Posts Tagged ‘Healthy Living’

Education, the Best Protection Against Obesity and Related Diseases

March 12th, 2014 at 12:43 pm by timigustafson

With growing wealth in many developing countries around the world, diet and lifestyle changes are showing dramatic increases in obesity and related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. From Central and South America to the Middle East to Asia, weight problems are now among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. But more than rising standards of living, lack of education seems to contribute to these dismal trends.

In China, India and Brazil, where economic growth has been especially dramatic but has also created vast inequalities in their populations, diet and lifestyle changes have had a particularly profound impact on the risk of obesity, according to one study that investigated the effects of rising incomes on people’s health.

In Mexico, which is considered a middle-income country, prevalence of obesity proved to be the highest among those who were better off financially but had little education. Similar findings were made in Egypt, a low-income country, where obesity has become a fast growing problem, especially among women. Here too, increasing wealth is a predictor – but even more so, lack of schooling.

“For the first time, we have studied the interaction between wealth and education and found they have fundamentally different effects on obesity,” said Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi, the lead author of the Egypt study.

Greater exposure of emerging economies to global food markets and rising buying power of consumers lead to these consequences. The best way to prevent this from happening would be to invest in education, especially in women who are in charge of food shopping, cooking, and taking care of the health needs of their families, she said.

“Our study suggests that investing in women’s education protects against this effect by empowering individuals to look after their health,” she said to Science Daily.

As ‘gatekeepers’ in their households, women have the most influence on the nutritional wellbeing of children, which is our best hope for breaking the vicious circle that begins with childhood obesity and subsequent, often chronic, health issues during adulthood.

Scientific evidence leaves no doubt that the environment we live in is largely responsible for the obesity epidemic, Dr. Aitsi-Selmi said. We can only change the environment by changing the behavior of individuals. And that is best accomplished through education.

Obviously, providing even a basic amount of health education in different socio-economic and cultural settings is no easy task in one country, let alone on a global scale. But, as this study and others have shown, increase in literacy and greater opportunities for learning have many benefits and can provide the groundwork for attitude and behavior modifications, including improving eating habits.

It also means that greater affordability of food does not automatically lead to better health outcomes – sometimes to the contrary. Only when people understand how their diet and lifestyle choices affect them, they can make appropriate changes and take control of their wellbeing.

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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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Keeping a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle in the Cold Season

September 28th, 2013 at 7:33 am by timigustafson

It’s easier to eat right and be active outdoors during the summer months when the weather is warm and dry, and fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful. It’s a different story when the temperatures drop, the rain sets in, and there are no more farmers markets to go to. But that doesn’t mean your healthy lifestyle has to change as well.

If you had a nice summer vacation, spent more time with family and friends, or just followed a slower pace, you probably found it easier to sit down for breakfast, enjoy a leisurely lunch, or cook a more elaborate dinner to be shared with loved ones. Now that it’s back to school or back to work, those pleasant and also healthy habits are in danger of becoming extinct again.

The same goes for your workout schedule. Longer daylight made it less forbidding to get up early for a run or swim, or go to the gym later in the evening. It’s much harder to continue with that regimen when it’s pitch dark outside and the weather is nasty.

Still, not all has to be lost.

For instance, eating a healthy breakfast should remain part of your morning routine all year round. It is one of the most important things you can do for your nutritional health. It is also an essential element of successful weight management.

If you have started taking lunch breaks where you focused on eating a healthy meal, instead of stuffing something absentmindedly in your mouth while working or doing other things, stick with your new habit. Mindless eating is one of the major causes of weight gain and should be avoided as much as possible.

When all family members go back to their busy schedules, it may be harder to gather them around the dinner table. Still, you should make the effort, not only because home-cooked meals are preferable to eating out or snacking but also for social reasons. If you had a chance to reconnect with your spouse and children during summer vacation, don’t let that slip away again because of time pressures.

As far as your physical fitness is concerned, you should build on the foundation you have laid over the summer – or undo the damage if your leisurely activities have led you in the other direction. Running, bicycling or swimming outdoors may no longer be possible, but there is the treadmill, the stationary bike or an indoor pool nearby. Don’t let lame excuses creep in and keep a regular exercise program as best as you can.

Your grocery list may or may not be as much affected, since today’s supermarkets stock most food items all year round, including those not in season in your region. But you can also focus on fruits and vegetables that are harvested late.

Fall is also a good time to make heartier meals like soups and stews that give you a cozy feeling when rain and wind bluster outside.

Keep in mind that the cold season requires your body to spend more energy to stay warm and protected. Eating highly nutritious foods, filled with vitamins and minerals, are essential to keep your immune system strong and get you as unscathed as possible through the flu season and other health hazards.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “The Cold Season Diet – Foods That Strengthen Your Immune System” and “Eat to Beat the Cold and Flu Season.”

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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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Breakfast – Yes or No?

August 13th, 2013 at 8:46 pm by timigustafson

Many followers of healthy eating and lifestyle habits, myself included, get confused every so often over seemingly contradictory messages they receive from new study findings. The latest reports on the importance of a nutritious breakfast are no exception.

For some time now, we have been hearing that eating a healthy meal at the start of the day offers multiple benefits, including for weight control. Two recent studies on the subject, however, have come to opposite conclusions, one confirming the value of eating heartily in the morning, the other negating it. On closer examination, both studies seem to be correct in some aspects but miss the mark in others.

