Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

How You Can Reach Your Health Potential

August 2nd, 2016 at 8:25 am by timigustafson

According to polls, most of us think of ourselves as healthy, despite the fact that the obesity crisis keeps growing and multiple diet- and lifestyle-related diseases continue to rise. While the exact causes for this ongoing epidemic are still in dispute, there is general consensus that they are best counteracted by health-promoting measures like diet, exercise and positive lifestyle changes.

But regardless of the information available to all, a great deal of confusion persists about how to implement even the most basic recommendations for healthy living. What many still fail to see is how to apply this knowledge in their daily lives, and how to maximize the benefits for their health and well-being.

Why is diet so important?
For example, understanding and following dietary guidelines. Most people consider dieting, particularly for weight loss, as something restrictive, if not punitive. Having to divide one’s food preferences into dos and don’ts is not especially pleasant. Because most diet programs don’t work in the long run, they usually end up in disappointment and frustration. Including or excluding certain foods or food groups in itself can be problematic. As serious nutrition experts will tell you, a better way is to adhere to a diet that is balanced. (It doesn’t matter whether it has a fancy name or someone famous swears by it.)

A balanced diet is one that has all the important nutrients the body needs to function properly. It helps prevent diseases and infections, and supports healing and recovery when injury or illness strikes. It is at the core of all successful weight management. It is essential for healthy growth and development during childhood and adolescence, lasting physical and mental health throughout adulthood, and healthy aging in later years. It is an instrumental part of reaching a person’s health potential at all times and in every way.

A balanced diet includes a great variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. These offer invaluable benefits in form of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – all of which are necessary for the body to perform at its best. An optimal diet also requires good sources of protein from lean meats and seafood for growth, maintenance and repair of muscles, bones and organs. Carbohydrates provide energy, dairy products support bone health, and dietary fiber helps with the metabolic process. All of these must be supplied and replenished regularly because prolonged depletion can lead to detrimental consequences for the entire system.

Why is exercise so important?
Like healthy eating, if you are not into it, regular exercise can seem like a nuisance. But it matters just as much. Still, there can be countless reasons (or excuses) for not exercising enough. It’s too time-consuming, too painful, doesn’t produce the desired results, and so on. But the fact is that a sedentary lifestyle does not only increase the likelihood of unwanted weight gain, it is downright unhealthy and can even lead to premature death. As a recent study showed, being unfit due to lack to physical activity is as dangerous to people’s health as smoking and similarly harmful habits.

In addition, exercise has been proven as the best antidote to stress there is. It helps to protect the body from multiple diseases like heart diseasediabetes, and even cancer. It strengthens muscles and bones, which becomes ever more important with age. And it benefits the mind as well by preventing or slowing age-related decline in memory and other cognitive functions.

Why are lifestyle improvements so important?
We all have our dear habits and routines, some of which serve us well, but also others that can do us harm. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use are the obvious culprits. But tastes for overly sweet, fatty or salty foods should also be examined. My clients often hear me say when we address diet and lifestyle changes: “Nothing is forbidden, but everything counts.”

Small, incremental steps are a good approach when it comes to making improvements. Stopping ‘cold turkey’ is not for everyone. All ingrained habits, good or bad, serve (or have served at one point) a purpose, which must be taken into account and replaced with something that fills the void.

Aiming to reach one’s full health potential – that is consciously trying to stay or become as healthy as possible at any given time in life – is foremost a choice, a commitment that must be renewed again and again through successes and failures alike. It is an open-ended, never fully completed project. But it is the best thing anyone can ever set out to do.

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

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A Responsibility Not to Get Sick

February 26th, 2014 at 11:39 am by timigustafson

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), no other current health threats spread as fast as so-called ‘non-communicable diseases’ (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. What distinguishes these from infectious illnesses is that humans bring them mostly upon themselves through poor diet and lifestyle choices. Nevertheless, the impact is very real and there is no letting up in sight.

How can that be? How can we self-inflict debilitating and potentially life-threatening diseases on a pandemic scale? How can this happen when we have a pretty good understanding of the causes and how they could be averted? And why is it that the countless messages about diet and lifestyle changes produce such meager results?

Unsurprisingly, there is great uncertainty among the experts about how to address these issues. For example, only last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) decided to classify obesity as a “disease,” with the goal to bring greater attention to the urgency of the matter. Yet some have expressed skepticism about the helpfulness of such a move.

