Posts Tagged ‘Nutrition’

In the Fight Against Obesity, Experts Remain Divided Over Strategies

June 28th, 2016 at 5:09 pm by timigustafson

Do food manufacturers bear a responsibility for the global obesity crisis? Of course they do. So do restaurants that offer nutritionally poor fare and exorbitant portion sizes. But the decision to consume foods and drinks that cause waistlines to expand ever further still rests with the individual. So, from which end should we try to tackle the problem?

Experts remain divided over the issue, despite of decades-long research on the true causes of excessive weight gain. What is unclear to most is where countermeasures should be implemented first, at the supplier- or the consumer level.

In a special series on the subject, the medical journal The Lancet has published different points of view, leaving considerable space for further discussion.

A majority of study findings, however, seem to lean towards top-down solutions such as regulatory measures that force food suppliers to better comply with dietary guidelines and recommendations by health experts, rather than a bottom-up approach with a primary focus on consumer behavior.

Although obesity is a complex issue, many debates about its causes and solutions are centered around overly simple dichotomies that present seemingly competing perspectives. Examples of such dichotomies explored in this series include personal versus collective responsibilities, supply versus demand-type explanations for consumption of unhealthy foods, government regulation versus industry self-regulation, and so forth, according to the series’ final report. While people ought to be held responsible for their health and wellbeing, environmental factors can support or undermine their ability to act in their self-interest, the authors conclude.

“Today’s food environments exploit people’s biological, psychological, social, and economic vulnerabilities, making it easier for them to eat unhealthy foods. This reinforces preferences and demands for foods of poor nutritional quality, furthering the unhealthy food environments. Regulatory actions from governments and increased efforts from industry and civil society will be necessary to break these vicious cycles,” they argue.

Not everyone agrees with one-sided attempts at solution finding of either kind. Dr. Mike Gibney, the director of the Institute of Food and Health at the University College Dublin, Ireland, and author of “Ever Seen a Fat Fox? Human Obesity Explored,” calls for a combination of bottom-up (consumers) and top-down (governments, industries) approaches. Multi-faceted action that attacks the problem at its roots, namely individual eating behavior, but doesn’t let ‘Big Food’ off the hook, is the most promising way to go, he says in an interview with Food Navigator. We do have the required resources to make a change, he says, it’s just the will that is lacking to follow through on what we know – on either side.

While obesity has been acknowledged as a global epidemic, it is unlikely that universally applicable solutions can be found. Methods that may work locally or regionally may fail on a larger scale. Differences between cultures, customs, education, economic status and governance may prove too great to overcome.

Some have suggested to take up the fight against obesity in similar fashion as the so-called “tobacco wars” in the 1990s, when policies were put in place that helped reduce tobacco use. But although anti-smoking campaigns and programs played an important role, it was also due to intense education efforts about the health risks that led many smokers to quit.

We should be careful, however, to expect too much from such strategies, even if they have worked in the past, because the issues differ. Looking at the tobacco or alcohol model with their top-down measures is flawed because neither has much in common with food, Dr. Gibney cautions. You can wean yourself from smoking or drinking but not from eating, he says. That means that ultimately consumers remain in the driver seat when it comes to making lasting changes, albeit they can use all the help they can get.

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


Cook Simply, Eat Healthily, Feel Good

April 10th, 2016 at 5:07 pm by timigustafson

Cooking is considered a chore by most people. Restaurant visits, take-outs, and frozen TV dinners are much more in keeping with our busy lifestyles. The downside to all this is that you have little control over the nutritional quality of food prepared by others. Unless you do it yourself from scratch, including grocery shopping and everything else before sitting down at the dinner table, there is no guarantee that you eat really well.

By eating ‘really well’ I mean getting all the nutrients the body needs to fully function and stay healthy. Learning how to make meals that measure up to that standard is not rocket science, but it requires a bit of knowledge in nutrition science and also in sound cooking techniques.

Even among those who still can be talked to about home cooking, convenience is a top priority. Time-consuming trips to the grocery store or farmers market are for many people out of the question, and so are hours spent on following complex recipes.

Luckily, there is plenty of help. Entire industries have emerged to make things easier for those who are unable or unwilling to toil in their kitchens the way generations before them had to. More than a hundred companies, including Walmart, are now offering so-called “meal kits” that contain exactly measured ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all delivered to your doorstep.

Subscribers to meal kits providers like Blue ApronHello Fresh, or Plated can receive weekly mailings of almost any kind of food as well as cooking tutorials and utensils that promise to turn a clueless novice into an avid hobby chef.

