationship between excessive sitting and mortality outcomes,” he said to Reuters in response to the study’s publication.

What makes sitting so detrimental is that it prevents the muscles from contracting and causes decrease in blood flow, which reduces the efficiency of many body functions, including nutrient absorption, he added.

Even moderate exercise such as walking up the stairs, cleaning house, or carrying grocery bags across the parking lot can help strengthen muscles, including the most important of all, the heart muscle. For this reason, healthcare providers should encourage especially their older patients and those suffering from heart health problems not only to exercise regularly but also to sit less and move around whenever they have the chance.

Heart health is not the only concern scientists have when contemplating potential damages from lack of exercise. Prolonged sitting itself increases the risk of all causes of mortality, independent from activities like running or visits to the gym, another study found. Researchers from Harvard University concluded that sitting for several hours daily can contribute to chronic diseases like diabetes and certain forms of cancer, especially colon cancer in men.

People, like office workers, who have little choice but spending much of their time sitting should at least take regular breaks to walk around the building or office park to stretch their legs. Retired folks who have more control over their schedules should not sit at home reading or watching television but get out in the fresh air as often and as much as possible.

The good news is that increasing one’s activity level can be done at any stage in life. Numerous studies have confirmed that staying both physically and mentally engaged not only can extend life expectancy but also improve the quality of people’s later years. At any rate, it’s an investment worth making.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest

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

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

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