Posts Tagged ‘Diet’

The Right Diet

April 16th, 2014 at 7:59 am by timigustafson

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).

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Eat Less, Live Longer?

April 2nd, 2014 at 10:58 am by timigustafson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ingrained Eating Habits Are Hard to Change, Studies Find

July 6th, 2013 at 2:06 pm by timigustafson

Americans may be better informed about matters of diet and nutrition than ever before, but that does not necessarily change their behavior, according to a number of studies, including several conducted by the restaurant industry. Although many popular chain restaurants are trying to give consumers healthier alternatives to their traditional fares, the better-for-you stuff doesn’t sell very well.

For example, McDonald’s reports that sales of its least caloric items remain flat. “Although the chain devoted one-sixth of its advertising time to salads, they make up 2 to 3 percent of sales, and don’t drive growth,” said Don Thompson, the company’s president and CEO in an interview with the New York Times.

Consumers are not trying to do something for their health when they eat out, let alone when they go to a fast food place. They want to indulge and get the biggest bang for their buck. That’s what they expect and the industry is happy to comply.

Fast food also sells well because it is filled with fat, sugar and salt, ingredients that can trigger a sense of comfort and satisfaction and may even be addictive.

And it is not just the food itself that proves irresistible for some, but also the act of indulging. Especially in times of stress, which in the lives of many people is nearly constant, we tend to fall back into old habits we have picked up over the years, some of which may be unhealthy and destructive.

Experiments have shown that high levels of stress and fatigue can bring back once-established routines and make us act as if on autopilot. Scientists Wendy Wood and David T. Neal of Duke University found that both good and bad habits can be mobilized in stressful situations, but that willpower almost always loses out.

“Willpower is a finite resource. In the face of multiple stressful stimuli, our willpower wears out and it takes time […] to recover,” said Neal in an interview with CNN. “If you’ve grown up with bad habits or formed them later in life, yes, the phenomenon is that it’s a net negative for you. If a majority of your routines are unhealthy, then lacking willpower is really a problem. It becomes a double whammy because you are forced more into those patterns.”

These findings confirm what behavioral psychologists have known for a long time, namely that stress experiences and eating patterns are closely related. When stress is unrelenting (a.k.a. chronic stress), craving rich food can become an almost natural response. And if these responses become habitual, it can be increasingly hard to break them after some time.

To overcome detrimental habits and replace them with better ones, Wood and Neal recommend changing the environment. For example, many of our reactions are triggered by visual cues. If they can be avoided, half the battle may already be won. “There is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind element here,” said Neal.

With the nearly ubiquitous presence of fast food places, that may not be an easy task. But packing a nutritious lunch at home or keeping some healthier snacks in the car may help prevent some spontaneous missteps. Also, intentionally changing one’s daily routines to disrupt established behavior can be useful.

Unfortunately, we are not aware of many of our habits, and they must first be brought to our attention. The good news is that by reexamining them, we can regain a lot of power and start anew.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Your Eating Habits – What Makes Them, What Breaks Them.”

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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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It’s a proven fact that most people change their eating habits and lifestyle choices only after a serious health scare such as a heart attack or a diabetes diagnosis. Still, in many cases that may not be enough. Old habits tend to die hard, but often there are also not many alternatives to what they’ve been doing in terms of eating right and taking care of themselves.

A recent study found that most consumers after being confronted with a major health crisis were still influenced in their choices by factors other than what’s good for their health. For example, people can find it difficult to change their long established eating habits, says Dr. Yu Ma, an economics professor at Alberta School of Business and author of the study. Another highly influential factor is price, he says. If they get a good deal on a particular item, they will go for it, and if it’s too expensive, they will stay away, no matter how much they would benefit healthwise.

Another issue is what he calls the “health halo effect.” Most people divide foods simply into two categories: healthy and unhealthy, he says. If something is considered healthful, e.g. a salad or a breakfast cereal, as opposed to a cheeseburger or a sugar-laden donut, people tend to overindulge in the “healthy” stuff without much further thought. We have seen that phenomenon when, for example, fat-free cookies came on the market and many believed they could consume those in almost unlimited quantities because of the absence of fat. Of course, eliminating the fat did not make those cookies less caloric, and the results became apparent soon thereafter.

Another study, this one on heart attack and stroke patients, showed that nearly 15 percent did not alter their eating and lifestyle habits after the incident, including poor diet choices, lack of exercise and smoking. Less than half of all participants in the study reported having made at least one change, and less than a third said they made several improvements. Only 4 percent claimed they did everything that was recommended to them to prevent further deterioration of their health.

