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Nutrition

Health and Fitness, Nutrition, Public Health

Why establishing a health baseline is a “critical starting point for achieving future health goals”

Why establishing a health baseline is a "critical starting point for achieving future health goals"

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Raise your hand if you want to be more successful at achieving health goals, such as losing weight or lowering your cholesterol levels, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps it’s time to consider creating a health baseline. “A health-care baseline is essentially where you are “at” on the broad, complex spectrum of physical, mental and emotional health,” explains Mary James, MD, an internal medicine physician at Stanford. “This can be a critical starting point for achieving future health goals.”

On Thursday, James will deliver an in-depth talk on the benefits of partnering with your primary care provider to establish a health baseline as part of the Stanford Health Library lecture series. Those unable to attend can watch the presentation online here.

In anticipation of the event, I contacted James to learn more about why its important to have a basis for comparison, beyond the ever-fluctuating number on your bathroom scale or if you’re able to fit into your skinny jeans, to use in measuring progress in meeting your health goals. Below she discusses how assessing the state of your health now can pay off in a longer, more active life in the future.

What is a health baseline?

Your baseline has two basic components: existing illness and potential future illness. Your current baseline has been shaped by your medical, social and family history and is constantly being influenced by common factors in everyday life. Although some components of your healthcare baseline are more modifiable than others, it is important to have an accurate understanding of your current health status.

Why is it important to determine your personal health baseline?

You may be thinking, “I’m healthy – I take no medications and never go to the doctor. Why should I start now?” There are two fundamental components to good health. They are: appropriate treatment for current illness and appropriate preventative care to reduce health decline in the future. While most people actively seek care for the former, we often forget about the latter. Although the data is mixed on whether “routine check ups” are beneficial, there is strong evidence behind many of the preventative maneuvers that are typically discussed and ordered at these visits. Taking appropriate preventative health-care steps can help you avoid the need for prescription medications, hospitalizations and procedures and can help ensure a longer, healthier life.

How can establishing a health baseline help you be more successful in reaching personal wellness goals?

Many wellness goals start with changes in diet and exercise. Your primary care provider can help determine how to start making these changes in a safe, effective manner. Are there exercises you should avoid due to chronic back pain? Is it okay to start running if you have high blood pressure? Is it safe for you to start a vegan diet? What is a safe amount of weight to lose?

Wellness also includes mental and emotional health. Your primary provider can help determine what treatment is most appropriate for common conditions such as depression and anxiety. Maybe you’ve been feeling “down” lately – is this true depression that warrants medical treatment, or is it safe try a new yoga or meditation class first? These are just a few of the many things that can be assessed and addressed as part of your health baseline. Together, you and your primary care provider can prioritize health problems and determine effective interventions.

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Nutrition, Public Health

Eating for good blood: Tips for boosting iron levels and hemoglobin

Eating for good blood: Tips for boosting iron levels and hemoglobin

eggs and chard

Have you ever gone to donate blood only to be deferred for low iron count? Also referred to as low blood count, low iron, or low hemoglobin, approximately 10 percent of donors are deferred for this reason. When a donor is deferred, that means they’re unable to donate blood that day. You’ve probably wondered why this happens and if there’s anything you can do about it. Hopefully, the following information will shed some light on the subject.

What is iron and what does it have to do with blood donation?

Iron is a nutrient that is found in the foods we eat, which then combines with certain proteins to become hemoglobin in your red blood cells. The red blood cells are important because they carry oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. When the body experiences low iron and hemoglobin, this essentially means you do not have enough red blood cells in your body to donate blood. Low iron levels may cause you to feel tired, and extremely low iron levels may cause damage to organs. There are several reasons one may have a low blood count – including not eating enough iron-rich foods, donating blood too frequently, chronic illness, or other invisible causes.

Testing your blood

In order to keep our donors safe and healthy, our collections staff must ensure that each donor we see has sufficient levels of iron and hemoglobin before they donate. Therefore, when you visit a center to donate, the collections staff will do a finger prick to test a small amount of blood to assess hemoglobin levels. If your levels are low, we will not be able to collect your blood that day but do encourage you to try some simple measures to raise your levels in order that you can come back to donate again in the future.

What can I do to improve my hemoglobin levels prior to donation?

One way to try to boost your iron levels is through your diet. By eating iron-rich foods, you can promote blood regeneration and increase the amount of iron in your body. Typically, iron-rich foods are colorful and deeply pigmented. Some examples of good sources of iron include:

  • Chard
  • Dates
  • Eggs
  • Lean beef and pork
  • Raisins
  • Shrimp
  • Spinach
  • Whole grain breads

For a more detailed list of foods and their iron content, the USDA provides a nutrient database for reference.