So far this fledging industry is showing great promise. Technomic, a food-industry consulting firm, predicts a $3 to $5 billion annual growth over the next decade or so. The comparatively high prices per meal, however, which can rival high-end grocery outlets or even medium-priced restaurants, limit the target audience to the well-to-do.

From a nutritional perspective, many of these meal-in-a-box options are certainly preferable to fast food, pizza, and other typical take-outs. But they are not necessarily superior in quality to fresh produce, meats, fish and other staples from your local supermarket (let alone farmers market). The difference is that preparing the latter may seem a little more cumbersome. But in reality, they really aren’t.

I myself have always been a believer in simple cooking techniques. I like my food as unaltered as possible, preferring uncomplicated techniques like steaming fresh vegetables or poaching fish to baking, frying, or whatever else more creative people than I can come up with.

I also try to follow my own motto, “eating lighter is eating smarter.” So I usually leave out sauces, dressings and other condiments that may add a bit of flavor but many more unnecessary calories and substances I don’t know anything about. This, by the way, I would also recommend to users of meal kits and other partially or wholly prepared products.

And there is one more element that should not be underestimated: Even the making of the simplest dish gives me great pleasure when it is to be shared with people I love. Enjoying a glass of wine while stirring a pot or assembling delicious treats before gathering at the table – you can’t get that from unpacking a box, no matter how well appointed it may be.

So, yes, I think it is worthwhile making the extra effort to learn a few cooking tricks, not just to eat more healthily, but for all the other benefits that come with it, including what it can do for your soul. Bon appétit!

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


Eating Right – At Least Sometimes

February 23rd, 2016 at 4:32 pm by timigustafson

Consumers generally want to eat better and are willing to spend more money on healthy foods like fresh and organically grown produce, but they also remain prone to reach for fast food and snacks for comfort and instant gratification, according to a new study on today’s dietary trends.

While the public is given easier access to nutritional information and advice than ever, there continues to be a gap, if not disconnect, between what people voice as their health concerns and how they actually act upon them, the researchers found.

For the study, participants were grouped in different segments, based on their stated nutritional attitudes and priorities. As it turned out, even the most health-conscious among them routinely engaged in a “balancing act” between what they perceived as better choices and other factors like pricing or convenience. Upon closer examination, the researchers also detected some stark discrepancies between reported and actual eating habits. Moreover, people were often not even aware of the inconsistencies in their actions.

Of course, these findings are not especially surprising. Surveys have long shown that most of us are somewhat unsure about the requirements of a truly health-promoting diet.

In one poll that was conducted by Consumer Reports, ninety percent of respondents proclaimed they were eating “somewhat,” “very,” or “extremely” healthily. However, nearly half of those also admitted to having at least one sugary soft drink a day and to including pastries and other sweet and fattening items in their breakfast. Only about a third consumed the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetable servings on most days.

How people define “healthy eating” is what’s questionable, says Nancy Metcalf, a senior project editor at Consumer Report magazine who was responsible for the poll. If people are misinformed or don’t understand what a healthy diet entails, adherence to what they think they should be doing is getting them nowhere.

The blame for this widespread confusion over what constitutes sound nutrition does obviously not rest with the public. Because the messages people are given are often inconsistent or sometimes outright contradictory, they can do more harm than good for those trying to follow them. For good reason the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) warns against diet programs and guidelines that promise fast and easily achievable results for weight management and nutritional well-being.

Instead of focusing on narrow measures and oversimplifying solutions, it would be more effective to foster an overall “healthy food environment” where consumers can meet their particular needs and also be confident that the information they are provided with is reliable and actionable, experts say.

This, obviously, would involve multiple components, including better health- and nutrition education, greater access to healthy food outlets, and the creation of more health-promoting policies both at governmental and local levels – to name just a few.

Ultimately, only when health-conducive behavior is commonly accepted as the norm and facilitated accordingly can real progress take place.

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


Getting Back in Shape After the Holidays – Don’t Rush It!

December 27th, 2014 at 5:02 pm by timigustafson

Now that the holidays are behind us, the damage inflicted on waistlines and other body parts bearing the marks of every dietary misdeed, no matter how harmless and forgivable it seemed at the time, will be lamented by millions. But I say, no need for self-flagellation. What’s done is done. Let bygones be bygones, we’ll do better from hereon in.

My regular readers know that I am no friend of New Year’s resolutions because they only lead to greater pain and frustration and, for most people, don’t produce lasting results anyway.

