Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Extreme Longevity – Progress or Worrisome Prospect?

May 10th, 2014 at 7:45 am by timigustafson
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Alexander Imich is officially the oldest man alive. A few weeks ago he turned 111, still living independently in his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He is not the currently longest-living human, though. 66 women surpass him, including the eldest, Misao Okawa, a 116-year-old lady from Japan, as recently reported by the New York Times. But despite of the noteworthiness of these examples, extreme longevity is no longer a rare exception but is becoming a growing trend.

According to the most recent data collected by the Census Bureau, over 53,000 people are now 100 years and older in the United States alone.

The “oldest old” – those who are 90 and beyond – are the fastest expanding segment of the U.S. population. Today there are nearly two million nonagenarians. That number will likely increase to 10 to 12 million by mid-century, a prospect that raises multiple concerns in terms of healthcare and retirement issues.

A study titled “90+,” conducted by the University of California, Irvine and sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), has followed this demographic since 2003. As reported by 60 Minutes, the news magazine on CBS, it is the largest study on the subject of old age to date, and includes clinical, pathological, and genetic research, involving more than 1,600 participants.

While the study is still ongoing, it has already produced some surprising results. For example, putting on a little extra weight late in life does not as much harm as previously thought and may even have some benefits. Eating right is still important, but adding more nutrients, e.g. by taking vitamin supplements, seems to have no noticeable effects. On the other hand, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and coffee can indeed promote healthy aging and increase longevity, the researchers found.

Mental health, however, is less assured, no matter what action is taken. Over 40 percent of nonagenarians suffer from dementia, and about half of those are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The causes are not fully understood yet, but experts say that lack of physical activity may be a contributing factor. Naturally, most 90-year-olds do not or are not able to exercise rigorously.

What we learn from the longest living among us is that they generally make healthy diet and lifestyle choices, but they don’t obsess over them. Education, access to healthcare, and standard of living are clearly important components, but so are good marriages, friendships, and an active social life. Purpose and meaningful work also play a role. Communities, neighborhoods, and even climatic and geographic differences seem to contribute to longevity. In other words, it is not one thing or set of rules people who age well live by – but usually a whole package that fulfills their needs and lets them thrive over long periods of time.

We are witnessing an extraordinary growth of aging populations throughout the world, and the current trends will likely accelerate in the future. How we handle the challenges that come with longer life expectancy, demographic changes, age-related disease, and many others, depends on how well we understand the natural aging process and meet its demands. Extending the human life span further and further, just because our medical and pharmaceutical advances enable us to do so, may not be the best way to go – it may not even be the right way.

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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).

Poor Diet Choices Hurt Both Humans and the Environment, Study Finds

May 7th, 2014 at 10:53 am by timigustafson
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Scientists have long warned that some of our modern-day eating habits are not only harmful to our personal health but also to the planet. Especially our preference for animal food products like meat and dairy causes more environmental damage than most consumers are aware of. A recent study from France tried to calculate more accurately the real costs of our food consumption on both individual as well as global levels, and the results are not comforting.

Foods with the comparatively lowest nutritional value may be the cheapest to buy but are the costliest in terms of production and environmental impact, the study found. High meat consumption in particular contributes to weight problems and a number of related diseases, and is also responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, wasteful water use, and other depletion of natural resources, the researchers said.

“The food system accounts for approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and global obesity is on the rise,” Dr. Gabriel Masset, a researcher at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, and lead author of the study report told Reuters.

What must be done to make both our food production and consumption healthier and more sustainable for the long term is to focus on foods that offer higher nutritional value at lower cost and with a smaller environmental footprint, the study concluded.

But we also need a sea change in consumer behavior. Animal food products are the toughest on the environment. Growing fruits and vegetables is far less intrusive but can be labor intensive and therefore pricey. Processed foods, both animal- and plant-based, are much cheaper by comparison but can be unhealthy and are considered to be among the leading causes of the global obesity crisis.

Reducing meat consumption alone will not solve the myriad of environmental problems we are facing today. Nor will it reverse our diet and lifestyle-related disease epidemic. But it can be one of many measures we can take to lead us in the right direction.

“The fact is, most people in the U.S. eat way more meat than is good for them or the planet, but even knowing this, the chances are little that we are all going to become vegetarians, much less vegans,” said Mario Batali, a celebrity chef and restaurateur. “But we can focus on a more plant-based diet and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably,” he added.

To put his money where his mouth is, Batali pledged a commitment to a ‘Meatless Monday’ policy in his establishments and lent his support for the “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change & Health” by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental health research and advocacy organization.

Food choices are a highly personal matter. Most people don’t like to be told they are doing something wrong by eating what they want. That’s understandable. But knowing the real impact and cost, both tangible and intangible, our behavior causes, should be in everybody’s interest.

Fortunately, even on an individual level, we are not completely helpless. As consumers, our actions matter greatly to the respective industries, and they will listen. Already there is a growing public interest in the integrity of our food sources. If that concern for our personal wellbeing expands to greater care for the environment we all live in, progress will be inevitable – and the sooner we get there, the 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).

Love Can Preserve Health and Add Years to Life

May 3rd, 2014 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson
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Love may not be all you need, but a loving relationship offers countless benefits and can even be a lifesaver. Loving someone and being loved in return does not only make us happier, it also motivates us to take better care of our health, reduces our stress, and can extend our lifespan, according to studies on the effects of marriage and other long-term relations on people’s wellbeing.

One such study found that marriage can improve a patient’s survival chances after heart surgery. Another concluded that married men seek medical help sooner when they experience symptoms of heart problems than their single counterparts.

Married people in general are more likely to have regular medical check-ups and other preventive healthcare measures, and when they get sick, they are better looked after than if they were on their own. That lowers their risk of dying from a catastrophic event like a heart attack or stroke, according to Dr. Clare Atzema, a researcher at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, Canada, and lead author of one of the studies.

But it doesn’t have to come to such extremes before the benefits of being loved and cared for kick in. Studies have shown that people who are in stable relationships tend to engage less in risky behavior and are less prone to violence than those who are unattached. Similar effects are seen with regards to smoking and alcohol and drug use.

Especially young males seem to benefit from feeling valued, which can help avoid accidents and other calamites caused by recklessness, says Dr. Michael Murphy, a professor of demography at the London School of Economics, England, and author of one study on the subject.

None of this means that love makes us more virtuous or benevolent, but it does say something about the changes we undergo when connecting with another human being. The desire to get close to someone can bring out the best in us. We want to please, and so we are willing to do whatever it takes to make ourselves attractive to our love interest. If our feelings are returned, we benefit in multiple ways, not only emotionally but physically as well.

Scientists have found that people in strong relationships manage stressful events much more successfully than others who are alone or whose attachments are dysfunctional.

The effects of being in a relationship can cut both ways, the researchers of one study say. Especially in young marriages, both spouses have to figure out how to cope with the inevitable adversities life throws at them. If there is mutual support and care, it will make their bond stronger; if not, they will likely be torn apart. Only time can tell which path they will take.

Love, of course, also renders us extremely vulnerable. Breakup, divorce and widowhood are among the most devastating experiences we can go through. A broken heart can destroy our zest for life and even lead to our own demise. Loneliness and social isolation, especially at an advanced age, are known to contribute to depression and mental decline.

The ways we express love and form relationships have changed many times and will continue to do so. What remains is our need for love as a life-giving force that makes us whole and keeps us well. And that, nobody can do without.

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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).

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).

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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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