Much of the unwillingness or inability to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices can be blamed on the widespread confusion among the public due to the ceaseless onslaught of sometimes contradictory messages in the media about health matters. In addition, many of the warnings issued by experts are hard to heed by consumers who are oftentimes ignorant, if not intentionally kept in the dark, about the nutritional quality of their food supply. For instance, recommendations to avoid high fat, salt and sugar content may be well-meaning, but they are by and large useless when ingredients lists are hard to decipher or when restaurants aren’t required to follow any dietary guidelines or to post nutritional information on their menus.

“I think people are interested in making changes and they are heeding the warnings,” said Dr. Sara Bleich, an associate professor of health policy at the John Hopkins School of Public Health to NBCNews. “But when it comes to food, it’s much more complicated. Cereal, for example, has a tremendous amount of added sugar. And not everyone understands that breakfast foods like muffins and pastry, things that people don’t consider to be a dessert or an indulgence, pack a lot of sugar.” Similar concerns apply to salt in countless processed foods, many of which don’t even taste salty, and certain types of fats, some of which are obscured by arbitrary serving descriptions on food labels.

Undoubtedly, more and more people want to be better informed about nutritional health and be empowered to make the right choices. With growing consumer demand for further regulation and protection, that may be feasible over time. But for now, it’s an ongoing uphill battle, and most of us have to fend for ourselves as well as we can.

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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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Lifestyle-Related Ills Tend to Multiply with Age, Study Finds

April 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am by timigustafson

Seniors who suffer from chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease often develop a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cognitive impairment like memory loss and dementia, according to a new study based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of hundreds of thousands of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities and found that most had at least one chronic health condition. What was more alarming, however, was that many had overlapping ailments. While high blood pressure and heart disease were most common, nearly half of the assisted-living residents showed signs of dementia.

“These findings suggest a vulnerable population with a high burden of functional and cognitive impairment,” the authors of the study report wrote.

Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Therefore it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems, he added.

But that may be easier said than done. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cythia M. Boyd, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to the New York Times. “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”

What makes things more complicated is that most doctors are not sufficiently trained in preventing or reducing lifestyle-related illnesses – not in the general public and certainly not in older patients – other than through medicating. For instance, the importance of nutrition as a part of preventive care is rarely ever mentioned in medical schools. The approximate time devoted to nutrition science over the first two years of medical education is six hours, which is clearly inadequate, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The same goes for other health-promoting measures such as exercise, especially for the aging population.

Yet many studies have provided compelling evidence that diet and exercise play a significant role for physical and mental health at any time in life but increasingly so as we age.

For example, a more recent study from Britain concluded that the so-called “Western diet,” which typically includes fried, sweet and processed foods, red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, increases the risk of chronic diseases, which in turn can adversely affect both physical and mental health in later years. Eating a Western diet makes it less likely to have an ideal aging process, says Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly, a researcher at the University College of London and lead author of the study report. Conversely, making dietary improvements can yield multiple benefits in this regard.

There is also further evidence that exercise can give a boost to the aging brain. Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that older women who suffered from mild cognitive impairment could improve their memory through weight training and brisk walking.

The connections between physical and mental decline may not yet be completely understood, but it seems clear that chronic diseases play a major role in the process. While these are widespread, the encouraging news is that many, if not all, are preventable by healthier lifestyle choices.

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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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Spring Fever Season

April 13th, 2013 at 2:51 pm by timigustafson

Do you feel energized, restless and impatient? You may have spring fever. Are you irritable, weary, listless and unable to concentrate? You may have spring fever. Or are you in a constant state of tiredness and exhaustion? It may be spring fever as well. Why so many different symptoms that even seem to contradict each other? It can be your body’s reaction to the changing seasons, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as the phenomenon is sometimes called.

During the winter months the body protects itself against lower temperatures and reduced sunlight by adjusting its metabolism and hormonal balance. Body temperature dropsblood pressure rises, and secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin increases, making us more sleepy. As the weather gets warmer and sunnier in the spring, the opposite happens: body temperature goes up, blood pressure goes down, and the feel-good hormone serotonin begins to dominate.

The problem is that the transitions between these different stages don’t always go smoothly. In any case, hormonal imbalances take place that can cause all sorts of physical and mental responses. Some experts say that spring fever or spring fatigue are a bit like having a “hangover” after a period of dormancy, perhaps a lighter version of what hibernating animals go through.

Because our experience of seasonal changes has become so much mitigated through artificial light and heating, our natural reactions may be even less predictable.

