Posts Tagged ‘Alcohol’

For Healthy Aging, Less Is More

September 9th, 2015 at 12:41 pm by timigustafson

Several recently published studies on aging all seem to lead to the same conclusion: when it comes to diet and lifestyle choices, older adults are well advised to practice moderation. Whether it concerns weight management, physical activity, or alcohol and tobacco use, health experts urge people to consider their limitations and changing needs as they approach their senior years.

One such study, led by researchers at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), found that gradual calorie restriction in mid-life could help lower the risk of many diseases later on. The findings confirm what has previously been shown only in animal studies, namely that reducing food intake could have a positive impact on aging and longevity, thereby supporting the message that weight control becomes ever more important in the second half of life.

Similarly, experts recommend age-appropriate behavior when it comes to exercise. While physical activity is crucial for healthy aging – as it is for good health in general – there are limits to what people can endure as they grow older. Of course, much depends on a person’s individual fitness level, but certain precautions should be observed regardless. The good news is that even smaller doses of regular exercise (emphasis on regular) can produce significant benefits, not only for the aging body but, equally as important, for the mind. As studies have shown, even less strenuous activities like walking, bicycling, or swimming can help improve heart health as well as cognitive abilities. But for seniors, trying harder may not necessarily lead to better results.

It has often been suggested that drinking alcohol, particularly red wine, may be beneficial for the heart. To be sure, those claims are not beyond dispute, and the jury is still out on what alcohol actually does for people’s well-being other than make them feel good. What is well established, however, is that consuming high amounts is dangerous and can have enormously detrimental consequences in multiple ways, including for aging. As it gets older, the human body becomes increasingly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and is less able to handle its toxicity, according to research. That is why the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends for seniors no more than one glass of alcoholic beverages per day.

It goes without saying that avoidance or cessation of tobacco use is a good idea at any time, but, again, it becomes a more pressing matter at an advanced age.

Most of the studies mentioned reaffirm other findings of the past. For instance, according to the guidelines for healthy aging by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all adults over the age of 50 should be conscious of their changing health needs. Dietary choices should depend on activity level and other factors like eating styles, food sources, and so on. Following a regular exercise regimen can be instrumental in slowing down the natural aging process, but age-related limitations must be taken into account. Some lifelong pleasures and habits like drinking or smoking may no longer be tolerable. Counseling and other support measures for cessation may be helpful.

Another topic that is often not considered enough is the psychological component in all this. If those guidelines and recommendations are perceived only as restraint or deprivation, they will be hard to adhere to. Old habits, as the saying goes, die hard. As we grow older, we all experience losses and are forced to let go. For this, it is of great importance to see the larger picture and appreciate the immeasurable value of good health, without which nothing else matters.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Hypertension for Beginners

July 18th, 2015 at 1:54 pm by timigustafson

More than half of people who have hypertension, a.k.a. high blood pressure, don’t know enough about the condition and are unable to control it properly, according to a new survey.

Oftentimes patients don’t even correctly understand the meaning of the word “hypertension,” and think of it more in terms of stress, anxiety, or other psychological disturbance rather than what it actually is, namely a physiological dysfunction that can turn into a chronic disease if untreated, the researchers found.

Many healthcare professionals use the words “hypertension” and “high blood pressure” interchangeably when talking to their patients, which can be confusing for some, said Dr. Barbara Bokhour, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University School of Public Health and co-author of the study report, to Reuters.

Explained in a nutshell, blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Measuring involves two readings: systolic, indicating the pressure as the heart pumps blood out, and diastolic, the remaining pressure as the heart relaxes and refills with blood.

Normal blood pressure ranges below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. Readings of 120 to139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic are considered “pre-hypertension,” meaning there is a risk of developing hypertension without intervention. Everything above 140 over 90 is categorized as hypertension of various stages, with 180+ over 110+ seen as a medical emergency.

Hypertension can build up for years without ever showing discernable symptoms. But left uncontrolled, it can lead to life-threatening complications like kidney disease and heart disease as well as heart attack and stroke.

Hypertension is a growing worldwide epidemic. The number of people living with the disease has crossed the 1 billion mark in 2008 and is predicted to reach well over 1.5 billion within the next ten years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The causes are seen to a large degree as diet and lifestyle-related, including excessive consumption of salt and alcohol as well as excess weight and lack of physical activity.