In a recent op-ed article in the New York Times, psychology professors Dr. Crystal L. Hoyt and Dr. Jeni L. Burnette, both of the University of Richmond, Virginia, suggested that the classification may in fact be counterproductive because it potentially diminishes incentives to deal effectively with weight problems.

“Calling obesity a disease provides a clear warning of the significant health risks associated with excessive weight,” they wrote. “We wondered, however, if there also might be psychological ramifications inherent in that message. Would it reduce or add to the burden of body-image concerns and shame? Would it empower people to fight back, or lead to a fatalistic acceptance of being overweight?”

They both agreed that stigmatization and discrimination of any kind have no place in how we view obesity and other related health issues. On the other hand, we ought not simply relieve people of all responsibility for their own well-being.

Suggesting that someone’s weight is his or her unfortunate fate, a “fixed state like a long-term disease,” can make efforts of weight loss and dietary improvements seem futile and may indeed undermine them, the professors warned.

As a dietitian and health counselor, I have no problem with declaring obesity a disease, especially considering the complexity of potential causes, some of which are indeed beyond an individual’s control. Having said that, I also believe that the only appropriate response to illness is to make every effort to overcome it as quickly possible. An even better approach would be prevention, so that damages don’t occur in the first place. For this, I believe, we all have a duty, a personal responsibility not to get sick as a consequence of our own actions.

Yes, there is much confusion around diet and lifestyle issues. Many people have given up and are tired of listening to oftentimes inconsistent, if not contradictory, messages. But there is also some certainty. Eating healthily by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables and cutting back on processed foods is part of that. So is observing portion sizes. Regular exercise is a must without question. Reducing stress and getting enough sleep matter as much. All these we know to be true. If we acted upon just this bit of knowledge each and every day, things could improve real fast.

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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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Use of Pesticides Continues to Make Some Foods Unsafe for Consumption

April 28th, 2013 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson

An apple a day used to keep the doctor away, at least according to folk wisdom. But not any more – unless it’s organically grown. Apples top the list of foods contaminated with pesticides, says the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental health research and advocacy organization, in its annual report called “The Dirty Dozen™.”

The listing of foods that may have toxic levels of pesticides is part of the group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce, which draws its data from tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Even after washing, more than two thirds of the tens of thousands of food samples tested by the agencies showed pesticide residues. The most contaminated fruits were apples, strawberries, grapes, peaches and imported nectarines. Among vegetables, the most contaminated were celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, cherry tomatoes and hot peppers.

The contamination levels varied significantly between different foods. Potatoes had a higher total weight of pesticides than any other food crop. A single grape tested for 15 different pesticides. So did sweet bell peppers.

Corn, which is widely used as an ingredient in processed foods, does not appear in the EWG’s guide because as such it’s no longer considered a fresh vegetable. Neither is soy. Still, concern over pesticide contamination should also include processed items.

In addition to its notorious “Dirty Dozen™” rating, the EWG also publishes a list of the least contaminated foods, called the “Clean Fifteen™.” These show the lowest levels of pesticide residues and are generally safe for consumption. They include pineapple, papaya, mango, kiwi, cantaloupe, grapefruit, corn, onion, avocado, frozen sweet peas, cabbage, asparagus, eggplant, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

Pesticides have long been linked to a number of health concerns, particularly to developmental problems in young children. Some pesticides have been found to be carcinogenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There are currently about 350 different pesticides registered with the government and permitted for use on food crops. Among the most toxic ones are organophosphate, a potent neurotoxin that can adversely affect brain development in children, even at low doses; and organochlorine, a once widely used pesticide that is now officially banned but still persists in the environment and continues to pollute plant foods grown in contaminated soil.

Particularly disconcerting is that pesticides have been found in processed baby food. For example, green beans used for baby food tested positive for five pesticides, including organophosphate, and pears showed more than twice as many.

While there is only so much consumers can do to protect themselves and their loved ones against the exposure to pesticides and other toxins in their food supply, it is important to have the information available that allows for better-informed choices. Buying organically grown produce may be the best option, but it’s not affordable for everyone. Mixing both organic and regular foods can be a workable compromise, thereby avoiding the worst offenders and limiting the damage to your budget with the rest.

In addition, you may also want to visit your local farmers market once in a while. Ask the farmers about their farming methods and whether they use pesticides. Some small farms may not be certified “organic” because of the costs involved but still adhere to eco-friendly procedures.

