Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Despite of Optimistic Outlook, Baby Boomers Feel Their Vulnerability

April 30th, 2014 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson
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They saw themselves as trail blazers and pioneers. They broke rules and redefined values. They took much for granted and expected more. They vowed to be forever young. But now, the baby boomers generation – those born between 1947 and 1964 – just hope to retire safely, hold on to their lifestyle, and stay as healthy and fit as possible.

That may not be easy. Boomers have plenty of reasons to worry about their diminishing future prospects. Although they never thought of themselves as anything but winners, millions begin to discover how vulnerable they truly are.

According to a survey by Associated Press-Lifegoesstrong.com in 2011, the latest of its kind, slightly less than half of all boomers consider themselves as reasonably happy. Most think they are healthy or fairly healthy, and nearly half feel that their physical health has not worsened over the past five years. In terms of health concerns, cancer ranks highest, followed by age-related dementia and memory loss, and heart disease.

Overweight and obesity are among the most common causes of health problems affecting boomers. Two-thirds have made at least one dietary adjustment to lose weight, and more than half to reduce cholesterol levels. Overall, this generation seems better informed about the ins and outs of nutritional health than its predecessors.

Still, as other studies have shown, boomers don’t age as well as their parents and grandparents did. Despite of their optimistic outlook, the truth is that only a small minority (about 13 percent) is in really excellent shape.

Baby boomers may view the effects of aging as something that happens to someone else, but in reality they may end up creakier and sicker than their parents did, according to one study report.

“The message here is that we may not be the healthiest generation,” said Dr. Dana E. King, a professor of medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine and lead author of the report. “And I think this may be a wake-up call to the baby boomers to change their lifestyles for the better and try to delay the kind of diseases and disabilities that seem to be coming at a higher rate.”

However, despite of being better educated and having easier access to information about health matters, most boomers believe their physical well-being – especially as they age – is pretty much out of their control, according to a study by Bankers Life Center for a Secure Retirement, a financial consulting group. There is something uncharacteristically fatalistic about this generation when it comes to health issues, the study found. Most seem to think (falsely) what will happen to them is largely predetermined by their genetic make-up and/or to what extent they can afford advanced medical care.

Not everyone doubts the boomers’ ability to meet their health needs, though.

“In true baby boomer style, they will probably do these things in a new way,” predicts Tom Valeo who writes for WebMD. Since they are bound to live longer than past generations, they will have to figure out how to make this extended longevity work for them. The question is, will those years be vigorous and healthy, or will baby boomers sink into the pain and disability of chronic disease? A lot hangs on the answer, he says.

Fortunately, there is indeed much that can be done to avert, or at least reduce, the impact of the natural aging process, provided boomers – as well as the younger generations that follow them – observe health-promoting diet and lifestyle adjustments and take as many disease-prevention measures as they can. For this it is never too soon and never too late.

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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).

Is Your Job Making You Fat?

April 26th, 2014 at 12:04 pm by timigustafson
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It’s no secret that Americans spend too much time sitting. Long hours working in offices, commuting in cars, and watching TV or playing video games for relaxation render many of us near motionless for entire days. Health experts keep encouraging everyone to move more, but that is not easily done, considering our existing work and living environments. The consequences are plain to see, and they are among the greatest health concerns facing us today.

According to surveys conducted by CareerBuilder, the employment website, most industries see their employees gaining weight. Almost half of the workers interviewed for this latest study said they put on weight at their current job, with over 20 percent having gained 10 pounds and 9 percent having added 20 pounds or more.

Office workers seem to have the hardest time staying fit and trim. More than half in this category described themselves as overweight. Older employees, especially females, are more likely to have weight problems than their younger colleagues. Those in leadership positions are particularly vulnerable.

“Weight gain in the office is common and is a result of a variety of issues, including today’s economic stress and poor eating habits,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.

This is not the first of such surveys the company has conducted. In 2009 and again in 2012 the same trends were observed, and the numbers are worsening.

There is not just one culprit to point to. Half of those interviewed in the 2012 survey named having to sit at their desk for hours on end as the primary reason for becoming heavier. However, it’s not only the sedentary lifestyle but also poor diets at home, frequent snacking, eating out several times a week, overeating because of stress and anxiety, sleep deprivation, and lack of tools to better cope with all the pressure they’re experiencing that makes them prime candidates for unhealthy weight gain and a host of other health problems that come with it.

