Posts Tagged ‘Eating Out’

Food Poisoning Most Often from Restaurant Visits, Study Finds

April 12th, 2014 at 8:17 am by timigustafson

Americans love to eat out, preferably several times a week, according to the Nation’s Restaurant News, a publication for the restaurant industry. At the same time, there is growing concern that restaurant food may not be as healthy as it should be. On top of worries over portion sizes and excessive fat, salt and sugar content – all believed to contribute to weight problems – a new study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) warns consumers about the heightened risk of food poisoning from restaurant fare.

Each year, nearly 50 million Americans fall ill from contaminated food, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Harmful bacteria are the most common cause of foodborne illness. Symptoms can range from mild irritation to severe reactions, including stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration.

Between 2002 and 2011, more than 1600 outbreaks of food poisoning, affecting over 28,000 people, were connected to restaurant visits, based on the CSPI study. By contrast, only about 13,000 people became victims of such ills originating in their homes.

Unfortunately, the numbers are vague because not all outbreaks are reported, nor are their causes always clearly identified. Reporting has decreased by 42 percent, the researchers say, not necessarily because there are fewer cases but rather because of budget cuts for public health investigations.

Besides restaurants and private homes, food poisoning can take place just about anywhere, including in the workplace, at catered events, in schools, and at picnics. Most vulnerable among the afflicted are children and the elderly.

To prevent foodborne illness, experts recommend a number of precautions. Especially animal food products are susceptible to spoilage if not stored properly. You want to make sure items like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy foods are fully cooked or pasteurized before they are eaten. Raw meat or fish (e.g. steak tartar, sushi) may be fashionable, but the potential health threats are significant. If you love uncooked animal foods, be sure to patronize only reputable establishments.

Raw vegetables can also spoil and wreak havoc on your digestive system. Uncooked plant foods should always be thoroughly washed and stored in the refrigerator until consumption.

Dairy products like cheese and yogurt should always be kept refrigerated. Some types of cheese have bacteria and molds that add to their flavor and character. Hard varieties typically last longer than soft ones, but all require appropriate storage and should not be left exposed to warm temperatures for extended periods of time.

Preventive measures must also include proper cooking techniques and personal hygiene. Washing hands before and after touching food is imperative, especially when it involves uncooked animal foods like meat, poultry, and seafood.

Of course, when you eat out, you are at the mercy of those manning the kitchen. The only advice one can give is that if you have encountered problems in the past, you may not want to go back for seconds. On the other hand, if you are a regular at a particular eatery and you trust the place, you may want to stick with it. Of course, that is still not a foolproof strategy. All you can really do is minimize the risk by using your best judgment.

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

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Is Eating Alone Becoming the Norm?

November 7th, 2012 at 7:11 am by timigustafson

It’s a familiar picture: People eating while talking on the phone, reading e-mails, staring at computer screens, hurrying from appointment to appointment. Our hectic lifestyles rarely allow for lunch breaks exclusively dedicated to nourishment or sit-down dinners to reconnect with loved ones.

Nearly half of all adults in America now eat most of their meals alone, according to a new survey by the Hartman Group, a marketing research firm that specializes in consumer culture. “In fact, 46 percent of all adults eating occasions happen alone, with nobody else present; 40 percent of all adult meals (not just snacks) are eaten alone; and 51 percent of all adult snacking is done alone,” it says in the report.

The changes in eating habits are most obvious in the workplace where long, uninterrupted working hours have become the norm rather than the exception. But also hard-to-coordinate family schedules are impacting the way we used to have our meals at home, says Laurie Demeritt, the Hartman Group’s president.

Although it’s now more common than ever, the trend toward eating solo began a long time ago. As women joined the workforce in great numbers after World War II, preparing elaborate meals at home became less attractive, even as modern kitchen appliances eased the task. The ability to eat out or pick up frozen dinners offered much-welcomed relief.

Today, we have what Demeritt calls the “snackification of meals,” where frequent eating of snack items and smaller dishes has taken the place of the traditional three-meals-a-day pattern. Consumers are looking for flexible meal schedules that fit their demanding lifestyles. Oftentimes, this is only feasible when they eat by themselves.