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

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a number of targets for reducing so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25 percent by 2025. NCDs are chronic illnesses largely caused by dietary and lifestyle factors. They include obesity, heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancers and chronic respiratory illnesses that combined have become the leading causes of death globally, according to the agency.

Chronic diseases account for 36 million deaths annually, over 60 percent of all human mortality. They continue to accelerate globally and are advancing across all regions, affecting all socioeconomic classes. It is expected that almost three-quarters of all deaths will be caused by chronic diseases by 2020.

Chronic diseases are defined as illnesses of long duration and generally slow progression. They are also considered as largely preventable by positive dietary and lifestyle changes.

One of the leading causes is obesity, which has doubled worldwide since 1980. Weight problems are the fifth leading risk factor for all deaths. At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result from being overweight. In addition, 44 percent of diabetes rates, 23 percent of heart disease rates and up to 41 percent of cancer rates are attributable to weight problems. Obesity is now linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight.

Especially worrisome is the continuing rise of childhood obesity. In 2010, more than 40 million children under the age of five (!) were overweight. Almost 35 million of these live in developing countries. Most impoverished children who have weight problems are also severely malnourished.

Leading causes of unhealthy weight gain are poor diets based on energy-dense foods that are high in fat, salt and sugars but low in nutrients. A worldwide decrease in physical activity due to sedentary lifestyles, increasing urbanization and changing modes of work and transportation also plays a role.

To change the current trends, improvements must take place on several levels, according to WHO recommendations, including individual responsibility, education, social environments as well as quality and affordability of food supply. “Individual responsibility can only have its full effect where people have access to a healthy lifestyle. Supportive environments and communities are fundamental in shaping people’s choices. The food industry can play a significant role in promoting healthy diets by reducing fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods, ensuring that healthy and nutritious choices are available and affordable to all customers and by practicing responsible marketing.”

The “WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health,” which was first introduced by the World Health Assembly in 2004, calls for actions needed to support healthy eating habits and regular physical activity. The agency “calls upon all stakeholders to take action at global, regional and local levels to improve diets and physical activity patterns at the population level.” For this, an action plan was developed for the prevention and control of NCDs as a roadmap to establish and strengthen more initiatives on local, national and international platforms.

Although the targets set by the WHO are not binding and lack in many ways specificity, similar initiatives have shown some degree of effectiveness in the past. For instance in 1987, the World Health Assembly created the first “World No Tobacco Day” to draw global attention to the health effects of smoking. It is commemorated every year on May 31 as an occasion to help reduce worldwide tobacco use. In 2005, the agency released the “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” (FCTC) with similar goals.

Tobacco use is still the second most common cause of death in the world, after hypertension, being responsible for killing one in 10 adults every year. Obviously, we have a long way to go, but progress has been made. Hopefully, WHO’s continuing efforts will increase awareness of the seriousness of chronic diseases as well.

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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

 

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Obesity and Diabetes – The Plague of Our Time

February 28th, 2012 at 6:00 pm by timigustafson

When Michelle Obama announced “Let’s Move,” her signature initiative to combat childhood obesity, she emphasized that major diet and lifestyle changes were not required in her view to turn this growing health crisis around. “Small changes add up,” she said. “We don’t need to totally evaporate our way of being as we know it today.” In other words, if we just cut a few calories here and there and exercise a bit more, things will be fine before long. A comforting thought.

But that may be wishful thinking, according to Mark Hyman, MD, chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and medical director of the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, and author of several bestselling health books, including his latest, titled “The Blood Sugar Solution.” The way he sees it, we are in the middle of an explosive epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes that will touch almost everyone in one way or another. He does not hesitate to call it “the modern plague.”

Obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer are ultimately all rooted in one and the same problem: Our dismal diet- and lifestyle choices. Diagnosing and treating these diseases separately as if they were not interconnected misses the whole picture. Instead, Dr. Hyman proposes using a more comprehensive term to describe the continuum of which all these health problems are part of: “Diabesity.”

Diabesity can range from slight weight problems and mild insulin resistance to morbid obesity and severe diabetes. Because the disease is not well understood as a continuum, millions of those affected by it remain undiagnosed and untreated. As a consequence, more people all over the world die now from chronic illnesses than from infectious diseases. The real tragedy is that the causes are almost always environmental and lifestyle-related, which would make them perfectly preventable or curable through public education and enough political will to implement the necessary changes.

