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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
Many of us have seen foods labeled as organic, but most people don’t know what that means. In order to be considered organic, foods must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and meet certain standards. Generally, organic foods must be produced without the use of any artificial fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms. As a result, organic foods have become quite popular.
Because of the differences in production, organic foods tend to be more expensive than conventional foods. For example, the average price of a gallon of regular milk is $2.89, but the average price of a gallon of organic milk is $5.99. That’s more than double the cost, which may not be affordable for many people. For military families who prefer to buy organic foods, discounted prices may be available at their local commissary. Ask grocery stores and wholesale stores about military discounts and coupons. For those who qualify, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) allows organic fruits and vegetables to be purchased with cash-value vouchers. The eligibility of other foods is state-dependent, and each state’s approved food list can be found on USDA's WIC page.
The price difference between organic and conventional foods is clear, but the benefits of choosing organic are not as obvious. Organic foods are thought to be better for the environment and our bodies. However, from a nutritional standpoint, there is not enough evidence to suggest a clear benefit to purchasing organic foods over conventional foods. If pesticides are your concern, visit the Environmental Working Group website to learn more.
So, the next time you’re trying to decide between organic and non-organic, remember that nutritional differences don’t need to be a major factor in your decision because there don’t appear to be any. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is beneficial no matter which option you choose.
For more information on organic foods, check out USDA's website.
For some people, eating certain foods can cause serious allergic reactions, even death! The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soy. Other food allergies are possible, so it’s important to read food labels for ingredient information if you are at risk. Click here for more information.
School has started, and the scramble to come up with interesting and appealing lunches for your children probably has, too. If you find you’re bored with the “ham sandwich, apple, and a cookie” routine shortly after the first bell, imagine how bored your child’s taste buds will be in a few weeks! Keeping your child interested in healthy eating is as easy as ABC (and D).
Adventure: Offer your child some variety. Choose high-fiber, whole-grain tortillas or breads for sandwiches and opt for tasty spreads such as salsa, hummus, or pesto for extra flavor. Lean roasted meats such as chicken or turkey are healthy, lean sources of protein; or try fat-free refried beans for an appealing vegetarian option. Tuck some lettuce and tomatoes in for fun, flavor, and nutrients. (Keep wraps and bread from getting soggy by wrapping veggies in meat slices.) Your child doesn’t care for the taste of whole-wheat breads? No problem. Whole-grain white-flour wraps and breads offer lots of fiber but have the taste and look of traditional white-flour choices.
Butters: If nuts aren’t off limits at your child’s school, try something different than the typical peanut butter and jelly: Almond or hazelnut butter topped with fresh fruit such as bananas or mango slices, or fruit spreads such as marmalade or apple butter. Nut butters are great sources of protein with healthy fats and don’t require refrigeration—a plus if cold storage isn’t available.
Cut-ups: Cut up fresh fruits and vegetables the night before and add some to your child’s lunchbox. Cantaloupe pieces, pineapple chunks, and kiwi slices are popular with kids and full of vitamins and other nutrients. Toss in some cauliflower or broccoli florets with a side of pre-packaged dip or salsa. If you’re short on time, pre-cut fruits and veggies are available from your local grocer, but they may be more expensive.
Dessert: Oatmeal cookies, dried fruit, or low-fat yogurt (if kept at 40ºF or less) are terrific, healthy choices.
Let your child dictate just how adventurous his or her lunchtime options should be—they might surprise you! For more great lunchtime ideas, the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook features 54 kid-friendly recipes. And remember: Safety first! Keep lunchboxes clean and cool (store in the refrigerator overnight) and provide a moist, cleansing towelette in your child’s lunchbox so he or she can wash up before eating.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight, earning it the nickname “sunshine vitamin.” It plays key roles in reducing your risk of many health conditions, including depression, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and others. Spending 10 to 15 minutes outside on a sunny day with your arms and legs uncovered can provide nearly all the vitamin D most people need—challenging when you’re wearing a long-sleeved uniform or working inside all day—but you can also get some vitamin D in your diet from fatty fish (such as salmon), mushrooms, and many fortified foods.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for most individuals is 600 IUs. People who have a vitamin D deficiency or certain medical conditions might require supplemental vitamin D but only under the supervision of their healthcare provider. That’s because excess vitamin D can be stored in your body, putting you at risk for toxicity. Over time, too much vitamin D can lead to irregular heart rhythms, kidney damage, and other serious health problems. If you take large doses of supplemental vitamin D and eat foods that are fortified with it, you could easily obtain more than recommended amounts.
Despite the risk for toxicity, nearly one-fourth of people living in the U.S. have low vitamin D levels, so all adults and children should have their vitamin D status checked by their healthcare provider. For more information about vitamin D, read this fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is a joint military initiative between the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to educate service members and retirees, their family members, leaders, healthcare providers, and DoD clinicians about dietary supplements and how to choose them wisely.
