Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

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).

It’s Not Always the Food that Makes Us Eat

March 26th, 2014 at 5:54 pm by timigustafson
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What is more likely to cause overeating – a quick bite on the run or a sit-down meal in a relaxed atmosphere? Surprisingly, it’s the rushed eating event that most often seduces us to overindulge. Why? For a number of reasons, most of which we are completely unaware of, according to scientists who study our eating behavior.

If you serve people the same kind of food but provide a different atmosphere, such as lighting and music, they will not only have a different dining experience but will also respond differently in terms of how fast and how much they eat, said Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and consumer behavior at Cornell University in New York.

Together with his co-researcher, Dr. Koert van Ittersum of the Georgia Institute of Technology, he experimented with alterations in fast food restaurants, like toning down lights and playing soft jazz music in the background, to see if it influenced how customers ate their meals. As it turned out, not only did patrons find their meals better tasting and spend more time eating, they also consumed on average about 200 fewer calories!

“The more relaxed environment increased satisfaction and decreased consumption,” Dr. Wansink observed. “Making simple changes away from brighter lights and sound-reflecting surfaces can go a long way toward reducing overeating and increase customers’ satisfaction at the same time,” he said.

Similar effects were found in other studies on food presentation. Adding decorative flourishes, as it is customary in high-end restaurants, can make a significant difference on how people relate to the food they are served, according to one study conducted at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.

Here, patrons were served the very same meal two nights in a row, however with dramatically altered plating styles. On the first night, an entrée consisting of chicken breast, brown rice and green beans was presented in what is considered a traditional style. The following night, the chefs arranged the ingredients more creatively. Overwhelmingly, the second presentation was judged as more pleasing and, although both meals were virtually identical, the food was found to be superior.

These are simple tricks people can use at home just as effectively to make their meals more attractive, said Dr. Debra Zellner, a professor of psychology at Montclair State University in New Jersey and lead author of the study report.

One of the reasons why nutrition experts recommend sit-down family meals over TV dinners is atmosphere. When people of all ages take time to focus on their food, enjoy each other’s company, and do it in a place that is reserved for eating occasions only, it reflects on their behavior – and the benefits can be substantial, not the least for nutritional health and weight control.

Distracted food consumption, or as Dr. Wansink calls it, “mindless eating,” is considered to be one of the causes for overeating and unwanted weight gain. Paying greater attention not only to what we eat but also how much and how quickly can be an effective countermeasures to overeating. For some, this may take a few lifestyle changes. But it is not complicated, and the results are well worth the effort.

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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 the Public Not Confused Enough Yet?

March 22nd, 2014 at 7:45 am by timigustafson
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It was the kind of report news outlets pounce on because it apparently offers one of those ‘gotcha’ moments their audience seems to crave so much. So you’ve probably already heard about the latest study on dietary fats and their limited impact on heart health.

If not, here are a few details. For their research, an international team of scientists undertook what is known as a ‘meta-analysis,’ meaning they reviewed a number of previous investigations (as opposed to doing their own) to determine the effects of diet changes with regards to fat intake. In the end they concluded that cutting back on saturated fat or adding polyunsaturated fatty acids, as recommended by many health experts, was not as beneficial as widely believed.

In layperson’s terms, the study results could be interpreted as saying that for heart health it doesn’t really matter all that much what kind of fat you eat – whether it comes from meat products (mostly saturated), oils (mono- and polyunsaturated), plant foods like vegetables, beans and grains (polyunsaturated), fish (omega-3), or nuts and seeds (omega-6 polyunsaturated).

This, of course, sharply contradicts existing nutritional guidelines – including those by the American Heart Association (AHA) – most of which urge limiting saturated fats and replacing them with the other varieties, especially for heart disease patients.

To be sure, studies like these (including studies of studies) are important and instrumental for the progress of science. They help us refine and, if need be, correct the knowledge we claim to have. On the other hand, if they are reported in the press and elsewhere in ways that misread or distort the facts and only add to the confusion of an already weary public, we may need to look for a more careful approach.