Don’t go on a guilt trip
The last thing you want to do is blame yourself for lack of willpower and discipline. Unless you avoided all the holiday cheer by hiding in a place with no contact to the outside world, there is little chance you could stay on the straight and narrow of a perfect diet regimen. It’s just the nature of the beast. So don’t beat yourself up over the inevitable.

Don’t diet right away
If you have been overeating on numerous occasions or for extended periods of time, your body has become used to the higher food intake and will want to continue on that level as the new normal. If you cut back too quickly and/or too substantially, as panicked dieters tend to do, you will feel deprived, and your body will protest with all the hunger pangs it can muster. It’s not a good recipe for successful weight loss.

Take small steps
A better approach would be to wean yourself gradually from your lately acquired eating habits by reducing portion sizes, avoiding sugary snack foods and soda drinks, and decreasing or eliminating alcohol consumption. Remember, you only have to lower your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day in order to shed one pound per week. Losing weight at a slower pace also makes it more likely that you can keep it off long-term, which, of course, should be the ultimate goal.

Stay away from crash diets
Because of their initial effectiveness, so-called crash diets are very popular, but they can do more harm than good. Don’t engage in what is known as “yo-yo dieting,” meaning that you slim down real fast but gain everything back – and oftentimes more – soon thereafter. Such weight fluctuations can damage your metabolism and make it even harder to control your weight later on.

Eat more healthy foods
If you decide to cut back on your food intake, you should not only consider the amount of calories you are planning to reduce but also important nutrients you might be missing on a weight loss diet. In fact, it is recommended that you actually increase your consumption of highly nutritious foods like fruit and vegetables, while excluding others of lesser nutritional value such as processed and refined items, to provide your body with the necessary fuel to function properly and to avoid the risk of malnutrition.

Keep stress in check
It’s easy to forget how stressful the holidays can be. You may have enjoyed yourself, but all the preparations and gatherings with colleagues, family and friends can take a toll, whether you are aware of it or not. So, when things start slowing down again, it might be a good idea to pause and take stock. Perhaps it’s time to put your own needs first for a while and be kind to yourself by taking a break. Yoga, meditation, massage, or simply taking long walks – whatever lets you calm down and become yourself again – can be helpful. Also, don’t get too stressed out right after returning to your workplace. This may be easier said than done, but you have to be aware that leftover stress from the holidays plus new stress from the workload you’re resuming can quickly burn you out before the new year has even started.

Get more sleep
Chances are the holidays have left you sleep-deprived, perhaps even more than usual. So you may want to go to bed a little earlier or sleep in for a few days, if you can. There are plenty of things you can do to readjust your sleep pattern, so you wake up refreshed instead of hung over.

It is still the best measure you can take to get back in shape. The weather may be less than inviting to go outside, but give yourself that proverbial kick in the butt and put on your running or hiking shoes, then deeply inhale some much-needed fresh air. The gyms may be extra full in early January, but resolution season is notoriously short, and within a few days you’ll be able to find plenty of vacant treadmills and stairmasters again.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, you’ll stick with your program, and all will be well in almost no time. Happy New Year!

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


Americans Still Eat Too Much and Pick the Wrong Foods, Latest Survey Finds

September 25th, 2013 at 7:36 am by timigustafson

On average, Americans have become more health-conscious in recent year. Fewer of us smoke and more engage in regular exercise, although perhaps still not enough. But when it comes to our eating habits, unfortunately not much has changed, despite enormous efforts to raise greater awareness of the obesity crisis and its dismal effects on people’s health.

While the overall health status has not dramatically deteriorated – in 2010, 65 percent of Americans reported being in good or excellent health, compared to 68.5 percent in 1997 – the number of those struggling with weight problems remains at an all-time high.

In its annual “report card” on the state of America’s physical health, the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, found that most Americans are still a far cry from the path to healthy living.

“This isn’t a report card you’d want to post on the fridge,” writes Bonnie Liebman, a nutritionist working at the CSPI and author of the report.

She especially laments the fact that fruits and vegetables still don’t fill American lunch- and dinner plates in quantities recommended by the government. Instead, highly caloric and fatty items like processed foods, meats and dairy products still dominate our meals, both when eating out and at home. More importantly, portion sizes, although well known as a leading factor in our national weight-gain malaise, don’t budge, and we are consuming on average 450 calories more per day than we did in 1970, according to the report.

“One way to see the bigger picture is to look at where our calories come from,” Liebman writes. Americans have gone from eating an estimated 2,075 calories a day in 1970 to scarfing down 2,535 calories in 2010. From 2000 to 2007 we were as high as 2,600 calories a day.”