In addition, weather conditions can fluctuate to a larger degree in the spring than at any other time of the year. Global climate change may only intensify these variations. Extreme weather changes have become the new normal in recent years. 2012 had the warmest spring on record in the United States, with over five degrees above average. It also had some of the coldest winters months. As I write this article, temperatures at the east coast are approaching 90 degrees, while western states like Colorado report freezing conditions.

The effects of seasonal changes on the body’s equilibrium are stress-producing, says Karina Seizinger, a homeopath and yoga teacher who recommends taking a number of measures for the treatment of spring fatigue symptoms. Among them are eating a healthy, balanced diet consisting of lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, exercising, exposing the body to sunlight and engaging in calming practices like yoga and meditation.

“First and foremost, just be aware, and know that your body is in a state of transition,” she emphasizes. “Be kind and patient with yourself, and give yourself some time to adjust.”

While feeling fatigued for some time due to seasonal changes is no cause for concern, chronic tiredness may have other roots. Feeling drained or exhausted from stress or lack of sleep can be a normal response. It can also be a sign of a more serious physical or mental condition that should be examined by a doctor.

Outside of that possibility, getting enough sleep, watching your diet, exercising, managing stress and avoiding alcohol, nicotine and drugs should get you back on track for the coming summer.

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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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Pillars of Wellbeing

April 3rd, 2013 at 10:51 am by timigustafson

I practice a special kind of meditation on an almost daily basis. Perhaps meditation isn’t the right word since it doesn’t require me to sit in silence with my eyes closed and legs crossed or anything like that. It’s more a form of taking stock of where my life is going at any particular time.

For this, I have five issues to consider: my physical health, my diet, my emotional state, my intellectual rigor and my social/relational life. These I think of as the pillars of my wellbeing. Each one matters greatly by itself, but each must also be in balance with all the others. If one goes missing, the rest will suffer as well.

Let me give an example. When I injured my shoulder in a tennis game a few years ago, I realized how much was taken away from me, not just because I had to give up playing for a while but also because a dear routine was interrupted with all sorts of consequences.

During my prolonged absence from the court, I lost my tennis buddies whose comradeship I had enjoyed tremendously. One of them, a university professor and a true intellectual, had not only been a great partner in doubles but also a stimulating presence in my life that gave me many insights in a vast variety of subjects. Due to the reduced physical activity, I felt less energetic and not as motivated in my work. And I had to watch my diet more carefully to prevent unwanted weight gain.

Needless to say, I was saddened about losing a part of my life that was more important to me than I had been aware of. In fact, it made me miserable for quite some time.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said: “Health is not everything, but without it, nothing is anything.” I am a great believer in that. I know now that my physical health is the foundation of what I can do in life, whether it concerns work or leisurely activities. It also affects my state of mind, my interest and participation in the world around me, and my ability to relate to others. And it works both ways: The happier I am, the more fulfilled I feel, the easier it seems to stay healthy and fit.

Obviously, my little meditational routine is nothing original. If you are interested in taking up this kind of exercise, I can recommend using the so-called “Wellness Wheel”, which follows a similar pattern. As the name indicates, the different components of wellness relate to each other like spokes in a wheel. Each is necessary to hold the whole thing together, none is expendable.

Wellness Wheel

Good nutrition, regular exercise, weight management as well as avoidance of smoking and alcohol and drug abuse are at the core. But so are stress management and getting enough sleep. Our emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs must be cared for. Having goals, a sense of purpose and satisfaction and fulfillment in what we do are all part of it, just like having good relationships with loved ones, colleagues and community.

Not all areas will always be at peak performance. And that’s not even necessary. We can focus on work and put our social life on the backburner for some time. We can take a break from our exercise routine for a day or two and make up for the missed time on the weekend. We can overindulge for a special occasion and then go right back to a healthy diet afterwards. What we can’t do is neglecting or sacrificing entire segments of our wellbeing because, sooner or later, it will affect the whole person.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment” and “Healthy Eating – A Never-Ending Learning Curve.”

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, on Facebook and on Pinterest.

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Nearly half of all newborns in the United States are introduced too soon to solid foods, causing them digestive problems and nutritional deficiencies that can have lasting health effects as they grow older.

According to a recently published study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 percent of interviewed mothers said they gave their babies solid food before they were four months old. Nine percent started as early as four weeks.

Pediatricians recommend that infants should be given nothing but breast milk or, if that is not an option, baby formula or a combination of both at least until the age of six months.

The researchers found that many young parents were either unaware of these guidelines or found them hard to follow, often for financial reasons. Those who turned to solid foods too early were primarily young, less educated and single mothers, according to the study.

