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Coconut oil: health or hype?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition, Weight
Coconut oil is a popular alternative to butter and other oils, but does the research confirm promises of weight loss and improved performance?

Coconut oil is popular for use with everything from moisturizing skin, losing weight, and lowering cholesterol to providing energy and endurance, but research has yet to prove many of these claims. Unlike other oils, which are mostly unsaturated fats, coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. Commonly found in animal products such as meat and dairy, saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it contains different types of saturated fats. One of these is called “medium chain fatty acids” (MCFAs), which the body processes differently than it does other kinds of saturated fats. Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly and absorbed quickly to become available as an energy source. But does this add up to advantages in performance or as a tool for weight loss?

  • Athletic performance. MCFAs help protect and maintain stored glycogen (a form of glucose), which suggests they might improve endurance. However, a 2010 review showed the majority of research did not find performance benefits with MCFAs.  
  • Weight management. MCFAs metabolize quickly, so they’re less likely than other types of fats to be stored as fat. Some research suggests this means MCFAs can lower body mass index (BMI) and improve body composition (percentage of fat).

The bottom line is there isn’t enough scientific evidence at this time to recommend coconut oil for weight loss or performance benefits. Just as with any fat, if you choose to cook with coconut oil, do so in moderation. 

Make your meals a veggie victory

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Learn ways to give your meal a nutrient-packed punch by increasing your veggie intake.

There is no consensus on a “perfect diet,” but the healthiest diets have one thing in common: plenty of vegetables daily. However, “I don’t like them,” “I don’t have enough time to prepare them,” and “I don’t know how to prepare them” are common complaints when it comes to vegetables in your or your kids’ meals. So here are some tips to help brighten up your plate with a variety of vegetables to optimize your health and performance.

  • Be sneaky. Add vegetables to foods you already love. Shred vegetables and add them to omelets, rice, pasta, soups, stews, and sauces. Puree vegetables such as carrots, spinach, to add oomph to sauces and casseroles.
  • Time crunch? Buy frozen or low-sodium canned (rinsed well with water) to cut down on prep time.
  • Challenge your taste buds. Do you truly not like broccoli, or have you just never had it prepared in a way you like? Change your cooking technique and try again. Try baking, roasting, grilling, sautéing, steaming, or eating vegetables raw for a different flavor and texture.
  • Flavor it up. A little flavor goes a long way with vegetables. Prepare veggies using a pinch of sea salt, fresh or dried herbs or spices, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, or a swirl of balsamic vinegar to turn up the flavor.

For more ideas and recipes for vegetables, visit More Matters. The recommended intake of vegetables varies depending on your weight, age, and calorie needs. Young children need about a cup, men need up to 3 cups, and women need a bit less. Find out how many vegetables you need.  

How much protein?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition
Every body’s protein needs are different. Find out how to calculate your own protein needs to optimize your performance.

Whether you’re an endurance athlete, a strength athlete, or doing a bit of both to stay in fighting shape, the optimal amount of protein for your daily needs depends on your activity level and body weight. Regardless of the amounts, the best sources of protein are always whole foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts/seeds, beans, and legumes.

Check out HPRC’s Protein Infosheet and protein calculator to determine the amounts that are right for you. Eating more protein than your body needs isn’t necessarily better. Going beyond these protein recommendations won’t provide any additional benefit to your performance.

Countdown to end childhood obesity

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Millions of kids are overweight or obese, but together we can put an end to that. It’s as easy as “5-2-1-0.”

Roughly one in 3 children in the U.S. is overweight or obese, but you can do something about it. Obese children are more likely to be obese as adults and at risk for diabetes and other health conditions, so it’s important to act early. September is Childhood Obesity Month, so there’s no better time to start.

Let’s Go! is a childhood obesity prevention program to help kids eat better, be more physically active, and live healthier lives. Just remember their “5-2-1-0” countdown message:

5 – Get your kids to eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables every day. Make it fun with kid-friendly recipes. Let your kids choose fruits and veggies at the store that they want to try, help prepare meals and snacks in the kitchen, or even plant a vegetable garden together.

2 – Cut down kids’ screen time to 2 hours or less a day. (No screen time for those under 2.) Get them to try other ways to be entertained, such as playing a game or going on a scavenger hunt. These types of activities will get your kids’ bodies and minds working.

1 – Kids need at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Sound like a lot? Just think of it as playing instead of exercise! Make it a family affair. Go to the playground, play a sport, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood together.

0Zero sugar-sweetened sodas, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. Instead, have your kids drink water and fat-free or one-percent milk. If your kids aren’t fans of plain water, add a little pizazz with some sliced berries, citrus fruits, melons, or kiwis. And they can eat the fruit when they’re finished drinking!

For more information, tips, and resources, please visit Let’s Go!

Healthy eating for healthy joints

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Is what you eat keeping your joints healthy? Find out how nutrition can help your joints carry on.

You can take control of how your daily eating habits help or hurt your body’s joints. The physical demands of training and missions—along with day-to-day exercise, overuse, injury, and aging—can take their toll on your joints over time. There are certain eating habits you can practice to help keep your joints happy and healthy for the long run.