For one study, researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel enrolled obese women in a 1,400-calorie-per-day weight loss regimen and divided them in two groups. One half was served 50 percent of the daily allotted calories at breakfast, 36 percent at lunch, and 14 percent at dinner. The other half was made to eat in the opposite order.

After three months, the heavy breakfast eaters had lost considerably more weight, had slimmer waistlines, a lower body-mass index (BMI), and declining triglyceride, blood sugar and cholesterol levels compared to their counterparts who had their biggest meals for dinner – all despite the fact that the daily calorie intake in both groups was identical. The logical conclusion seems that it not only matters what and how much dieters eat but also when they eat.

In sharp contrast to these findings stands another recent study, this one from Cornell University, which seems to suggest that skipping breakfast may be helpful in one’s quest for weight loss. Here, researchers fed or withheld breakfast from two groups of participants but left it up to them whatever they wished to eat for the rest of the day. As it turns out, the breakfast-skippers lost more weight than those who stuck to three meals a day.

So, what is going on here? Is having breakfast a good or a bad idea for weight control? The answers to both studies are in fact quite simple.

In the study from Tel Aviv, the breakfast group had a decisive advantage over their dinner-eating peers because after eating they had the entire day ahead during which they could burn off calories. By contrast, the members of the dinner group were more likely to settle down for the evening after finishing their meals, and went to bed relatively full, without much of a chance for calorie expenditure. Naturally, that difference in behavior shows up on the scale.

Unfortunately, the Cornell study is inconclusive from the start because it does not control the total calorie intake of either group and only focuses on one eating occasion in the day. The participants who skipped breakfast may have made up for the deprivation by having a heavier lunch or by adding more snacks in between meals. Those who managed to keep to their usual eating pattern may have lost weight by foregoing breakfast, but they could have achieved the same by omitting any other eating event. The bottom line is that reducing total calorie intake will inevitably lead to weight loss over time. We already knew that.

The reason why I agree with those who emphasize the importance of having breakfast is that eating a nutritious, balanced meal in the morning gives you much needed energy and prevents you from getting too ravenous later on, which often results in overeating. For the reasons I discussed earlier, I also believe that eating the European way – a large breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a light dinner – is preferable to our custom of making dinner the main eating occasion. I also like the breakfast styles there better, including those of the Israelis, which typically include a vast variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy products, instead of sugary cereals and pastries. And let’s not forget portion sizes. They matter at all meals, regardless when you have 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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Enhancing the Quality of Life Wherever We Can

October 31st, 2012 at 12:45 pm by timigustafson

For the longest time, there has been nothing but bad news coming from Greece: An economy in complete shambles, high unemployment, drastic tax hikes and cutbacks in social services, unrest in the streets, a society at the brink of collapse. And yet it is precisely in this region where people seem to live longer, healthier lives than about anywhere else on the planet. What’s their secret?

Based on years of research, Dan Buettner, best-selling author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons in Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” (National Geographic Society, 2008), and two of his colleagues found that the inhabitants of the Greek island of Ikaria were reaching the age of 90 at two and a half times the rate Americans do.

“Ikarian men in particular are nearly four times as likely as their American counterparts to reach 90, often in better health. But more than that, they were also living about 8 to 10 years longer before succumbing to cancers and cardiovascular disease, and they suffered less depression and about a quarter the rate of dementia.” By contrast, Buettner says, almost half of American seniors show signs of Alzheimer’s by the age of 85.

Despite of its remoteness and rugged, mountainous landscape, the island has been known for centuries for its health-promoting climate and soothing hot springs. A slow-pace, leisurely lifestyle is still prevalent among the people here who savor tasty meals and long afternoon naps. Time seems to stand still – most villagers don’t even wear watches.

Many of the young people who once left the island in search of better paying jobs in the cities have returned, disillusioned with their fading prospects. Because of high unemployment rates, some have no choice but to move back in with parents and grandparents, but others see the lifestyle of their forbearers as a viable alternative.

Besides tourism, small-scale agriculture is the only industry on Ikaria. When it comes to food supply, most families are self-sufficient. Gardening and tending to livestock fills the day that starts late in the morning and ends with dining and socializing with family, neighbors and friends.

The latter is as crucial as the diet the Ikarians adhere to. The social structures might turn out to be even more important, says Buettner. The cultural attitude that honors and celebrates old age keeps seniors more engaged in their communities. Studies have shown that the concept of retirement, common in industrialized countries, actually reduces life expectancy. Such “artificial punctuations” in life, as he calls it, deprive retirees unnecessarily of a sense of purpose and meaningful existence.

Another puzzling phenomenon is that Ikarians also live longer than other islanders in the region who share a comparable environment. Obviously it’s not one specific thing that sets these people apart, says Buettner, but rather a host of “subtly powerful, mutually enhancing and pervasive factors are at work” such as a healthy diet, sufficient sleep, lack of stress and time pressure, daily physical activity through walking and manual labor, and being part of a functional community. In other words, it’s the high quality of life that results in the extraordinary longevity.

Obviously, not everyone can move to an idyllic island and grow vegetables, milk goats, bake bread and snooze the afternoon away. But what we all can do is to stop once in a while and consider whether our days really have to be as hectic and exhausting as they often are. Perhaps we would be better off if we took regularly inventory and separated what’s necessary from what just crept in on us.

We don’t have to aim at living forever. Longevity itself doesn’t have to be the primary goal. Being around a few years longer is not worth the effort if we’re only getting more of the same. A better quality of life, on the other hand, is something we can always strive for at any time and anywhere.

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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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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