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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
You probably know that fruit, vegetables, and olive oil are healthy foods for your heart, but what about chocolate? For hundreds of years, chocolate—more specifically cacao, the unprocessed cocoa bean—has been considered good for health.
Cocoa is in high in flavanols, plant compounds with antioxidant activity that can help prevent or delay damage caused by free radicals. These antioxidant-rich flavanols are linked to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some evidence has shown that cocoa can help lower blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and improve blood flow.
However, not all chocolate is created equal. In general, the less processing, the more flavanols. Pure, unprocessed cocoa has more flavanols than chocolate, which has sugar, fat, and other additives. Dark chocolate has more flavanols than milk chocolate and white chocolate. But eating enough chocolate products to reach the desired amount of flavanols could require hundreds or even thousands of calories. While all that chocolate may taste great, the extra sugar, fat, and calories are not heart healthy.
Enjoy a square of dark chocolate or a serving of cocoa as part of your day, but the jury’s still out on whether chocolate can really help your heart.
Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among women (and men) in the United States; deadlier than any form of cancer. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight/obesity, family history, and smoking.
So what can you do to protect yourself and the women in your life? First, know your risk factors. There are some things that you can’t change, such as your family history and your age. However, you can reduce your risk through lifestyle changes.
Regular exercise can help you manage many risk factors such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. By now, you have probably forgotten about your New Year’s fitness resolutions! Get back on track: Commit to at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least four days of the week and stand up for your health.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. But making positive lifestyle choices, especially when it comes to food, can help keep your heart strong and healthy. Keep the following tips in mind whenever you eat out or cook at home:
- Eat more fiber. Fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. High-fiber foods also contain minerals that help manage your blood pressure.
- Choose your fats wisely. Liquid fats such as olive oil and canola oil are considered “heart healthy” fats, whereas solid fats such as butter and animal fat contribute to clogged arteries. Another fat that is good for your heart is omega-3 fatty acid, which is found in salmon and walnuts.
- Monitor your sodium intake. Diets high in sodium put you at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Instead of using salt, try spices and herbs to season your food. Salt isn’t the only source of sodium though. Other foods high in sodium include canned soups and sauces, fast food, restaurant food, and deli meats.
A healthy eating plan is just one factor in reducing your risk for heart disease. For information on other ways to improve your heart health, visit healthfinder.gov.
Beets are often overlooked in the produce aisle, but they have been gaining popularity for their potential cardiovascular health and performance benefits. This is because beets contain a high amount of nitrate, which improves blood flow to your heart and muscles. While the performance-enhancing benefits of nitrates from beets have yet to be fully established, there are many other reasons to include beets in your lunch or dinner menu. Beets are a great source of fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, and vitamin C—all important nutrients to keep you at the top of your game.
If beets aren’t your favorite food, there are plenty of other nitrate-rich (and nutrient-rich) vegetables, including arugula, rhubarb, lettuce, celery, radishes, and spinach. Try eating roasted beets or a salad with dark-green, leafy vegetables two to three hours before your next workout. Keep in mind that eating a variety of high-quality foods is key to optimal performance, so for more information on proper fueling, see HPRC’s “An Athlete’s Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing.”
You may know that calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones, but do you know that magnesium plays an important role too? People who eat enough magnesium in their diet tend to have higher bone mineral density (a measure of bone strength) than those who do not. Not getting enough magnesium can put you at risk for osteoporosis (weak, fragile bones).
So make sure you get at least the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium, which is 400–420 mg for men and 310–320 mg for women. According to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Military Nutrition Research, only 30% of military personnel meet or exceed the recommendations. However, this doesn’t mean you need to start taking magnesium supplements. You can easily get enough magnesium from eating a variety of magnesium-rich foods in each food group:
- Vegetables—dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach
- Fruits—bananas, avocados
- Protein—beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as fish and seafood
- Grains—fortified cereals and whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta
- Dairy—milk, yogurt, and soymilk
As an added benefit, many of these foods are also rich in other nutrients, such as calcium, that help keep your bones strong. For additional information, see the Magnesium Fact Sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements. And for information on other nutrients related to bone health, see HPRC’s Eating for healthy joints and bones.