Employers realize the implications of a fatter and sicker workforce, not just for the workers themselves but their own bottom line. Company-sponsored wellness programs are now the rule rather than the exception, at least among larger firms. But still much more needs to be done.

Workers must receive better health education as well as opportunities to apply their knowledge. Some companies provide sports and workout facilities on site. Some improve their cafeteria menus and offer healthier choices. Not all can afford these, but every work place can foster a health-conducive climate in some ways, perhaps through seminars, counseling, or other incentives to build an environment where everyone can preserve and nurture their health and well-being. It’s one of the best investments they will ever make.

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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).

A Slower Pace May Not Only Reduce Stress but Can Enhance Productivity, Studies Find

April 23rd, 2014 at 1:06 pm by timigustafson
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Americans are well known for their strong belief in hard work. The idea that we can get ahead in life, achieve our goals and fulfill our dreams solely by virtue of our own efforts remains tightly woven into our cultural fabric. At the same time, there is a growing sense that our quality of life may be suffering from our restless pursuits, and that the (mostly material) rewards are perhaps not as gratifying as we hoped.

The strong public reaction to a car advertisement released by General Motors earlier this year, in which the company seemingly ridiculed French work ethics by comparison to ours, illustrates that ambiguity. According to the ad, the French put in fewer work hours, make less money, and therefore don’t have as many toys to play with, i.e. big, shiny cars. Thousands of viewers expressed their disagreement.

But it’s true. Not just France but many other European countries mandate shorter work weeks (35 to 37 hours) and longer vacations (4 to 6 weeks) than here. People also take hour-long lunch breaks and spend much time socializing with family and friends. Not quantity in terms of productivity and earnings seem foremost on their minds, but the quality of daily life.

Nobody can deny that this comparatively slow pace has its problems and may not be sustainable forever, at least not to its present extent. But there is no doubt that having a full life outside of work can provide important benefits many of us sorely miss out on.

A recent study by researchers at San Francisco State University found that pursuing interests after work, especially when they appeal to one’s creative side, may not only reduce stress and stress-related health risks, but also enhance productivity when people return to their daytime jobs.

For the study, several hundred participants were surveyed in terms of how active they were after regular work hours. As it turns out, those who pursued hobbies like painting, writing and other creative activities also performed better in their professional occupation, compared to those who spend their free time more passively, e.g. by watching TV.

It seems that engaging in different kinds of pursuits, some to earn a living, others for recreation and pastime, is especially helpful for the brain.

“Creative activity may provide an experience of discovery and growth, which includes the discovery of new cognitive pathways,” wrote Dr. Kevin Eschleman, a psychologist at S.F. State and lead author of the study report.

More than daily routines and repeating performances, creative activities, which many of us can only take up in their personal time, can give us a sense of mastery and control over our lives, which in turn may benefit all other performance-related outcomes, the researchers concluded.

As for the French – whom some like to characterize as such slackers – they rank among the most productive workers in the world. Go figure.

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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).

Don’t Worry Yourself Sick

April 19th, 2014 at 3:39 pm by timigustafson
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Among the many capabilities that distinguish us humans from other earthly creatures is the ability to forecast future events and prepare accordingly. Your dog or cat may have an uncanny way of “knowing” when you’ll return from work or when it’s feeding time, but that doesn’t compare with our anticipating of what’s to come. However, this unique gift also has a downside: We worry. And sometimes we worry too much.

Worrying is a form of stress that can have multiple negative health effects, especially when there is no reprieve. Constant worriers can turn into emotional wrecks with sometimes serious physical implications.

Potential outcomes are toxic effects from accumulating stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol in the blood stream, which can affect the glands, nervous system, and the heart, and can lead to stomach ulcers, heart disease, and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Other less dangerous, but by no means benign, responses include muscle tension, headaches, back pain, constipation and diarrhea. There can also be a greater susceptibility to infectious diseases as the immune system weakens.

Worrying also impacts our wellbeing in other ways. It can rob us of our peace of mind, disturb our sleep, reduce our libido, isolate us socially, and throw us into depression. Unlike fear, where there are concrete obstacles, excessive worrying can make the whole world appear as a threat, causing anxiety and panic attacks.