Expenses for baby formula can be quite high, between $50 and $100 for the first month and between $1,138 and $1,188 for the first year, according to one cost calculator. Many low-income families cannot easily afford them, especially when there are other children at different growing stages.

Still, nothing good can come from feeding babies food they cannot handle yet, said Dr. T. J. Gold, a pediatrician at Tribeca Pediatrics in Brooklyn in an interview with the New York Times. Before they can sit and hold their heads up without help, it can be difficult if not outright dangerous to put solid food in their mouths. They also don’t have the right gut bacteria for digesting it yet, which can lead to gastroenteritis and diarrhea and interfere with proper nutrient absorption. Long-term problems can include obesity, diabetes, eczema and celiac disease, he added.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), formerly the American Dietetic Association (ADA), recommends breastfeeding as an “important public health strategy for improving infant and child morbidity and mortality.” In a position statement, the AND says it regards exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and breastfeeding with complementary foods from six months until at least one year of age as the ideal feeding pattern for infants.

What makes breast milk the ideal source of nutrition for newborns is that it offers a good balance of important nutrients that are easily digestible. Moreover, the mother’s milk changes its composition over time to fit the changing needs of her growing child.

There are also important benefits from breastfeeding for the health of the mother, including bonding with the child, increased energy expenditure, leading to faster return to pre-pregnancy weight, decreased risk for postpartum depression and improvement of parenting skills, among others.

The AND advocates a number of measures for the promotion of breastfeeding, including professional counseling for pregnant and postpartum women and their families as well as public policy changes and legislation that favors and facilitates breastfeeding.

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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Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss, a Bad Idea

March 5th, 2013 at 4:47 pm by timigustafson

A new diet has become all the rage in Britain and is now making landfall on our shores as well. It’s called the “Fast Diet” and millions of weight loss candidates already swear by it.

Like all commercial diet programs, this one promises quick results without much effort and little changes in established eating habits. Followers can eat anything they want for five days but then have to undergo a fasting period of 48 hours where they cannot consume more than 500 to 600 calories per day.

The authors, Dr. Michael Mosley, a medical journalist, and Mini Spencer, a food and fashion writer, claim they both have experienced amazing weight loss successes themselves while experimenting with various forms of intermittent fasting. They also believe their approach can promote overall health and even longevity.

The idea of submitting oneself to periods of food deprivation is nothing new, of course. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did it, although perhaps not voluntarily, and many religions recommend it as a ritual for cleansing, both physically and spiritually.

“Voluntarily abstaining from eating for short periods of time will allow you to eat what you like, most of the time, and get slimmer and healthier as you go,” the authors proclaim on their website. “The joy of the Fast Diet is that the side-effects are all good,” they say.

But are they?

Even if its true that our bodies are genetically programmed to endure periods of famine, as our forbearers were forced to with regularity when food supplies ran scarce, that doesn’t mean it is a good idea to disrupt your metabolism every so often just to shed a few extra pounds in a hurry.

For example, when the body is subjected to severe calorie restriction, it goes into a different metabolic mode where it switches from burning carbohydrates (glucose), its preferred fuel, to burning fat. This may at first sound like a good idea since body fat is what dieters want to get rid off. However, if this process continues for too long, it can lead to a state known as ketosis.

When fat stores become the primary source for fuel, weight loss will occur – but not without side effects. During ketosis, the body builds up substances known as ketones, which can cause a number of health problems. Loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, irritability, tiredness and bad breath are among the milder symptoms. More serious consequences include dehydration, gout, kidney stones and even kidney failure.

For healthy individuals, short-term ketosis may not carry serious risks. However for diabetics, restricting carbohydrates in their diet may give rise to complications. In extreme cases, ketone levels can become so elevated that a situation develops where high blood sugar is met with a severe shortage of insulin. This is known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). The results, if not immediately treated, can be fatal.

Many followers of weight loss diets are plagued with one or more of these conditions. Experimenting with one’s metabolism, especially when done without supervision by a medical professional, can only make matters worse.

Last but not least, there are the long-term implications to be considered. Are we to believe that a five-day period of no dietary restrictions followed by two days of disciplined fasting is a viable option for most people? It seems to me such a regimen bears a strong resemblance to many of the crash diets that may produce quick results but inevitably fail over time.

In response to this latest diet craze, Britain’s National Health System has posted a warning on its website that says: “Despite its increasing popularity, there is a great deal of uncertainty about IF (intermittent fasting) with significant gaps in the evidence.”

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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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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