The findings of studies that solely focus on particular nutrients cannot readily be translated into nutritional guidelines, warns Dr. David L. Katz, the founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University and the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut, and author of several books on nutritional health, most recently, “Disease Proof – The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well” (Penguin, 2013).

The point is that if you ask people to change just one thing in their diet, you are not necessarily improving their overall nutritional health. For example, it doesn’t suffice to recommend reducing consumption of meat (saturated fat) but say nothing about excessive intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar, which is equally common in the American diet, and has equally menacing health outcomes.

When people decide to eat less of certain foods, they usually compensate for the deficit by eating more of something else. The question is, what is that something else, says Dr. Katz.

To give meaningful dietary guidelines people can trust and follow in practical terms, scientists have to stop taking a “one-nutrient-at-a-time” approach and rather focus on the larger picture, he demands in an article he wrote in response to the study.

“Dietary guidance must be about the whole diet, and should be directed at foods rather than nutrients. If we get the foods right, the nutrients take care of themselves,” he argues.

So what should be the take-away from this study and others of its kind? To everyone who is interested in health-promoting eating habits, I suggest you continue with your regimen of a balanced diet as best as you can. The benefits are clear and so are the risks of deviating from what we know to be healthful. There is nothing to be confused about.

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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).

Great Plans for Retirement, but How Much Will Materialize?

March 19th, 2014 at 5:22 pm by timigustafson
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In the 2002 movie, “About Schmidt,” a recently retired insurance agent (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) goes on a road trip in a brand new RV to see his daughter, and a bit of America along the way. What unfolds is a story as complex and convoluted as Schmidt’s new life. He realizes that his work of many years has quickly become irrelevant, and that his ties to family and friends have long frayed. Now he is intent on making up for the many sacrifices and missed opportunities in his past. Even his wife’s sudden and unexpected death doesn’t change that. There is still more to come in his “Golden Years,” or so he hopes.

More so than any other generation before them, today’s retirees have great expectations about what they will be able to accomplish after officially leaving the work force. There are many good reasons for that. People live longer, have a wider variety of skills and interests, are more mobile, and can take advantage of technologies not available only a short time ago.

On the downside, a great number are not financially secure enough to be able to afford retirement. They hope to continue working, at least part-time, to supplement pensions and savings. According to surveys, three fourths of Americans say they plan on working beyond retirement age in some capacity.

But that may be easier said than done. In actuality less than one fifth manage to remain in the work force. Many retire even sooner than they had envisioned – in most cases not by choice. According to the AARP, older Americans may want to continue working because it provides them with much needed income, keeps them busy and engaged, allows them to stay socially connected, and so forth. But often retirees underestimate the difficulties of finding any job, let alone one that fulfills them and gives them pleasure.

True, much of today’s work environment does no longer require hard physical labor, so aging people are not necessarily as disadvantaged as they used to be. But well paying jobs, as scarce as they are, typically demand long work hours as well as skills older workers may not have and find hard to acquire.

Also, while blatant age discrimination is unlawful, many employers are hesitant to hire workers late in their careers, even those with valuable expertise, if they can get their needs met by younger ones for less money and fewer benefits.

There are, of course, numerous examples of retried persons finding meaningful and rewarding things to do. Those who can afford to busy themselves for free are invited to volunteer for countless causes. But for the majority that’s no solution. According to consumercredit.com, more than 70 percent of Americans are financially too insecure to retire without some source of income in addition to their pension plans and/or social security checks.

Among the greatest concerns, unsurprisingly, are rising healthcare costs. This is where many of the elderly feel most vulnerable. Whether the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) will change that remains to be seen, but presently there is much uncertainty about the new law’s impact, particularly on those who suffer from chronic ailments.

For this and other reasons, we all, but especially the now retiring baby boomers, are well advised to pay close attention to our health needs, preferably in terms of disease prevention through diet and lifestyle improvements. Contrary to widespread belief, illness and decline are not inevitable parts of aging. In fact, with few exceptions, we have considerable control over our own aging process. And how well we do health-wise determines greatly what else we can hope to accomplish in every other aspect.

So, to my fellow-retirees who are still highly active and full of plans for the future, I say: let’s keep up our zest for life, but let’s start with the fundamentals, and see where we can go from here.

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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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