Against widely shared assumption, hypertension is not a disease that predominantly occurs with age. Recent studies found that young adults in their 20s and 30s are now increasingly at risk as well, facing complications much sooner than generations before them.

For this reason it is extremely important to keep blood pressure as low as possible, especially in the first half of adult life, said Dr. Joao Lima, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of one such study, ideally even below the recommended limits.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Even Small Amounts of Alcohol May Cause Cancer, Study Finds

March 15th, 2013 at 3:05 pm by timigustafson

Moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages can have a place in a healthy lifestyle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The question is what counts as moderate. Two drinks for men and one drink for women per day are permissible, says the agency. Excluded from these recommendations are children and adolescents, women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, and individuals who cannot control their alcohol intake, are on certain medications, or plan to drive or operate machinery.

All that is well known and widely accepted. But a new study found that even smaller amounts of alcohol than what is deemed acceptable by the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans may be too much when it comes to preventing certain diseases, including cancer. In fact, having just one drink per day can increase the risk.

Researchers from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) determined that alcohol-related cancer accounted for three to four percent of all cancer deaths in the United States annually and that even light drinkers were at an increased risk.

Well over half a million Americans die from cancer every year. Of these, approximately 20,000 cases are linked to alcohol, according to the study.

We talk a lot about tobacco and poor diets, but alcohol use is a factor that is often missed in the discussion over preventable diseases and deaths, says Dr. David Nelson, director of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program at the NCI and lead author of the study report. While the majority of cancer-related deaths from alcohol occurred in people who consumed substantially more than what is considered moderate drinking, Dr. Nelson’s team found that 33 percent of the diseased had no more than one alcoholic drink per day on average.

Although only 18 percent of men and 11 percent of women are heavy drinkers, meaning they have more than the recommended daily amount on any given day, it is still a significant health concern, said Patricia Guenther, a nutritionist at the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion and author of a separate study on the issue, in an interview with Reuters

Among men, 31 to 50 year olds consume the most alcohol, according to the study. Among women, the heaviest drinking takes place between ages 51 and 70. The researchers did not investigate the reasons for the differences in age.

Besides cancer, other well-known health risks from alcohol use are high blood pressure, heart disease, liver damage, pancreatitis, nerve damage, depression and dementia.

Moderate alcohol use has long been considered as harmless if not beneficial. Especially red wine is thought of by some as heart healthy. But conflicting messages like these only confuse consumers, says Dr. Nelson.

“The purported benefits of alcohol consumption are overrated when compared to the risks,” he says. “Even if you take into account all the potential benefits of alcohol, it causes 10 times as many deaths as it prevents worldwide.”

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Almost Half of All Cancer Cases May Be Preventable.”

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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.




Beware of Hidden Calories in All the Good Holiday Cheer

November 21st, 2012 at 2:01 pm by timigustafson

Whether we celebrate at home with family and friends, attend lots of parties or take a vacation to get away from it all, the holidays always tempt us to consume more food and drink than we normally would – and more than may be good for us.

The average American adult devours about 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat in one Thanksgiving meal alone, according to surveys by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a non-profit fitness advocacy organization. Those figures can quickly swell to 4,500 calories and more when all the feasting is considered.

Many people start by snacking throughout the day, which combined with the meal can lead to substantial overeating, according to Dr. Cedric Bryant, an exercise physiologist at ACE. However, those casually added calories are rarely remembered.

Another source of uncounted calories are often alcoholic beverages. It’s no secret that alcohol consumption escalates during the holiday season. The distilled spirits industry alone makes more than 25 percent of its annual profits from Thanksgiving to New Year, according to reports by Forbes, based on data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

“Many may not realize that even a little daily drinking can lead to weight gain over time,” says Dr. Samara Joy Nielsen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

She admits that even health experts tend to forget how many calories from beverages contribute to the total calorie intake among adults. “Although the risks of excessive alcohol consumption in terms of injury and chronic disease are well known, less is known about the calories consumed from alcoholic beverages. As with calorically sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages are a top contributor to calorie intake but provide few nutrients,” says Dr. Nielsen in a study report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While people are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of sodas in terms of weight gain, alcoholic beverages have so far escaped similar scrutiny.