“This is a lifestyle and environmental disease and won’t be cured by medications,” Dr. Hyman writes. “Billions and billions have been wasted trying to find the ‘drug cure,’ while the solution lies right under our nose. Shouldn’t the main question we ask be why is this happening? Instead of what new drug can we find to treat it?

Since most of our modern-day ailments are primarily caused by poor diet choices, chronic stress and sedentary lifestyles, as well as toxins and allergens in the environment, we must address these problems from the ground up (literally). Instead of looking for quick fixes through medication and surgical procedures, we can make many important corrections by ourselves and without delay by using the right ingredients that make us healthy again, including whole, fresh food, vitamins and minerals, water, fresh air, exercise, stress reduction, etc. “When we take out the bad stuff and put in the good stuff, the body knows what to do and creates health and disease goes away,” writes Dr. Hyman. Care for the environment is part of that, too. Here, he strongly agrees with Sir Albert Howard, who is by many considered the founder of the organic agriculture movement, when he wrote in his landmark book, “The Soil and Health,” that we must “treat the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.”

Finding our way back to wholesome nutrition is one of the greatest challenges we face today. “In America, we eat more than we ever have, yet we are nutritionally depleted,” writes Dr. Hyman. The epidemic of diabesity and other chronic illnesses is paralleled by an epidemic of nutritional deficiencies. Most of us don’t eat enough the kind of food that protects us from diseases and too much of the kind that makes us sick.

“Food literally speaks to our genes,” he writes in a chapter titled “Nutrigenomics.” “The information your body receives from the foods you eat turns your genes on and off.” Whole-foods and plant-based diets have been shown in clinical studies to be able to turn off cancer-causing genes or turn on cancer-protective genes. No medication can do this. “What you put on your fork is the most powerful medicine you can take to correct the root causes of chronic disease and diabesity,” he writes.

“The Blood Sugar Solution” is a highly informative but, thankfully, also a very accessible book for both professionals and the laypersons. Some readers may find Dr. Hyman’s positions to be somewhat radical, if not utopian, especially where he seeks to offer hands-on solutions. Admittedly, he writes with passion and a sense of urgency – and rightly so. The obesity crisis keeps growing unabatedly worldwide and the time for “small steps” may have passed. Something has to change on a fundamental level. Unfortunately, that makes it so much less likely that we will see significant successes in the near future, if ever.

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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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United Nations Vow to Combat Lifestyle-Related Diseases Worldwide

September 18th, 2011 at 2:01 pm by timigustafson

For only the second time in its history, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) gathers this week to discuss an urgent issue of health. The last time was ten years ago when the UN confronted the growing threat of the AIDS pandemic. Common chronic illnesses, a.k.a. non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, many of which are acquired by poor lifestyle choices, are now at the forefront of health concerns in the world. The goal of the meeting is to adopt a concise, action-oriented document that can shape a global agenda for the improvement of people’s health and quality of life.

About 36 million people die every year from NCDs, almost 80 percent of them in poor countries where access to preventive health care measures like early diagnosis, treatment and education is very limited. Campaigns to reduce smoking rates, improving diets, encouraging exercise and making more life-saving drugs available at affordable prices would make a real difference in many of these places.

There is a common story around tobacco, alcohol, diet and exercise. By addressing these issues and finding better solutions to fight their impact on people’s health would be both significant and cost-effective, according to David Kerr, president of the European Society of Medical Oncology.

The focus at the UN meeting will be on fatty foods, sugary drinks and, above all, tobacco use. Cigarette smoking alone will kill more than billion people worldwide in this century if current trends persist, according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Still, many governments will find it hard to implement more draconian measures to reduce smoking in their countries. In Japan, for example, 50 percent of the tobacco industry is owned by the state. In China, where a third of all smokers in the world live, sales from the state-run tobacco industry account for nine percent of fiscal revenues. And here in the U.S., cigarette makers continue to rake in robust profits, if not from the domestic market then certainly from exports.

So it should not come as a surprise that after months of tough negotiations only a much watered-down compromise could be found to which a majority of nations would be willing to commit. Among the surviving intentions are: A pledge to institute a global monitoring framework within the UN that will assess future developments in the spread of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and various types of cancer. There will also be a catalogue of recommendations for actions to be taken by individual governments to reduce NCDs and related risk factors. If this sounds somewhat vague, it’s because it is.

Yet the UN is lucky to have come this far. Diplomats involved in the preliminary drafting of the agenda reported that negotiations stalled several times because of heavy lobbying efforts by food, tobacco and drug industries, according to the British Medical Journal.