OPSS has partnered with Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD) to provide all DoD personnel with access to evidence-based information on dietary supplements, including Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)®.
Now there is an Operation Supplement Safety & Natural Data (OPSS & ND) app available that can help you make an informed decision by giving you:
- Dietary supplement safety and effectiveness (NMBER) ratings.
- Interaction ratings between drugs and natural medicines, known as “adverse reactions.”
- Effectiveness ratings for natural medicines by medical condition and more.
To access the app you must first visit HPRC’s link to NMCD and sign up for your free account. Click on the Warfighter version and use your valid .mil email address. Once you’ve created your free account you will have access to the full version of the app. Up-to-date reviews of commercially available products, Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)® for commercially available products, an Effectiveness Checker, and more will be at your fingertips.
If you have questions, please use the “Ask the Expert” button on the OPSS home page.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers about powdered pure caffeine, particularly as sold in bulk on the Internet. At least one death has been associated with the use of such products, and FDA advises consumers about the potency of powdered pure caffeine. See FDA’s Consumer Advice, which includes information about how to report an adverse event.
According to this consumer resource from FDA, you should limit your caffeine intake to just 100–200 mg per day (about 5–10 ounces of coffee). Taking large doses of caffeine—roughly 400–500 mg—at one time can result in a serious condition known as “caffeine intoxication.” Some symptoms of caffeine intoxication are minor and include nausea, vomiting, agitation, nervousness, or headache. Other symptoms can be more life-threatening, such as rapid heartbeat, electrolyte imbalance, very high blood sugar, or high levels of acid in the blood, which can cause seizures. See the OPSS FAQ to help you avoid hidden sources of caffeine.
Omega-3 fatty acids make up a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are important to our health, and since our bodies can’t make them, we need to obtain them from the foods we eat. Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease and play an important role in our cell membranes. So, eating more can benefit the body in many ways.
The most widely available dietary source of EPA and DHA is cold-water oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Other oily fish such as tuna also contains omega-3 fatty acids but in lesser amounts. Some other sources of ALA are walnuts and canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, and olive oils. For additional information, including health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, read this fact sheet; and for omega-3 content in various foods, try this infosheet from HPRC.
Iodine is an essential nutrient. It plays a key role in how well your thyroid functions and is particularly important during pregnancy and breastfeeding for the development of your baby’s brain. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for iodine for most adults is 150 micrograms (mcg). But women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need slightly more: 220 mcg and 290 mcg daily, respectively.
Iodine is present in some foods such as fish, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and grains. Iodine is also added to table salt—referred to as “iodized salt.” Although most Americans eat too much salt, much of it comes from processed foods and typically isn’t iodized. Consequently, many women who are pregnant are iodine-deficient. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend taking a prenatal vitamin to ensure you’re getting enough of all your vitamins and minerals, including iodine. In addition, if you’re vegan or you don’t eat dairy products or fish, talk to your doctor about your iodine status.
Read all prenatal dietary supplement labels carefully—whether they’re prescription or over-the-counter—so you can be certain your prenatal vitamin contains sufficient iodine to meet your needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Also, be sure to look for one that is third-party certified. For more information about iodine, read this fact sheet from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.
Have you heard of Total Force Fitness, but you aren’t sure what it is? It’s a framework for building and maintaining health, readiness, and performance in the Department of Defense. It views health, wellness, and resilience as a holistic concept that recognizes “total fitness” as a “state in which the individual, family and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions”—a connection between mind, body, spirit, and family/social relationships. Total fitness shifts the perspective from treatment to wellness and focuses on prevention and strengths.
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury created a slide presentation for units and groups on Total Force Fitness: A Brief Overview that describes what TFF is, its core components, and each of its eight “domains” (behavioral, social, physical, environmental, medical and dental, spiritual, nutritional, and psychological). For more in-depth reading, check out the original Military Medicine Supplement that started it all, including a scholarly chapter for each domain.
Red yeast rice is a product of rice fermented with Monascus purpureus yeast. It has been used as food and/or medicine for many centuries in parts of Asia, but it is also available as a dietary supplement. It contains a substance known as monacolin K, a naturally-occurring substance that works like lovastatin, a type of statin. Statins are drugs prescribed to reduce blood cholesterol by limiting the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver. Red yeast rice that contains large amounts of monacolin K can lower blood cholesterol levels, but the amount of monacolin K in red yeast rice ranges from very high to none at all.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers that if a red yeast rice dietary supplement product contains monacolin K, it is considered an unauthorized drug and taking it can carry the same risks—some serious—as the drug lovastatin. As the consumer, you really have no way to know whether a red yeast rice product does or does not contain monacolin K, and therefore no way of knowing if the product is safe, effective, or legal. In addition, red yeast rice (as either a food or dietary supplement) can be contaminated with a form of fungus that can cause kidney failure. You can learn more about the safety and effectiveness of red yeast rice from this National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine web page.