Kristin Stankus is the digital community & social media specialist at Stanford Blood Center. This blog entry originally appeared on the blood center’s blog.

Photo by Patent and the Pantry

Ask Stanford Med, Health and Fitness, Nutrition, Obesity

How to keep New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy

How to keep New Year's resolutions to eat healthy

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New Year’s Day always offers the opportunity to hit pause, reflect on our lives and set goals to improve our health and well-being. For many of us, this year also involved making promises to eat healthier and lose weight. To help you achieve your nutrition goals, I reached out to Stanford health educator Jae Berman. Below she shares how to select New Year’s resolutions that you’ll actually keep (perhaps you’ll have to tweak the ones you made last week!), offers strategies for eating healthy even when you’re pressed for time, and explains why cooking for yourself is a key factor in changing nutritional habits.

What are some examples of smaller, more manageable, goals that could help someone make better food choices?

People often jump in too hard, too fast when creating New Year’s resolutions. This perfectionist and “all or nothing” attitude tends to result in grand, lofty goals that we quit if we have a setback or don’t see immediate results. When considering health and weight loss-related goals make sure they are realistic and sustainable.

Instead, closely examine your routine and note one thing you can improve. This behavior may be something obvious, such as you drinking soda every day and wanting to stop. Or, it could be an aspiration to make healthy habits more sustainable, for example, bringing your lunch to work so you can lose weight and save money. Those who already eat well and exercise regularly may want to adopt a goal on a larger scope and learn to cook or try a new form of exercise.

Pick one thing (just one!) and make sure it is SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound. Pick a resolution that is within reach, yet a bit of a stretch so that it’s a challenge. Additionally, goals should lead towards creating a sustainable habit. Some ideas include: Bring your lunch to work Monday-Thursday for the entire month of January; eat five fist-sized servings of vegetables every day; drink coffee only at breakfast; go to sleep at at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning for the month of January; or do 30 minutes of weight training three times a week.

In an effort to slim down in the New Year, some individuals may go on the Atkins diet and other popular weight-loss plans, or decide to do a juice fast, like the Master Cleanse. What’s your advice for those considering these approaches?

It’s very difficult to change someone’s mind when they decide to try these types of weight loss plans. So I usually say, “Go for it!” After a few days, the person often feels miserable and wants to create a long-term plan for managing their weight. I will say the one benefit of these quick fixes and fad diets, which I do not endorse, is that they teach a person what it feels like to be hungry. This may sound strange, but this awareness is an important lesson.

Many people overeat and are used to eating to avoid being hungry. We also tend to mindlessly eat out of boredom, or simply because food is in front of us. Going on a restrictive diet results in some feeling hungry for the first time in long time and, as a result they learn their hunger cues. When you experience a hunger cue, which is right when you think “I could eat,” then you should eat just enough food to get through the next three to four hours. You don’t need a huge meal to feel stuffed and small; unsatisfying snacks aren’t helpful either. Understanding what it feels like to be satiated is very important for long-term success.

Ongoing research at the Stanford Prevention Research Center shows that “one diet really does not fit all.”  So I can’t tell you exactly what to eat, but I can tell you that creating a long-term sustainable plan is key.

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Chronic Disease, Nutrition, Obesity, Videos

The role of nutrition in diabetes prevention and management

The role of nutrition in diabetes prevention and management

Can certain diets help patients prevent or manage their diabetes? Which foods are best for diabetics and which ones should they avoid? If you increase your coffee consumption, will it reduce your risk of diabetes? Kathleen Kenny, MD, a clinical associate professor at Stanford, and Jessica Shipley, a clinical dietitian at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, answered these questions and others about diabetes and nutrition in a recent Stanford Health Library talk.

In the above video, Kenny and Shipley also discuss the glycemic index and how it should be used to tailor dietary choices; examine how Mediterranean, low-carb and low-calorie diets affect diabetes; and explain how eating healthy can prevent or reverse the disease. The lecture is a must-watch for anyone wanting to make healthier food choices to benefit their health.

This video is the final lecture in a three-part series addressing important questions related to diabetes and lifestyle choices.

Previously: Diabetes and nutrition: Healthy holiday eating tips, red meat and disease risk, and going vegetarian, Diabetes and nutrition: Why healthy eating is a key component of prevention and management, Diabetes self-management program helps at-risk teens and their families make healthier choices and New evidence for a direct sugar-to-diabetes link, Examining how diet soft drinks impact your health

Mental Health, Nutrition

Eating healthy, managing stress, and staying well during the holidays: A round-up of experts’ tips

dog in Santa hat - smallOver the last five years, since Scope launched in 2009, we’ve published many holiday-themed posts. This year, we’re collecting the best of them in one place, and they include tips about eating well, exercising and managing stress during the holidays, as well as healthy ways to kick off your new year.