Worriers typically get bogged down by events that haven’t happened yet but might in a worst case scenario, says Dr. Christine Purdon, a psychology professor and executive director of the Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. They succumb to what she calls a “worry chain,” where one worrying thought spurs another and another, until they no longer can think straight.

What’s important is that overly worried people reestablish a sense of perspective. While it is perfectly acceptable to be a little nervous before an exam or a job interview, getting paralyzed with fear over every eventuality is not. There is only so much the mind can bear in terms of apprehension. Beyond that things start spinning out of control.

There are a number of exercises people prone to worrying can do to calm down and regain their confidence, Dr. Purdon suggests. Sometimes it can help just to analyze where a particular concerns originates from. Getting to the root of one’s worries can be a first step to overcome them. Asking the right questions, such as “Do I have any control over this particular situation?” – or “Have I done everything I can to avert an undesirable outcome?” – or “Is this an imminent threat?” can help clarify how justified a particular concern really is.

There are also some hands-on measures worried folks can take to counterbalance the effects of their thinking. Eating extra nutritious foods, engaging in regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all tried and true anti-stressors. Nothing worse can happen to a person who is under emotional distress than letting his or her body get run down. It is like throwing gasoline on fire.

Not allowing yourself to be isolated is equally important. Seeing a licensed psychologist or health counselor can be helpful, and so can staying close to family and friends. Sometimes just forgetting about one’s worries for a while by rejoining the living can take the bleakness away.

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

The Right Diet

April 16th, 2014 at 7:59 am by timigustafson
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When people hear the word “diet,” most think of calorie restriction, deprivation, making up for past indulgences, and as so forth. There is something unpleasant, almost punitive about the whole concept of dieting, which is unfortunate because it can make it harder to turn to healthier eating regimens.

“The main goal of going on a diet is to get off it as quickly as possible,” a client of mine used to say. I’m sure his sentiment is widely shared.

Another reason why diets are unfavorably looked upon is that they don’t work in most cases, even if they show initial success. It can be maddeningly frustrating to realize the futility of one’s sincere efforts when lost pounds return with interest, seemingly for no particular reason.

Being intimately familiar with the scenario, I tell my clients from the get-go that if their diet leaves them feeling deprived and unsatisfied, they will not be able to maintain it in the long run, no matter how beneficial it may be to their health.

In its original meaning, the term “diet” does not describe a departure from one’s regular eating styles. On the contrary, it simply means what and how someone usually eats. Certain eating habits may have developed over long periods of time, often starting during childhood.

When established patterns begin to cause problems, e.g. unwanted weight gain, elevated cholesterol levels, adult-onset diabetes, etc., some form of intervention is likely to be required. How effective the intervening measures will be depends on multiple factors.

All need for change starts with a crisis, benign or serious. Nobody arrives at the decision to change his or her eating patterns in a vacuum. There may be acute health problems, issues of vanity, a desire for winning back youthful rigor – whatever. An important question is how do the required changes fit into someone’s existing circumstances.

Few people can completely undo and remake their current lifestyle features. There are families, occupations, commitments, and multiple other concerns involved. Diet and lifestyle are intertwined with all that. How can we expect, for instance, someone to eat in unaccustomed ways, establish and maintain an unfamiliar exercise routine, stop all detrimental habits like smoking or drinking at once and go on with life as if nothing happened? It’s a ludicrous proposition.

Then there is the matter of personality. Some (very few) people are able to turn on a dime. The vast majority tends to implement changes only in small increments. In my book, “The Healthy Diner,” I describe different personality types I’ve come across over my many years of health counseling. There are people who find it relatively easy to try out new approaches, others prefer to stick with the tried and true. Others again are ready to take up whatever is new and exciting but lose interest or don’t have the stamina to see things through over time. None of these attitudes are to be judged as better or worse, but they are predictors of how likely a person will succeed with certain methods.

So what would be the best way to get on a healthy path that is effective and also endures? The simple answer is that none fits all.

What that means in practical terms is that before you sign up for Weight Watchers, South Beach, Mediterranean, DASH, or whatever seems most promising, ask yourself how this or that program fits you – you as that unique individual at a particular moment in your life. Examine carefully your natural tendencies, your strengths and weaknesses, and also your situation and how people and things around you are affected by your decisions.

