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HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
The Female Athlete Triad is a condition that commonly affects physically active girls and women, especially those involved in activities such as dance or gymnastics that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. The Triad is characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss). Poor eating habits combined with high-intensity exercise can cause energy deficiency, although energy deficiency can occur even without disordered eating. Over time, estrogen decreases and causes menstrual cycles to become irregular or stop completely. However, estrogen is also important for building strong bones, so when estrogen levels drop, bones become weaker and osteoporosis can develop.
Female Warfighters can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories and if training is too intense. In the short term, lack of energy will lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating—an equation for poor performance. Continued energy deficiency, though, can lead to muscle loss and decreased strength, putting you at higher risk for injury. Then, even when you’re training hard, your performance may fail to improve or actually worsen.
You can prevent the Female Athlete Triad easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight. Food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the United States. The positive effects of quitting tobacco are numerous: Reduce your risk of lung and other cancers, improve wound healing, decrease risk of infection, and save money. However, a major concern among those who consider quitting tobacco is weight gain. Most people who quit tobacco gain less than 10 lbs, but others gain more than 20 lbs. Many factors contribute to this weight gain, including eating more due to improved sense of smell and taste, boredom, the need to do something with your hands, and metabolic changes that happen after nicotine leaves your body.
Being prepared is essential to preventing weight gain when you quit tobacco. Know your habits: If your hands will be bored without a cigarette, find something else besides food to occupy them. Play with stress balls, silly putty, crosswords, and puzzles to keep your hands busy. Dropping a bad habit such as smoking is also a great time to pick up something new to do with your hands: Knitting, playing an instrument, gardening, and writing are all healthy ways to exercise your hands and your mind.
If you’re craving snacks, reach for fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and water, which help fill you up without a lot of calories. You may be confusing hunger with thirst; try a glass of water to see if that helps your cravings. Bored with plain water? Try calorie-free sparkling or seltzer water, or add lemon or lime slices, mint, berries, or cucumber to your water for a flavorful and refreshing drink.
And if you do find yourself eating more at or between meals, balance it out with exercise. Replace your usual smoking break with a walk outside or even around the office. Increase your usual gym routine; you may find exercise is easier after you quit tobacco.
For help quitting tobacco, or if you find yourself gaining weight no matter what you do, speak with your healthcare provider. And visit U Can Quit 2 and Tobacco-Free Living for additional information and resources. November is the Military Health System’s Tobacco Cessation month, so it’s a great time to make your own plan to quit tobacco.
Coffee, energy drinks, energy shots, soda—we’re surrounded by these products, and many are marketed specifically to teens. Their advertisements make caffeine seem a harmless and effective boost to help teens meet the demands of school and after-school activities. Three of four U.S. children and young adults now consume some form of caffeine every day.
Teens shouldn’t consume more than 100mg of caffeine (roughly the amount in an average small cup of coffee) per day. That’s enough caffeine to give you energy and help you stay alert. But too much caffeine can be a serious problem. Signs that you’ve had too much caffeine can be jitters, nervousness, increased heart rate, and an upset stomach. For more about the symptoms of too much caffeine, read FDA’s article.
Many drinks and foods that contain caffeine don’t clearly say so on the label. Energy drinks, for example, can contain lots of different forms of caffeine, such as guarana, green tea extract, and yerba mate. Although you might see these listed on the label, you still might not see the total amount of caffeine listed. Energy drinks don’t have to report how much caffeine is in them. So think twice about how many of them you drink, and learn more from HPRC’s article about energy drinks.
And for athletes: Don’t use energy drinks to replace sports drinks for extra energy. The same goes for other beverages with caffeine: sodas, coffee, and tea. Sports drinks are for hydrating and replacing electrolytes and other nutrients lost while exercising. Water is best in most cases!
Just because something contains caffeine doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate it. Be aware of all the different sources of caffeine and try not to overdo it. And be sure to watch HPRC’s “Caffeine & Teens” video for more from a teenager’s perspective.
Based on a blog by HPRC intern Diana Smith. Diana is a military teen and high-school sophomore who is interested in science and enjoys drawing in her downtime.