Eating healthy during the holidays

Managing holiday stress

Starting the new year off right

Other holiday themes

Photo by starsandspirals

Nutrition, Stanford News, Videos

Stanford dietitian explains how – not just what – you eat matters

Stanford dietitian explains how - not just what - you eat matters

Recent posts, including this one from last week and this one from earlier today, offered sound advice to help avoid overeating around the holidays. Of course, we all know that at times we overindulge. But Stanford’s Neha Shah, a registered dietitian with expertise in digestive issues that affect nutritional intake, knows that how we eat is important, too; it’s not just about what we put in our stomachs, but how we do that. In this Stanford Health Care video, titled “How You Eat Matters,” sit back and learn some techniques that might just make your digestive system much happier. And you, too, of course.

Previously: Easy-to-follow tips to avoid overeating this holiday

Chronic Disease, Health and Fitness, Nutrition

How to make it through holiday dinners without putting on the pounds

How to make it through holiday dinners without putting on the pounds

640px-Christmas_sugar_cookies,_January_2010A lot of people are worrying about overeating over the holidays, especially if they’re on a diet. We’ve offered advice in the past on how to avoid gaining weight over the holidays, and the  blog Obesity Panacea yesterday listed a few tips for eating healthy. My favorite:

Serve healthy snacks in large bowls and the unhealthy ones in small bowls

This little trick should result in a greater consumption of healthy snacks and a limited consumption of unhealthy ones, not only helping you, but those you have over to your place during the holidays.

A wonderfully simple study found that when snacks are offered in a large bowl, people take 53% more food (146 extra calories) and eat 56% (142 calories) more than when offered the same amount of food but in a smaller bowl (roughly half the size of large bowl).

It’s an easy change to make, but not one I never would have thought about. Other tips include drinking a glass or two of water 30 minutes before a meal and making sure you eat breakfast. Both tips ensure you won’t overeat when you get to the Christmas dinner table.

Previously: “Less is more”: More holiday eating tips from a Stanford nutrition lecturerEasy-to-follow tips to avoid overeating this holiday, “Less is more”: Eating wisely, with delight, during the holidays and Enjoying the turkey while watching your waistline
Photo by sweetfixNYC

Behavioral Science, Health and Fitness, Nutrition, Obesity, Public Health, Research

Perceptions about progress and setbacks may compromise success of New Year’s resolutions

3336185391_60148a87fa_zMy physical therapist is constantly telling me to pause during the workday and take stretch breaks to counter act the damage of being hunched over a computer for hours on end. After every visit to his office, I vow to follow his advice, but then life gets busy and before I know it I’ve forgotten to keep my promise.

So I decided that one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to set an alarm on my phone to serve as a reminder to perform simple stretches throughout the day. Keeping in mind that a mere eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful, I began looking for strategies help me accomplish my goal. My search turned up new research about how the perception of setbacks and progress influence achievement of behavior change. According to a University of Colorado, Boulder release:

New Year’s resolution-makers should beware of skewed perceptions. People tend to believe good behaviors are more beneficial in reaching goals than bad behaviors are in obstructing goals, according to a University of Colorado Boulder-led study.

A dieter, for instance, might think refraining from eating ice cream helps his weight-management goal more than eating ice cream hurts it, overestimating movement toward versus away from his target.

“Basically what our research shows is that people tend to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative when considering how they’re doing in terms of goal pursuit,” said Margaret C. Campbell, lead author of the paper — published online in the Journal of Consumer Research — and professor of marketing at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Given these findings, researchers suggest you develop an objective method for measuring your progress and monitor it regularly.

Previously: Resolutions for the New Year and beyond, How learning weight-maintenance skills first can help you achieve New Year’s weight-loss goals, To be healthier in the new year, resolve to be more social and Helping make New Year’s resolutions stick
Photo by Laura Taylor

Nutrition, Parenting, Public Health

“Less is more”: More holiday eating tips from a Stanford nutrition lecturer

"Less is more": More holiday eating tips from a Stanford nutrition lecturer

cake-buffet-58682_1280My grandmother is fortunate enough to live within an easy drive of the Shady Maple Smorgasbord, a Pennsylvania Dutch-style dining extravaganza in Lancaster County. It’s the size of a large auditorium, packed with tables and two gigantic buffet lines. It’s the biggest restaurant, serving the most food, to the most people, that I’ve ever seen.

For dinner, each day the buffet includes: “46 salad bar items, 3 soups, 8 homemade breads & rolls, 4 cheeses, 8 meats, 14 vegetables, 10 cold desserts, 3 hot desserts, 8 pies, 6 cakes, sundae bar & many beverages.” Plus the daily specials. On Tuesday, for example, there’s also: “salmon, Cajun catfish, cod, oyster stew, beef brisket, New York strip steak and baked potatoes.”  A surfeit of tastiness, abundance beyond words — mmmm, mmmm, let’s go!