With New Year’s resolutions upon us, weight loss is often at the top of the list for many. However, before you consider a dietary supplement to help your weight-loss goals, be aware of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings that these products don’t live up to their claims. Even worse, some can result in serious harm.
Many dietary supplement products marketed for weight loss have been found to contain hidden prescription drugs or compounds that have not been adequately studied in humans. FDA continues to identify “tainted” products and warns consumers to stay away from these tainted products. You can read more about this in FDA’s consumer-health article “Beware of Products Promising Miracle Weight Loss” and watch their video. Also, be sure to check out the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs about Weight Loss for additional information on weight loss and dietary supplements.
You’re watching what you eat. You’re exercising regularly. You’re doing everything right. But for some reason, your weight-loss goal is just out of reach. It seems those “last 10 pounds” are often the hardest ones to shake! Fortunately, with continued effort and persistence, you likely can achieve your weight-loss goals.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure the goals you’ve set for yourself are realistic, healthy, and sustainable. After that, it’s time to get to work.
Go back to square one. That is, make sure you’re as careful about what you choose to eat now as when you first started on your weight-loss journey. Sometimes we lapse into old habits over time and start “allowing” unhealthy choices to creep back into our diet patterns. Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you’re really eating. And don’t forget to watch your portion sizes.
Be a weekend warrior. Many people find it harder to make healthy choices on the weekend—tailgate parties, family celebrations, and road trips all offer opportunities to “slip.” But eating healthy is a full-time job, so it’s important to plan ahead: Take a low-fat dish that you’ve prepared and choose restaurants where you know you’ll have healthy options available.
Stand up for yourself. Literally. Standing, rather than sitting, can burn as many as 200 to 300 calories per day and can help prevent many types of disease. Find as many opportunities in your day to stand, walk, and move as much as you can. Check out HPRC’s blog about “sitting disease” for more information about the risks of sitting too much.
Shake things up. Varying the type and intensity of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important not only in the short term (for your performance as well as your career) but also in the long term, reducing your risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Adjusting to life after an amputation often includes adjusting your eating habits. If your goals include improving your health, healing, and returning to your active lifestyle, then nutrition plays an important role in getting you there. Check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies for “Healthy eating for amputees,” which has tips on how to eat healthy and balanced after an amputation.
Vitamin D is an integral part of your immune system, and not having enough could put you at higher risk of respiratory tract infections (RTIs) such as the flu and the common cold. Unfortunately, results are mixed when it comes to taking vitamin D supplements for the prevention and treatment of RTIs. People who are deficient in vitamin D may experience the most immune-protecting effects from vitamin D supplements, but the evidence is limited.
Even though vitamin D supplements may not stop a cold in its tracks, getting enough vitamin D does help optimize your immune system. For best results, strive to get the Recommended Dietary Allowance of vitamin D (600 IU) on a daily basis, not just when an illness is coming on. "Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin," can be harder to obtain in winter, when it’s cold and cloudy and most people spend more time indoors, but you can get vitamin D from foods such as fatty fish and fortified milk, yogurt, and juice. Ask your doctor to test your vitamin D status before you take vitamin D supplements.
Different people react differently to stress, especially when it comes to food, and depending on the cause, intensity, and duration of stress. Whereas some people lose their appetite and skip meals in response to stress, others either overeat or eat unhealthy foods. Under stress, people tend to choose snack-type foods that are high in fat and sugar instead of meal-type foods such as meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s essential to survival and part of being a Warfighter. The key is learning how to manage your stress. December is the Military Health System’s Stress Management Month, which is especially appropriate for most of us during the holiday season. Here are some tips to help you reduce your stress and the likelihood of overeating:
- Engage in physical activity most days of the week, and try stress-relieving exercises such as yoga and meditation. Or find other hobbies that you enjoy and that help you feel relaxed.
- If you’re finding it difficult to stop reaching for the kitchen cupboard or refrigerator, make sure you stock your shelves with healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, cut-up veggie sticks, and air-popped popcorn (without the butter).
- Try to keep a food diary to understand the connection between your mood and your food. Keep track of what you eat, when you eat, and your emotions at the times you want to eat.
Learning how to manage your stress can be beneficial in more ways than one. For more information on stress and your health, read the National Institute of Mental Health’s factsheet on adult stress and HPRC’s resources for stress management.