Of course, the impact of alcohol on the waistline is not limited to the holidays. About one-third of men and one-fifth of women in America consume calories from alcoholic beverages on most days, according to the CDC report. For most Americans, the average intake is less than 100 calories per day, however, 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories from alcohol on any given day.

One of the reasons why the consequences of alcohol consumption are not always understood may be that many people don’t even know what constitutes a “drink,” says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). A “standard drink” in the U.S. is defined as any drink that contains 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. For regular beer that is equivalent to 12 fl oz, for table wine 5 fl oz, and for 80-proof spirits 1.5 fl oz. For beer that’s about 150 calories and for wine 100 calories. For hard liquors, especially when mixed or combined with other ingredients in cocktails, those numbers can be much, much higher.

Needless to say, drinking alcohol – at any time, but especially during the holidays when there are so many opportunities – can also be hazardous in other ways. Multiple health problems and potential addiction are well documented. And, of course, there are safety concerns. Nearly half of all driving fatalities on Christmas Day are alcohol-related, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), disasters that could easily be avoided.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Your Drinks Count, Too

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, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.


Your Drinks Count, Too

December 18th, 2011 at 5:40 pm by timigustafson

Most people are well aware that they will probably gain some weight over the holidays from all the festive dinners and extra treats. They are less conscious of the fact that drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, can contribute just as much if not more to the expansion of their waistline. It’s hard to keep track of the extra calories from liquids because the brain doesn’t receive a “full” signal from the stomach the way it happens with solid food.

Especially drinking alcoholic beverages can significantly increase calorie intake with just a few shots or sips. Many liquors are as caloric as sugary sodas. Alcohol itself is high in calories – 7 calories per gram, more than carbohydrates or protein (4 calories per gram) and almost as much as fat (9 calories per gram). This applies just to straight drinks, like beer, wine and spirits. Cocktails with added ingredients can quickly multiply the calorie content.

“If you drink, even moderately, first you do need to acknowledge the calories. They count,” said Lona Sandon, a nutritionist at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Health Professions and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

Keep in mind that calories from alcohol are “empty” calories, meaning they don’t contain any nutrients. The liver processes alcohol first to get rid of toxins, while other nutrients are put on hold. While alcohol is being metabolized, fat burning is suspended. Moreover, an increased alcohol level in your blood stream can make you feel hungry because it lowers your blood sugar. All of these factors combined are the perfect set-up for weight gain.

Another well-known fact is that alcohol diminishes one’s inhibition and self-control. That’s why the holidays are often a time when caution gets thrown to the wind with regrets to follow later.

Of course, not everyone who enjoys a drink or two develops weight problems. Scientists have not been able to consistently tie alcohol consumption to weight gain. Also, a person’s individual genetic make-up can greatly affect his or her body’s ability to process alcohol.

Gender can play a role as well. Researchers found that when men drink, they also tend to eat more food, thereby increasing their overall calorie intake through both. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to compensate for their drinking by eating less.

Naturally, it matters what kind of food or snacks you’re having with your drinks. Beer with pretzels or peanuts, or wine with cheese and crackers are popular combinations, but they can be deadly in terms of weight control.

Coffee drinks and seasonal spirits are not harmless either. Many are loaded with sugar and cream and a few gulps can quickly add up to a calorie count of a full meal. Eggnog, a traditional favorite, is a real heavy weight. A one-cup serving has about 400 calories – and who can just have one?

So, what can you do to avoid these calorie traps without spoiling your holiday spirit? Quite a bit, actually. For starters, don’t get caught off guard when alcoholic beverages are being served. If you like wine or beer, stick with it. Don’t mix with other drinks. If hard liquor is your poison, have it straight up, on the rocks or with club soda but without a lot of other stuff added. Be particularly careful with super-caloric cocktails. They are desserts in disguise. If you have eggnog or fruit punch, I recommend taking them “naked,” meaning no extra toppings like chocolate or whipped cream.

As with everything, moderation is key. If you have been reading my columns regularly, you know one of my favorite mottos: “Nothing is forbidden, but everything counts.” Observing this little piece of wisdom is even more important during the holiday season. Cheers!

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (, and at You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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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

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