Eventually, you should be able to come up with what I call the “right diet,” which is specifically designed for you, and the only one I trust to produce lasting results. You may be successful by following, at least in part, a particular prescription, or borrow from several. In the end, however, it has to be all yours.

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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).

Food Poisoning Most Often from Restaurant Visits, Study Finds

April 12th, 2014 at 8:17 am by timigustafson
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Americans love to eat out, preferably several times a week, according to the Nation’s Restaurant News, a publication for the restaurant industry. At the same time, there is growing concern that restaurant food may not be as healthy as it should be. On top of worries over portion sizes and excessive fat, salt and sugar content – all believed to contribute to weight problems – a new study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) warns consumers about the heightened risk of food poisoning from restaurant fare.

Each year, nearly 50 million Americans fall ill from contaminated food, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Harmful bacteria are the most common cause of foodborne illness. Symptoms can range from mild irritation to severe reactions, including stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration.

Between 2002 and 2011, more than 1600 outbreaks of food poisoning, affecting over 28,000 people, were connected to restaurant visits, based on the CSPI study. By contrast, only about 13,000 people became victims of such ills originating in their homes.

Unfortunately, the numbers are vague because not all outbreaks are reported, nor are their causes always clearly identified. Reporting has decreased by 42 percent, the researchers say, not necessarily because there are fewer cases but rather because of budget cuts for public health investigations.

Besides restaurants and private homes, food poisoning can take place just about anywhere, including in the workplace, at catered events, in schools, and at picnics. Most vulnerable among the afflicted are children and the elderly.

To prevent foodborne illness, experts recommend a number of precautions. Especially animal food products are susceptible to spoilage if not stored properly. You want to make sure items like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy foods are fully cooked or pasteurized before they are eaten. Raw meat or fish (e.g. steak tartar, sushi) may be fashionable, but the potential health threats are significant. If you love uncooked animal foods, be sure to patronize only reputable establishments.

Raw vegetables can also spoil and wreak havoc on your digestive system. Uncooked plant foods should always be thoroughly washed and stored in the refrigerator until consumption.

Dairy products like cheese and yogurt should always be kept refrigerated. Some types of cheese have bacteria and molds that add to their flavor and character. Hard varieties typically last longer than soft ones, but all require appropriate storage and should not be left exposed to warm temperatures for extended periods of time.

Preventive measures must also include proper cooking techniques and personal hygiene. Washing hands before and after touching food is imperative, especially when it involves uncooked animal foods like meat, poultry, and seafood.

Of course, when you eat out, you are at the mercy of those manning the kitchen. The only advice one can give is that if you have encountered problems in the past, you may not want to go back for seconds. On the other hand, if you are a regular at a particular eatery and you trust the place, you may want to stick with it. Of course, that is still not a foolproof strategy. All you can really do is minimize the risk by using your best judgment.

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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).

Keeping Consumers Guessing About Healthy Eating

April 9th, 2014 at 8:14 am by timigustafson
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Although there is certainly no shortage of nutritional advice today, most consumers remain painfully confused about the quality of their food choices. The reason is not only lack of interest or education but also how relevant information is conveyed.

Food manufacturers tend not to inform their customers very well when marketing their products, a recent survey from the United Kingdom concluded. More than half of the people interviewed for this project said that most nutritional information on food and drink packages was hard to decipher and that they would pay more attention if it were presented in simpler ways.

“The problem is not so much with the labeling itself but the lack of clarity in general,” said Thomas Brown, an associate director for research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the company that carried out the survey. “Consumers are bombarded with conflicting messages from the media on what constitutes a healthy diet, making it difficult for them to make informed choices about how to eat healthily,” he said in an interview with Food Navigator.

The survey also included respondents working in the food industry. A vast majority (83 percent) admitted having personally witnessed manipulations in words and imagery to make products appear more nutritionally valuable than they actually were. 37 percent believed that manufacturers and retailers made it deliberately difficult for consumers to understand the information they were given.

This confirms an earlier study, also from the U.K., that found food label descriptions to be rather “economical with the truth,” causing widespread misinformation and confusion.