Food and color additives exist in many of the foods that we eat. They are used to improve safety and freshness, maintain the nutritional value of foods, and improve texture and appearance. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put together a helpful brochure reviewing how additives are approved for foods, types of food ingredients, and a description of food and color additives.
The month of October is Military Health System’s Women’s Health Month. There are more than 350,000 female members of the military (16% of the total military force). While it’s important for all military members to consume nutritious diets, women have special nutrient needs: iron, folic acid, and calcium.
Iron. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency among women. Poor dietary intake of iron combined with intense physical activity can lead to fatigue, weakness, and pale skin—all signs of iron-deficiency anemia (IDA). Iron-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, spinach, beans, and fortified cereals. Consume these foods with vitamin C–rich foods such as strawberries and oranges for better iron absorption. HPRC discusses other reasons for IDA in this article on “Iron deficiency.”
Folic acid. Women of childbearing age need enough folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects. But even if you’re not pregnant, folic acid helps make blood cells that boost your immune system. Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, and fortified cereals and bread.
Calcium. Compared to men, women are at greater risk for osteoporosis, in which bones become weak and are more likely to break. Women need to start getting more calcium at an early age to keep bones strong. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products, tofu, kale, and fortified cereals and juices. Vitamin D is also important to help the absorption of calcium. Read more about vitamin D in HPRC’s Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.”
All of these nutrients can be found in supplement form, but as with any dietary supplement, consult your doctor first to determine if they are necessary and safe. For more information on supplements, read HPRC’s “Women's health and dietary supplements.” Remember, most people can achieve adequate intake of these nutrients with a balanced diet. Poor nutrition puts you at risk for injuries and makes it harder for you to perform at your best.
If you’d like to know more about women’s health, visit the Military Health System's web page.
Coconut water, the flavorful liquid found in young green coconuts, has become a popular drink. It is often promoted for a variety of ailments—from curing bad skin to resolving hangovers. But coconut water is also touted as a fluid replacement alternative. For this reason, some Warfighters choose coconut water over sports beverages because coconut water is “natural” and contains carbohydrates and key electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. However, not all brands of coconut water are created equal. In fact, they can vary considerably in terms of their nutrient content, so read product labels to be sure you’re getting the right amounts of nutrients you need for optimal performance. In addition, many kinds of coconut water contain fruit juice for flavor, which can increase the sugar and calorie content of the drink.
One of the biggest appeals of coconut water is its naturally high potassium content. While the potassium content is high, the amounts of carbohydrate and sodium in coconut water are sometimes very low, and individuals who participate in prolonged, vigorous exercise (longer than an hour) may need more carbohydrate and sodium for proper hydration. For more information about hydration needs, see HPRC’s infosheet on fluids and exercise.
For periods of exercise less than one hour, water is always your best choice—about 3–8 ounces every 15–20 minutes. But for longer periods of exercise, sports beverages are a good choice because they are specially formulated to replenish carbohydrate, sodium, and potassium lost during extended and/or vigorous physical activity. If you choose sports beverages, drink 3–8 ounces every 15–20 minutes to stay hydrated. Again, be sure to read the product label to make sure your drink has what you need, and nothing more. For more information about proper fueling, read An Athlete’s Guide to Nutrient Timing.
And what about that coconut water? There simply isn’t enough evidence to support the use of coconut water as a remedy for any condition. And although it’s a tasty beverage, know what’s in it so you can replenish what your body needs—no more, no less.
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.
Roughly one in three children in the United States is considered to be overweight or obese. Children who are obese are more likely to be obese as adults, which can put them at risk for diabetes and other health conditions. The month of September is devoted to raising awareness about childhood obesity, with a focus on prevention.
We Can!® (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity & Nutrition) is a national movement sponsored by four National Institutes of Health organizations to help children from ages 8 to 13 remain at a healthy weight. The website has specific information and educational resources geared toward the individual, family, and organizations. See HPRC’s Family Nutrition resources for more information and this HPRC card for easy reminders. For more about the exercise aspect of overcoming obesity, check out the Family & Relationships article from earlier this month.
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.
Chia seeds have become a staple in many grocery stores, given their nutritional value and recent attention as recipe ingredients. But will consuming this seed cause a positive drug test? HPRC has a new OPSS FAQ to answer this question, plus other information about chia seeds and what to avoid.