Funding is a major concern. It is still unclear how the planned monitoring- and promotional measures will be financed. The WHO may end up having to ask wealthier governments to raise funds, for example by imposing higher taxes on tobacco and sodas, to support the efforts of poorer nations. At this time, even the most optimistic health advocates don’t dare to hope for funding on par with the resources that were provided for the global fight against AIDS in 2001.

Unlike AIDS, which until recently was an almost certain death sentence for those affected with the disease, NCDs are not commonly seen as an immediate threat to the survival of large parts of the world population. Stopping people from smoking or providing cheap drugs like aspirin or statins to prevent heart attacks and strokes may be easy and cost-effective by comparison, but simple measures like these don’t provide many incentives for governments and private sectors to invest. “The time horizon for the return on that investment is very long and beyond many political horizons,” said Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, president of the American Heart Association (AHA). “So it’s difficult to get people to commit to these kinds of resources.”

Nevertheless, a complete failure to come to some consensus about the seriousness of the NCDs crisis and the necessity for counteraction would be tragic. “A major opportunity to advance global health is in danger of being lost if substantive targets are not set and nations don’t agree to be held accountable for meeting them,” warned the medical journal, “The Lancet,” in a recent editorial (30/16/2011).

If not much else, at the very least, the meeting, which will be attended not only by expert representatives but also heads of state, will help to raise awareness and remove some of the stigma that is often associated with obesity and other lifestyle-related diseases. The world needs to know that this is no longer a matter of personal choices but a menace to public health that would be perfectly preventable if the right policies were put in place.

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.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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In Praise of the Mighty Blueberries

August 31st, 2011 at 1:19 pm by timigustafson

Blueberries have long been popular for their tangy flavor and multiple uses in desserts, yogurts, juices and baked goods. They also rank among the healthiest foods you can possibly eat. In fact, the list of possible health benefits from blueberries grows longer every year, as more medical studies uncover their incredible healing power.

Here is a short list of the more recent findings:

• Blueberries have been shown to shrink cancerous tumors and prevent the development and growth of cancer cells.

• Blueberries can slow down and even reverse age-related memory loss.

• Blueberries can help improve physical coordination and balance at an advanced age.

• Blueberries reduce cholesterol levels.

• Blueberries prevent urinary tract infections.

• Blueberries are low in calories and high in fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, all of which makes them extremely nutritionally beneficial.

This seems a lot of punch to pack for such a plain little berry, but all these claims are backed up by growing evidence.

For example, a study conducted at Ohio State University in 2009 found that when lab rats with blood vessel tumors were fed blueberry extract, their cancer growth was halted and even reversed. The blueberry-fed rats lived on average twice as long as those that were given none. Blood vessel tumor is among the most common cancer types affecting young children and occurs in about three percent of all infants. Researchers hope that the use of blueberries may some day be part of the treatment of these usually inoperable tumors.

A separate study that was conducted in 2007 at Rutgers University in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that a specific compound in blueberries, named pterostilbene, was able to inhibit the spread of cancer cells in the colon of lab rats. And in 2005, researchers at the University of Illinois reported that antioxidants in wild blueberries, called anthocyanins, could prevent certain cancers from forming and proliferating in the prostate and the liver. “Blueberries seem to have “cancer-fighting properties at all stages: Initiation, promotion and proliferation,” said Dr. Mary Ann Lila, the lead author of the study report. “Wild blueberry compounds offer a multi-pronged attack against cancer,” she added.

Blueberries have also been praised for their ability to reduce age-related deterioration of brain functions and memory. A research team from England concluded in 2008 that eating blueberries can actually reverse problems with memory and other cognitive functions. Almost ten years earlier, a USDA-sponsored study found that blueberries improved the physical coordination and balance in aging lab rats.

USDA researchers also reported findings of cholesterol-lowering properties in blueberries, based on animal studies they conducted in 2004. In fact, their experimentation showed that blueberries were more effective in lowering cholesterol levels than many widely prescribed cholesterol medications.

A 2004 study from Rutgers University confirmed that blueberries, like cranberries, can be helpful in preventing and healing urinary tract infections. A compound, called epicatechin, keeps infectious bacteria from attaching themselves to the bladder wall.