While eating without company is not necessarily a bad thing and can from time to time be quite enjoyable, there are certain downsides. When you’re all by yourself, nobody will judge you, your table manners, your food choices or your portion sizes. You can focus on your meal or do a thousand other things at the same time. But that’s where it can get tricky, according to Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam, 2006). If you are not paying attention or there is no one else to give you any cues about your eating behavior, you may end up overdoing it – and gain weight in the process, he says.

To be sure, not all snacking, even if it occurs frequently, is automatically unhealthy. The trick is to stay away from the salty, sugary and highly processed items that unfortunately dominate the snack food sections from supermarkets to gas stations. And as with all foods, moderation is key.

And what about the social interactions solitary eaters miss out on? “Some of us love eating alone,” says Diane Shipley who writes for the British paper, The Guardian. Eating alone should not make you feel awkward, not even as a women going on her own to a bar or a restaurant or when travelling, she says. “Spending time with someone whom you have little in common with can feel far more alienating than being alone.”

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in “Despite of the Obesity Crisis, the Eating Habits of Most Americans Remain Unchanged.”

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 amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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The average American family eats at home on most days but is too rushed to make meals from scratch, according to a survey by Gallup-Healthways. In terms of nutritional quality, overall eating habits in America are not improving and have in some ways become even worse.

Fewer Americans reported eating healthily by including fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis last year than the year before. Produce consumption is down especially among young adults, seniors, women and Hispanics, according to the Gallup poll.

“The trend has been toward eating more meals at home. It’s just that we’ve been getting more and more of those meals we’ve been eating at restaurants to eat at home,” said Harry Balzer, a vice president at The NPD Group, a consumer market research firm. “Frozen and pre-prepared foods have gotten more popular. [People] want to spend as little time as possible preparing meals and that’s the driving force in the way we’re eating right now,” he added.

The results of the Gallup survey have been largely confirmed by another recent study, this one conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), titled “How Much Time Do Americans Spend on Food?” While many of the ERS’s findings came as no surprise – Americans like to eat quickly, tend to skip breakfast, take shorter lunch breaks, don’t spend much time on preparing and enjoying elaborate meals, make spontaneous food shopping choices, etc. – what stands out is the growing dominance of what the study calls “secondary eating patterns,” that is eating and drinking while simultaneously doing other things. Just focusing on your meals and enjoying them is becoming a thing of the past, especially among the younger generations, according to the report.

“On an average day [in 2006 to 2008 – the time period the survey took place], Americans age 15 and older spent about 2.5 hours daily eating or drinking. Slightly less than half of that time was spent eating and drinking as a primary or main activity, while the remaining time was spent eating and drinking while doing something else such as watching television, driving or working and waiting to eat or traveling to meal destinations,” said the report.

The ERS study also found that Americans who adhered predominantly to “secondary eating patterns” had on average a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) than those who kept mostly to “primary eating patterns” by setting time aside for their meals.

In his landmark book, “Mindless Eating,” Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor for marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University, pointed out that the average American makes well over 200 decisions about food every day, although when asked, most people initially believe they make only about 15 food-related decisions daily. Many of these decisions are made more or less unconsciously and even inexplicably. The reason is that we are often too distracted to pay attention to our eating. “If we knew why we ate the way we do, we could eat a little less, eat a little healthier, and enjoy it a lot more,” said Dr. Wansink.

Needless to say that this would not be an easy exercise. In a world where we all are constantly surrounded by a thousand things competing for our attention, it is hard to shut everything down and focus only on what we eat, when we eat, where we eat, how much we eat and how fast we eat. Yet, these are the quintessential elements of healthful eating habits.

As a dietitian and health counselor I’m often asked by my clients what changes they should make in their way of eating. There are many possibilities, of course, but much comes down to paying closer attention to your actions.

For instance, you can start by making grocery shopping lists and sticking to them once you’re at the store. Don’t buy food items spontaneously. For this reason, you should not go food shopping when you’re hungry.

Lay out a meal plan for a few days or an entire week if you have enough storage space. Prepare your meals as much as possible from scratch using fresh ingredients and lean cooking techniques. If you don’t have enough time to cook every day, prepare what you can in advance over the weekend or whenever you have the time.

Eat only in your dining room or whichever part of your home is set up for eating. Before you sit down, make sure to switch off your television, cellphone, computer, everything that can interfere with the enjoyment of your meal.