Not so fast, Stanford-based dietician, Maya Adam, MD, would say. “Size matters. We can enjoy absolutely any food, as long as its consumed in moderation,” she writes in a Healthier, Happy Lives Blog post, published today by Stanford Children’s Health.

That means no King Size KitKat and no seconds at the smorgasbord dessert line, either. Try using smaller dishes, Adam suggests. Cut servings in half, eat half, save some for later or share with a friend. And pay attention to the food. No texting, TV watching or mindlessly shoveling food into your mouth. Savor each bite, Adam writes:

The truth is, when we eat real, fresh food in modest amounts (even if it’s cooked with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt) it doesn’t take much to leave us feeling completely satisfied.

Don’t flip out if you just can’t resist that smorgasbord. But practice moderation — that’s the real way to think big about food.

Previously: Diabetes and nutrition: Healthy holiday eating tips, red meat and disease risk, and going vegetarian, Where is the love? A discussion of nutrition, health and repairing our relationship with food and “Less is more”: Eating wisely, with delight, during the holidays 
Photo by Hans

Nutrition, Parenting, Pediatrics, Public Health

Tips on how parents with a history of eating disorders can enjoy the holidays

Tips on how parents with a history of eating disorders can enjoy the holidays

5294777976_8eb6ae86d9_zThe holiday season is often a joyful time when friends and family hit pause on their busy schedules to enjoy each other’s company. There’s also lots and lots of food involved, which can be challenging for parents with a history of eating disorders.

Recent research has found that parental eating disorders (either a past or current condition) are associated with numerous problems in child feeding, including difficulties in transitioning to solid foods and deciding which types of foods to offer and in what quantities. Studies observing the interactions of mothers with eating disorders and their young children noted greater conflict and more controlling behavior over eating, appetite, and food choices. Mothers with eating disorders often tell researchers and clinicians that their children’s troubling eating patterns are associated with their own eating habits, and shape and weight concerns  too often intervene in the decisions parents make in feeding their children.

Holiday celebrations can make these feeding relationships even more complex. Traditions of eating together with family or friends may create additional stress for parents. Additionally, family gatherings can reawaken memories of negative experiences parents may have had as children at the dinner table, adding another layer of worry and hyper-vigilance.

So what should parents with a history of eating disorders, or those concerned about their children overeating, do during the holidays? Here are some tips for having a more pleasurable and relaxing time:

  • Plan ahead: Talk to your partner about your concerns and come up with a strategy for how to cope with stressful situations around eating. Talk about what you’ll do if there is food on the table that you typically don’t eat, or if your child asks for second and third servings of foods. A rule of thumb should be to allow the child to experience a variety of food to a certain extent, as long as it doesn’t contradict any significant beliefs or preferences (such as non-kosher food).
  • Talk with your child before things get out of hand: Walk your child through the social gathering beforehand and discuss potential conflicts that may arise. The discussion should be appropriate to the child’s age. With children ages 2-3, parents could talk about the meal, mention that it will be probably very tasty, and set some limits. For instance, one could say that after dinner the child can have one or two desserts, but not more. With older children, parents should encourage autonomous eating based on the child’s regulation of hunger and satiety. This is an opportunity to discuss with children the differences between families, as well as your normal routine and special events. You should also discuss general boundaries and choices of your household.
  • Add fun activities that don’t involve food: Many celebrations and traditions revolve around food. To participate with your family in more neutral activities that are less nerve-wracking, parents should think of supplementary pastimes that all family members will enjoy. Shifting the focus away from the meal for part of the time can help parents “lower the volume” of their eating disorder when they spend time with their children.
  • Unwind: Despite being worried that loved ones will gain excessive weight during the holidays, parents should remind themselves that in a healthy-eating style, people don’t become overweight following a few specific meals. In addition, you should focus on the positive aspects of the social gathering for them and for their children – meeting family members or friends you may have not seen in a while, catching up with things you do not have time for during the year, and strengthening your relationships with your children. Before anxiety-provoking situations, parents should use any method of relaxation and stress-reduction that works for them and fits the context – have a long relaxing shower, drink a hot tea, listen to music, or stay away from the dinner table until the meal begins.

The holiday season can be a better experience for you and your family once you work through and resolve any concerns involving children’s eating.

Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit, PhD, is a psychologist and a visiting instructor at Stanford. She’s now recruiting mothers with a history of eating disorders to a parenting program study at Stanford. For more information contact shiris@stanford.edu.

Photo by Micah Elizabeth Scott

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