Besides these astounding health benefits, blueberries are also nutritional powerhouses. They are low in calories – one cup is 82 calories – high in fiber and loaded with vitamins, especially vitamin C. They rank among the top providers of antioxidants, which are essential to nutritional health. Antioxidants like anthocyanin, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E and mineral selenium, and also copper (a highly effective anti-bacterial agent), zinc and iron (which raises hemoglobin and the concentration of oxygen in the blood), among other important micronutrients, boost the immune system and help to prevent infections.

In addition to its rich nutritional qualities, blueberries have the ability to neutralize so-called “free radicals,” which are unstable molecules that can cause many diseases and accelerate the aging process. This is mainly due to the concentrated presence of anthocyanin, the pigment that gives these berries their dark bluish color.

Some believers in the multiple powers of this “superfruit” think of blueberries also as an effective anti-depressant, although, to my knowledge, no conclusive research has yet been done in this regard. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all. I personally eat a bowl of blueberries every morning as part of my breakfast – and I haven’t had a bad day in a very long time. Maybe it’s the berries.

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.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD

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Watching Too Much TV Can Kill You

August 19th, 2011 at 1:02 pm by timigustafson

Spending excessive amounts of time in front of the tube has long been considered a factor for weight gain. But now researchers in Australia say there’s evidence that watching TV can shorten your lifespan.

For every hour spent sitting and watching TV after the age of 25, your life expectancy falls by approximately 22 minutes, according to a just released study. That means that if you watch six hours a day – not an uncommon habit – you shave off around five years of your life. By comparison, smoking after the age of 50 cuts you short 11 minutes for every cigarette or four years in total.

So, is watching TV deadlier than smoking? Not quite, said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. “The harms of TV are almost certainly indirect. The more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eating mindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active. More eating and less physical activity, in turn, mean greater risk for obesity, and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”

There is also the argument to be made that people who spend much of their time at home with nothing else to do than surfing the channels are often lonely, isolated and depressed, which are all factors that can contribute to premature mortality, according to Dr. Katz.

For the study, which was published in the “Journal of the American Heart Association,” the researchers analyzed data on thousands of Australians aged 25 and older from a national diabetes-, obesity- and lifestyle survey that also included information about the people’s TV watching habits.

Critics of the report caution that the researchers have only shown an association between the amounts of time people spend watching TV and their lifespan but not a cause and effect relationship. Others have pointed out that it doesn’t really make a difference whether you sit in front of a TV, a computer, or a lazy-boy chair reading a book. It’s our sedentary lifestyle that makes us sick. We sit in our cars commuting, sit in the office all day and then sit down and relax at home. Humans are not made for this kind of lifestyle and the negative consequences are becoming more and more obvious. The answer is exercise and more exercise.

“There is increasing evidence that the amount of time spent in sedentary activity […] may adversely impact health,” said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a cardiologist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Staying active and reducing time spent sedentary may be of benefit in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and may be considered as part of a comprehensive approach to improve cardiovascular health,” he added.

In an unrelated study, Taiwanese researchers found that people who exercise as little as 15 minutes per day, can reduce their risk of dying from cancer by 10 percent. That gives them a three-year longer life expectancy over those who don’t exercise at all.

A 30-minute daily exercise routine, which is widely considered a healthy regimen, would be more desirable, but not all people can fit that in their busy days. “Finding a slot of 15 minutes is much easier than finding a 30 minute slot in most days of the week,” said Dr. Chi-Pang Wen of Taiwan’s National Health Research Institute, who is the lead author of the study. The best impact comes from the first 15 minutes and they can be “very beneficial,” according to Dr. Wen. His research also found that every additional 15 minutes of exercise per day can reduce the risk of cancer by another one percent. (The study report was published in the medical journal “The Lancet.”)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get no less than 150 minutes moderate to intensive aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. (Moderate aerobic activities can include brisk walking or climbing stairs, while vigorous training involves running, jogging, long-distance swimming or bicycling and the likes.)

“There are a myriad number of ways we can engineer exercise into our lives,” said Dr. Paul Thomson, director of the Athlete’s Heart Program at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. It’s the little things that add up and make a real difference in the long run. He recommends taking the stairs instead of using the elevator, parking at a far corner of the parking lot instead of the closest spot, or mowing the lawn on weekends instead of hiring someone else to do it. All it takes is a little imagination and the will to follow through.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of  “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun™,” which is available on her blog  http://www.timigustafson.com and at amazon.com. Her latest book, “Kids Love Healthy Foods™” is now available in e-book format, also at www.amazon.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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