If possible, try to keep conversations light. Sharing a meal with loved ones should be a pleasurable experience. If the atmosphere around the dinner table is tense and stressful, it will affect everyone’s nutritional benefits as well.

Use food to celebrate. Although Thanksgiving is only once a year, there are plenty more opportunities to be grateful throughout the year. Having good food available itself is a cause for gratitude, being able to share it with others even more so.

There is little chance that we Americans will ever become quite like the French, the Greeks or the Italians, sitting down for hours on end over multi-course meals and wine in midday. And there is no reason why we should adopt other people’s lifestyles. But we should make ours as healthful as we can. And there we have plenty of room for improvement.

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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Gourmet Dining on a Slowing Metabolism

January 11th, 2012 at 1:08 pm by timigustafson

Today’s retirees have many more options how to spend their golden years than any generation before them. Baby boomers, especially those who are well off, can satisfy their curiosity and adventurous spirit by exploring new business endeavors, continuing their education or traveling around the world. Some discover new passions and acquire new skills they never had time for while working.

One of those late pursuits that is rapidly gaining in popularity is gourmet dining, both at home and at restaurants. Interest in advanced cooking classes has never been greater, not to mention the high ratings for food shows and competitions between celebrity chefs on TV. The auditoria of culinary institutes around the world are filled with students in their sixties, seventies and beyond, eager to familiarize themselves with the latest trends and techniques in the world of haute cuisine.

Fine wining and dining has always been a prerogative of those who like (and can afford) to indulge in the better things life has to offer, but today it’s a whole different ballgame. In an article for the New York Times (12/28/2011), Charles Isherwood, a food writer, describes his parents (both retired) as “foodies” for whom eating well has become their lives’ mission. “My parents practically live to eat,” he writes. “At home [they] eat out three or so times a week. But when they come to New York, we sample the city’s restaurants in five-day, two-big-meals-a-day binges that have become something of a legend.”

Of course, besides being tremendously pleasurable, fine dining also conveys an aura of culture and sophistication (not to mention exclusiveness due to oftentimes ridiculous pricing). However, many food lovers also seem to think that eating at the best restaurants or cooking with the most expensive ingredients automatically means their diet is healthy. But this is not necessarily true.

Gourmet chefs typically focus on taste and presentation. Calorie counts and fat contents are not their primary concern. The individual portions may look small compared to lower-end eateries with their “all-you-can-eat” value offers, but if you order three, four or more courses, you end up with a similarly large amount of food in your stomach.

You may say, well, it’s only on rare occasions that you go all out like that. But what about eating out three times a day when you travel? What about a cruise where limitless access to great food is one of the perks?

The unfortunate truth is that as you get older and have more time and funds to indulge a little more than you used to, your metabolism begins to slow down. In fact, it slows down about 5% to 10% every decade or so, beginning in your mid-twenties. This means that the typical American loses between 20% and 40% of metabolic power over the course of his or her lifespan, according to Dr. John Berardi, best-selling author of “The Metabolism Advantage.”

The reasons are easy to understand: Your metabolism converts calories into energy. When your calorie intake is higher than your energy expenditure, weight gain occurs. As you grow older, it becomes harder to maintain a healthy calorie-energy balance because your lifestyle probably becomes more sedentary and your physical activities get less strenuous. Another result is age-related muscle loss. Diminishing muscle mass means that fewer calories are being burned off and your metabolism slows down. While this is an inevitable, natural process, there are things you can do to prevent it from happening too fast.

The best way to counteract muscle loss is weight training. Lifting weights does not only add muscle, it also burns off calories even while you rest afterwards. Doing aerobics, of course, also helps with calorie burn. People who are said to have a faster metabolism are probably just more physically active all day.

Not surprisingly, adherence to healthy eating habits also matters more with age. Your calorie requirements may go down, but your need for high-quality nutrients remains the same throughout your life. Simple but nutrient-dense foods are the best choices for a healthy, age-appropriate diet – such as fresh fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants, whole grains, fish, lean meats and low-fat dairy products.

So, before you try out your next culinary sensation downtown or at home, keep in mind that your health is too important to throw all caution to the wind, just because you can.

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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About timigustafson

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

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