The study, which was conducted by the British Food Advisory Committee, reported that many descriptions were, if not false, outright meaningless. Terms like “pure,” “fresh,” “natural,” “authentic,” “original,” “homemade,” “country style,” etc. tell consumers nothing about the nutritional quality of these products, the authors of the report said. Yet they are readily used in unfounded assurances to seduce people into buying them.

Closer to home, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked food manufacturers about a year ago to change nutrition labels, so they display the calorie and nutritional content of the entire food container instead of dividing it up into serving sizes, which oftentimes seems arbitrary and hard to interpret by consumers. In a study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the researchers found that single-serving and dual-column formats of nutrition facts labels were easiest to follow by most participants.

People are willing to learn about the ins and outs of healthy eating if they are explained to them in user-friendly ways. If they feel that the information given to them is unclear, or worse, misleading, they lose interest in making adjustments and go back to ingrained habits.

“I would like to see the total number of calories in a package on a package,” said Dr. Marion Nestle, a professor for nutrition at New York University and author of “Food Politics – How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health” (University of California Press 2002) in response to the FDA study. “I don’t think people should have to do the math,” she added.

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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).

And You Thought You Were Eating Right Already

April 5th, 2014 at 8:02 am by timigustafson
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Most of us already knew about the importance of eating more fruit and vegetables to stay healthy and control our weight. But now a new study from England suggests that no less than seven servings of fresh produce per day may be required to give us a reasonable shot at good health and old age.

For their research, scientists from University College London (UCL) used data from annual statistical surveys, known as Health Survey for England (HSE), to study the eating habits of over 65,000 Brits, starting in 2001 through 2013.

Based on their findings, they concluded that participants who followed a diet rich in fruit and vegetables could dramatically lower their risk of dying prematurely from any illness, including heart disease and cancer.

For example, people who ate seven or more portions of plant-based foods every day decreased their risk of death from all causes by an astounding 42 percent, from heart disease by 31 percent, and from cancer by 25 percent. These numbers, the researchers observed, held up even after they were adjusted for age, gender, weight, physical activity level, income, education, and lifestyle, including tobacco and alcohol use.

The apparent benefits are staggering, said Dr. Oyinlola Oyebode, the lead author of the study. “The clear message here is that the more fruit and vegetables you eat, the less likely you are to die at any age.”

Until now, most official guidelines advised about five servings daily. The World Health Organization (WHO) called increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables to “5 A Day” an important part of its “Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health” in 2004. Australia has a public campaign named “Go for 2&5” that promotes eating two portions of fruit and five of vegetables per day, especially for children. In the United States, a program titled “Fruits & Veggies – More Matters” recommends filling half of every plate with fruit and vegetables.

People shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by these numbers, said Dr. Oyebode. “Whatever your starting point, it is always worth eating more fruit and vegetables. In our study, even those eating one to three portions had a significantly lower risk than those eating less than one,” she added.

Critics have pointed out that these latest recommendations may be unrealistic for most people because of high prices for fresh food items. For example, Dr. Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, said the seven-a-day message was too challenging for many consumers and would require governmental subsidies and/or additional taxes on less healthy products to make high quality foods available to all in society.

Other experts agree. People were already struggling with the existing targets. Plus, in the real world, eating habits are a complex issue that involves numerous variables such as access, affordability, education, and social and cultural differences. Also, simply focusing on the health effects of one or two food groups leaves out multiple other components, including agricultural and environmental factors. Not many of us can devise their own dietary regimen independent of their surroundings.

The bottom line is that we all have to make the best of what we have to work with. The new study, as dramatic as its findings appear to be, is not really new at all. It says that the healthier you eat – plus do the other important things like exercise, manage stress, get enough sleep, don’t abuse your body – the greater the chances will be for you to stay healthy and fit throughout your life. But you probably already knew that, too.

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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).

Eat Less, Live Longer?

April 2nd, 2014 at 10:58 am by timigustafson
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Finding ways to extend the human lifespan by observing certain diet and lifestyle regimens has been a centuries-old quest. Indeed, our average life expectancy has dramatically increased over time, at least in the wealthier parts of the world, due to improvements in hygiene, health care, and food supply. Yet science has still not been able to provide definite answers to what we can do to live longer.

