Posts Tagged ‘Food’

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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Beware of Hidden Calories in All the Good Holiday Cheer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Remembering Harvest Season

October 21st, 2012 at 7:04 am by timigustafson

Although I grew up as a city girl, a memorable period of my childhood was spent in the English countryside. Of those days, I recall most fondly the harvest season. Because the local farmers couldn’t handle the workload by themselves (we are talking agriculture before heavy machinery came into use), all able bodies in the nearby villages, including young children, were enlisted to bring in the crops.

Harvesting then was a race against time and we all had a sense of urgency. Having enough food to get us safely through the winter was not to be taken for granted. Relying on imports from far-flung places around the world was not an option. “Locally grown” was not a slogan back then, it was all we had available to us.

Having successful harvests is a major concern in all societies, including ours. ‘Thanksgiving’ is one of our most celebrated holidays. Harvest festivals of all sorts are observed around the globe and they have a similar meaning, namely to commemorate the fact that survival is not guaranteed but depends on hard work as well as the cooperation of forces beyond our control. In a way, as joyful an event as it may be, this should be a rather humbling experience. It shows us that we are ultimately not in command of our fate, at least not at all times and in every regard.

When news broke last summer that record heat waves were devastating crops all over the country, dramatic increases in food prices were announced almost immediately. That put families on already tight food budgets further at risk of malnutrition and diet-related diseases. Widespread hunger, in the past only considered a persistent problem in developing countries, is becoming a reality here as well.

It is also a sad fact that hunger and obesity often go together, especially among poor children. The most affordable foods are typically highly processed and laden with refined carbohydrates, fat, salt and sugar, all ingredients known to cause weight gain while offering little nutritional value.

Buying locally grown fresh foods can offer a better alternative for everyone, including low-income families. “By focusing your diet on products grown and raised within 100 miles of your home, you will likely end up eating more fruits and vegetables as well,” says Tara Parker-Pope, a health and nutrition writer and frequent contributor to the New York Times/Well blog. She recommends that consumers shop as often as possible at local farmers markets, not only because of the higher food quality at lower cost but also to support food producers who practice more sustainable farming methods.

People need to understand that processed, pre-packaged foods like fast foods and frozen dinners may be convenient and readily available throughout the year, regardless of season or choice of ingredients – but they come at a steep price that is not reflected at the drive-through or checkout counter. To comprehend the real costs of our modern eating styles, we also have to consider the heavy dependency on fossil fuels for fertilizers and pesticides as well as long-distance transportation and refrigeration.

For these reasons and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend making buying locally grown and harvested foods a priority in every household. Eating nearby grown produce is not only healthier, according to the agency, it also helps the environment and climate by reducing the amounts of energy it takes to put dinner on the table.

So, when you and your loved ones get together this coming Thanksgiving to count your blessings, why not discuss some ideas how you can personally make a few smart diet and lifestyle changes. They eventually may add up to significant differences for both you and the world around you.

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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Rising Food Prices Will Make It Even Harder to Eat Healthily

July 29th, 2012 at 6:46 am by timigustafson

A record drought is destroying America’s harvest this year. Over 50 percent of farmland is now in moderate to severe drought condition, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In some states it’s well over 60 percent and rising.

As a consequence, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts substantial price increases for food next year, if not sooner. In its just released Food Price Outlook, the agency forecasts inflationary trends for food costs across the board.

Animal food products will be especially affected due to more expensive feed. Inventories of beef have already been low this year and are being further reduced because of dried up pastures. Indirectly, this will drive up prices for dairy products as well. The ripple effect is widespread and it is impossible at this point to see how far it will reach, according to USDA food economist and spokesperson Richard Volpe.

Because of the use of corn and soy in many processed products, even canned and packaged foods could become more expensive. This leaves individuals and families who are already struggling to make ends meet in an ever greater bind.

“We are deeply concerned about the impact of rising food prices on low-income households,” said Sophie Milam at Feeding America in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR). “Poor households are already forced to make tradeoffs between what they can afford and the nutritional value of the food they buy – at higher prices, even in small percentages are a challenge.” She warned that food banks for the needy could seriously become impacted as well.

In terms of worldwide food supply, the potential damage is even less predictable. Because America is a major supplier of a wide range of agricultural goods, lower yields mean shortages for countries around the world that depend on imports. Prices for staples like wheat, soy and rice could dramatically increase if international markets begin to panic.

While there is not much to be done about price hikes on the consumer level, taking prudent action can mitigate some of the fallout. The USDA has compiled several guidelines for smart shopping to keep items like fruit and vegetables affordable even on a tight budget. Here are some examples:

• Careful planning is an important part of limiting one’s grocery expenses. Make shopping lists for several days or longer and stick to them while you are in the store.

• Some foods are better bought in bulk. Rice, beans, soups and other canned goods are in this category. Perishables like fresh produce, meats and fish should be purchased in appropriate amounts, so nothing goes to waste. Preferably, buy items you can use for a number of meals, such as side dishes, salads, soups and stews.