The increasing quantities, however, are not the only problem. We are also eating the wrong kind of foods, like dairy and refined grains. Cheese, in particular, is nearly ubiquitous in many families’ meal plans, including popular items like pizza, burritos, nachos, quesadillas, and on burgers.

Even supposedly healthy choices like salads are routinely laden with dressings, toppings and add-ons that quickly undo the best of intentions to slim things down.

A food group that hasn’t received enough attention so far is grains. Baked goods like breads, pastries and cookies, but also cereal, pasta, rice, crackers, granola bars, pizza, burritos and wraps are all “going gangbusters,” says Liebman. The average American consumes well over 100 pounds of flour every year – and it shows up in people’s ever-expanding waistlines.

Switching from refined grains to whole grains, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), can have some positive effects, but the bottom line is that we need to get everyone to eat less grains, period, says Liebman.

The by far worst grade (D+) on the “report card” was given to sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, well-known culprits in the battles of the bulges. While there has been a slight decrease in sugar consumption in recent years, the overall use in processed foods and sweetened beverages is still so high that most Americans end up with nearly 80 pounds sugar intake per year.

What should we make of these many bad news? Well, the same thing we did as kids when our grades were disappointing: Try harder. Perhaps next time, we’ll do better.

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


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


Americans don’t like to cook. They don’t want to spend the time it takes for food shopping, food preparation and clean up, especially when it’s so much easier to stop for a quick bite at a restaurant or drive-thru or bring home some take-out. Yet, experts are convinced that making home cooking fashionable again would be one of the most effective steps we could take to address the nation’s obesity crisis.

The United States ranks at the bottom of industrialized countries not only in terms of time spent on meal preparation but also on consumption, according to surveys conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international group that analyzes economic data worldwide. In other words, we not only don’t cook, we also don’t set much time aside to enjoy our food. Instead, more and more of us skip breakfast, work through lunch and sustain ourselves throughout the day by snacking.

The percentage of calories from snacks in the American diet has doubled since the 1970s, as more people have turned into all-day grazers while foregoing sitdown meals on most days, a study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) found.

Over half of American adults say they have three or more snacks a day. Almost a third of children and adolescents eat chips, popcorn, pretzels and the likes on a daily basis. The amount of pizza eaten, both in restaurants and at home, has nearly tripled over the past thirty years. Meanwhile, the number of calories in pizzas has increased by 25 percent on average since the late 1970s. Over the same time period vegetable consumption has declined from 2.6 to just 1.9 servings per day – and that includes French fries.

The easiest way to turn these developments around would be to start preparing our meals from scratch again, says Mark Bittman, food writer and author of “Cooking Solves Everything: How Time in the Kitchen Can Save Your Health, Your Budget, and Even the Planet” (Kindle edition, 2011). Millions of Americans don’t ever cook. The rest cooks on occasion, often just microwaving. Many don’t bother with sitting down at the dinner table but rather eat in the car, at a counter, or in front of a screen. “And that’s a shame, because cooking is a basic essential, worthwhile and even enjoyable task,” he writes.

Bittman applauds others who are trying to get the message out about the many benefits of home cooking, like his fellow-book-author Michael Pollan who just published a new book on the same subject, titled, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” (Penguin Press, 2013). In a review on the then upcoming publication he writes: “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet.”

The reasons are obvious. If you are in charge of the ingredients that go into your food, you already are going to eat better because you won’t include extra fat, salt, sugar, preservatives, dyes and other additives. You also won’t eat as many highly caloric items like French fries, which are cumbersome to make at home. The same goes for pizza (made from scratch, not the ones you just heat up).

One of the central problems with cooking is that we don’t value it enough any more. We are used to having tasks like these done for us by outside service providers. But unlike getting your car or computer fixed by someone else, cooking is much more intimate. It connects us with our bodies, nature and loved ones.

Michael Pollan even thinks that the experience of cooking brings us closer to the most basic elements that surround us: fire, water, air and earth and also tightens our social and ecological relationships. All that has deeply transformational characteristics that can change us on multiple levels, but all for the better.

That is much to hope for – perhaps too much. Still, it is a fact that an increasing number of people are looking for ways to eat more healthily and also reduce stress on the environment, e.g. by cutting back on meat consumption and buying more produce from local farms. A rediscovery of home cooking would fit squarely within these trends. Whether it will be enough to transform or currently predominant way of life remains doubtful.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Home Cooking for Healthy Eating” and “Tips for Leaner Cooking Techniques

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


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


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


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

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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

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