Studies on longevity in connection with diet and lifestyle have been undertaken as early as the 16th century, most notably by one Luigi Cornaro, a Venetian who was known for his hard partying until his health failed him before he reached 50. In his autobiographical book, “Discourses on a Sober and Temperate Life,” which is still in print today, he claims that a radical change from unrestricted indulgence to Spartan simplicity not only restored his health but also added many more years to his life. He died at 98 – an exceptionally old age at his time.

A more systematic approach to studying the effects of diet on longevity was taken in the 1930s when scientists noticed that lab mice put on a calorie-restricted diet lived up to 40 percent longer than their abundantly fed counterparts. But still nobody knew the exact causes of the dramatic lifespan increases, let alone whether the findings were applicable to humans.

Two relatively recent studies tested independently from each other the impact of calorie restriction on health and mortality in rhesus monkeys. Both came up with opposite results.

In 2009, a study report issued by researchers from the University of Wisconsin claimed that a calorie-restricted diet regimen did actually favor longevity in the monkeys. But three years later, scientists at the National Institute of Aging laboratory in Baltimore who conducted similar studies found no evidence that providing their monkeys with less food made any difference in terms of lifespan, as they documented in their own report.

A subsequent dispute between the two research teams over their differing study results continues today.

Regardless of what animal tests are (or are not) able to show, it remains unclear how the outcomes can be made useful for humans.

To understand the effects of calorie restriction, one has to be careful to distinguish between undernutrition, in which all the essential nutrients the body needs to function properly and stay healthy are provided – albeit by using fewer calories, and malnutrition, where at least some nutrients are missing, potentially resulting in harmful deficiencies over time. The latter is certainly not recommended and is not likely to have any health benefits, including for longevity.

In the light of what we know about the health effects of diet to date, we can say with reasonable certainty that moderate calorie restriction in support of weight control is healthy and in any case preferable to excessive weight gain, one of the largest health threats looming today. To what extent that implicates life expectancy remains to be seen. More important to realize, however, is the fact that health-promoting diet and lifestyle choices contribute to the quality of life at any age and become even more significant as we grow older.

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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).

Bottling Up Negative Emotions Can Be Just as Harmful as Acting on Them

March 29th, 2014 at 3:30 pm by timigustafson
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Having been born and raised in England, I am intimately familiar with the habit of keeping a “stiff upper lip.” As a cultural phenomenon, this means that emotions – positive or negative – are not readily expressed, at least not in public. Some may take this as good manners, others as signs of rigidity and unnatural restraint. In any case, researchers warn that perpetual emotional suppression is nothing benign but can lead to potentially serious mental and physical health problems and even premature death.

One study conducted by psychologists from Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester found that suppressing emotions may increase the risk of dying from heart disease and certain forms of cancer. This confirms earlier studies that have linked negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression to the development of heart disease.

The health risks increase, it seems, when people have no way of expressing or acting on their feelings, the researchers say. We know that stress can build up and become chronic when our “natural” fight-or-flight responses meant to help us survive in conflictous situations are frustrated. Similarly detrimental effects may occur when negative emotions remain unexpressed.

Some experts suggest that acknowledging emotions, especially distressing ones, and airing them from time to time is an important component of mental health.

In our culture, people quickly feel guilty or ashamed when they appear as being overly negative or critical, says Tori Rodriguez, a psychotherapist and writer based in Atlanta. We are biased toward positive thinking, which is worth cultivating, but problems arise when people start believing they must be upbeat all the time, she says.

“Anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment. Acknowledging the complexity of life may be an especially fruitful path to psychological well-being.”

But how about positive emotions? Can they make us healthier? Yes, especially if we allow ourselves to express them, a separate study from Harvard found.

Individuals with great emotional vitality have a much lower risk of developing heart disease compared to the less emotionally expressive, according to Dr. Laura Kubzansky, a professor of human health and development at Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study report. There are mechanisms at play we don’t fully understand yet, she says, but there is evidence that positive emotions can provide some sort of “restorative biology.”

Obviously, neither positive nor negative feelings arise in a vacuum. An essential part of emotional well-being is our ability to create and maintain a conducive environment where our various needs are satisfied and our bodies, minds and souls are nourished. Not all, but a great deal of that is within our control and can benefit from our care. That in itself should give us cause to feel better.

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

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About timigustafson

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

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