• Always get produce that is in season. Imports are more costly and often less fresh than their locally grown counterparts.

• Frozen dinners or deli foods may be more convenient and save you time. But the preparation done by someone else adds to the price. So, put in the little extra work and make your meals from scratch whenever possible. It’s worth it.

• Look for sales and use coupons. There is no shame in being a smart shopper. Stores wouldn’t offer these incentives if they still didn’t make a profit off you.

• Eating out is expensive. Whether you patronize a gourmet restaurant or a burger joint, you almost always pay more than you would if you ate at home. So, be discriminating. Going out to celebrate or to take a break once in a while is important. But when you face budget concerns, you are better off running your own kitchen.

What matters most is not to neglect your nutritional needs. It is better to stick to simple but wholesome meals than trying to cut corners with junk food that only makes you sick. Nothing would be worse than losing your health at a time when everything else is getting tougher.

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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If you are like me and get your produce as much as possible from your local farmers market, you probably expect to receive the best quality food money can buy. After all, you are going directly to the source where you can see, smell, touch and sample real food, just as nature made it.

The demand for “natural” food has steadily grown in the U.S. since the 1970s and is now at an all-time high. The underlying assumption is that “natural” is superior to processed, altered or packaged.

Food manufacturers and retailers love using terms that appeal to people’s longing for the real thing, even if it’s nothing of the kind. There is supposed to be 100% natural fruit- or vegetable juice in aluminum cans. Milk and cheese come from “happy” cows that are allowed to roam freely on luscious meadows. Eggs are laid by “free-ranging” chickens frolicking around the old farmhouse. Of course, much of this is mere fantasy, but it sells.

So, how can consumers really know what they are actually buying when labels say “all natural,” “organic” or “ecological”?

Unfortunately, many food products can be sold as “natural,” regardless whether the facts back up the claim or not. In the U.S., there is no legal definition of terms and phrases like “natural,” “100% natural,” “all natural ingredients,” etc. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) actually discourages food manufacturers from using these words because consumers may believe that “natural” is equal or even superior to “organic,” which is clearly not the case.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) describes the meaning of “natural” somewhat vaguely as food that has undergone “minimal processing,” which also excludes the use of artificial ingredients and added colors. But meat from animals that were treated with artificial hormones and that was injected with saline solution to add flavor may still be advertised as “natural,” to name just one example among countless others. In other words, the predicate “natural” is often not worth the shiny label it’s printed on.

By contrast, the term “organic” is clearly defined and highly regulated in most countries, although standards vary. Organic food production is a system that is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990 by the USDA.

For food products to be certified “organic,” the producers have to comply with a number of strictly controlled conditions and processes, such as avoidance of synthetic chemicals and substances like fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, additives. The land on which “organic” plant foods are grown have to be free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for at least three years or more.

Also excluded are the uses of genetically modified organism, irradiation and biosolids. Certification for organic animal food products forbids the use of growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified feed or animal by-products in raising of livestock. Organic eggs have to come from chickens that are both cage-free and free-range.

“Organic” products have to be physically separated from their non-certified counterparts to avoid cross-pollution. Keeping detailed written production and sales records, including documentation of storage, processing, packaging and shipping is also required. Periodic on-site inspections are conducted to make sure that no violations occur.

In the U.S., for processed foods to be labeled “organic,” they must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Products that have a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients can use the label “contains organic ingredients.”

Principally, any business involved in food production can be certified “organic,” including seed suppliers, growers, food processors, retailers and even restaurants as long as they remain in compliance with the requirements. The certification process, however, is expensive and many small farm operators choose to forgo certification even if their practices meet or exceed those required by the USDA.

“Ecological” farming, a.k.a. “sustainable” agriculture is, like “natural,” a much less defined description. Generally speaking, “ecological” farming uses principles that are based on the desire to maintain harmonious relationships between food production and the environment. Central elements are sensible and prudent use of natural resources, such as soil, water and livestock; respect for biological cycles and controls; long-term economic viability of farm operations as well as enhancement of life for farmers and society as a whole.

The issue of “ecological” or “sustainable” agriculture was briefly addressed by congress in the 1990 farm bill, but not much has been done about it ever since. Private organizations like the Food Alliance and Protected Harvest have started to establish some standards and bestow their own certifications, which, of course, have no legal binding power.

So, the question for consumers remains: Is it worth buying foods that may be healthier, more trustworthy and kinder to the environment – but are often much more costly than their regular counterparts? There is no easy answer to that.

I personally try to eat as healthy as I can. To stay within a reasonable budget, I mostly buy locally grown foods when they are in season. Foods I eat raw, like fruits, carrots, tomatoes etc., I preferably buy “organic” to avoid exposure to pesticides. With produce I can wash, peel and cook, I feel comfortable using the regular kind. Animal products are another matter. I usually buy wild-caught fish (not farmed) and poultry that (I think) comes from reliable sources. Other than that, I have to trust that doing my best to shop smartly will more or less keep me out of harms way.

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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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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