  • Aim for a healthy weight. Extra weight means extra stress on your joints – walking alone can cause your knees to take on 3–6 times your body weight. Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you need to. Visit HPRC’s Fighting Weight Strategies for ideas.
  • Fight inflammation. Include omega-3 fatty acids on your plate to reduce your body’s inflammation. Salmon isn’t your only source; foods such as English walnuts, flaxseeds and their oil, canola oil, and other fish contribute omega-3s to your eating plan. See HPRC’s omega-3 table for more foods rich in omega-3s.
  • Fill up on fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables, all of which are nutrient-heavy, have been linked to a lower incidence of joint diseases such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables at meals, and build snacks around them too.
  • Revive with vitamin C. Because of its role in forming collagen (the main component of connective tissue) and as an antioxidant, foods high in vitamin C are important for joint health. Oranges, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, red peppers, and kiwi are excellent sources.

Focusing on a healthy weight and filling up on nutrient-rich foods, along with regular exercise and stretching, can help optimize the long-term health and performance of your joints. 

Eat whole grains your way

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Grains, Nutrition
September is National Whole Grains Month! Try to eat more whole grains every day using these helpful tips.

Make at least half of your grain choices whole grains. Unlike refined grains, whole grains contain all parts of the grain and are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that are essential for good health. Try these tips so you can enjoy more whole grains in every meal and snack:

  • Breakfast: Start with a hearty breakfast that features whole-grain cereals such as steel-cut oats or shredded wheat. Have to eat breakfast on the run? Try switching to whole-wheat toast or whole-grain bagels instead of plain bagels.
  • Lunch: Sandwiches using whole-grain breads or rolls are full of flavor and fiber. Swap out white-flour tortillas with whole-grain corn tortillas.
  • Dinner: Sides can really shine when you replace white rice with exotic black, brown, or red rice, quinoa, or bulgur. Add wild rice or whole-grain barley to soups, stews, and casseroles. In the mood for noodles? Try whole-wheat pastas for added texture.
  • Snacks: Snacks can feature whole grains too. Air-popped popcorn, whole-grain crackers, and granola bars are tasty and healthy options to keep you going throughout the day.

Can’t tell if some of your grain products are whole? Look at the ingredients list and make sure the first ingredient says “whole wheat” or “whole grain.” HPRC also has a grains table that points out nutritious grains (with and without gluten). And keep in mind that words such as “100% wheat” and “multigrain” don’t necessarily mean whole grain. For more information, visit the Whole Grains Council

How to eat for better sleep

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Food fuels you throughout the day, but did you know that food also has an effect on how well you sleep?

Many factors affect your sleep, including stress and exercise, but your diet can also have a huge impact on the quality of your sleep, particularly in the hours before you go to bed. By improving your evening food habits you can sleep better, which can have a positive impact on your mental and physical performance, immune function, relationships, and overall health and well-being. Try these tips to be on your way to a better night’s sleep:

  • Limit caffeine. Caffeine can disturb your sleep even many hours later. If you typically drink coffee or tea in the afternoon or after dinner, opt for a decaffeinated version. And be wary of hidden sources of caffeine.
  • Avoid alcohol. Some people think of alcoholic beverages as a nightcap to help you sleep better. While it may help you go to sleep faster, it also reduces sleep quality by waking you up in the middle of the night.
  • Eat balanced meals. Eating balanced meals daily will help you get all the nutrients you need, such as B vitamins and magnesium, to promote better sleep. A balanced plate is ½ a plate of fruits and vegetables, ¼ plate of whole grains or starchy vegetables (corn, peas, potatoes), and ¼ protein, plus a serving of healthy fat (oil, avocado). In addition, your body takes long to digest fats, so eating too much fat may keep you from falling asleep.

For more strategies on how to improve your sleep, check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.

Snacking for success

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Does the word “snack” bring visions of junk food, candy, and chips? Think again! Nutritious snacks are a great way to boost your mind and body.

You missed a meal and plan to exercise soon or your next meal is hours away, but your stomach is rumbling – what can you do? One way to fill your nutritional gaps is with nutrient-packed snacks.

Nutrient-packed snacks should consist of both “plants” and protein. Plants—such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains—contribute carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Protein—including low-fat dairy, lean meats, nuts, and seeds—contribute to muscle building and repair. Here are some simple snack ideas to have on hand during your workday, at the gym, and during missions to keep you at the top of your game, both mentally and physically:

  • Apple or pear with 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter or almond butter
  • Homemade trail mix –2 tbsp of dried fruit (any kind) mixed with a handful of nuts or seeds (any kind)
  • Whole-grain crackers with 1 oz of cheese
  • Whole-grain English muffin with 2 slices of turkey
  • Slice peaches or plums, add to 1 cup of cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt, sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Cut-up veggies like carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas; dip in hummus or bean dip

Low glucose (blood sugar) from lack of food can affect memory, learning, and attention. In addition, inadequate fuel can slow down your physical performance and your ability to recover from injuries, strenuous exercise, or difficult missions. Snacking can be a great way to fuel your body between meals and provide extra nutrition if you’re highly active.

But don’t forget to look at your portion sizes! Remember, this is a snack, not a meal. Snacking when you’re not truly hungry or large portion sizes can result in weight gain. Learn more about stocking your snack drawer.

Should I carb load?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Will loading up on carbs before an athletic event or mission improve my performance?

Carbohydrates are essential fuel for muscles and provide a source of quick energy. But is it true that eating extra carbs before an athletic event or mission will improve your performance? Carbs becomes especially important when you put your body to test during athletic competitions and events. If your body’s available carbs run out, fatigue sets in and you can “hit the wall.” To avoid this, many athletes load up on extra carbs such as bread, pasta, and rice. Read more about the concept behind carb loading and how it can affect your performance. 

Free summer meals for kids

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Children, Diet, Nutrition
Kids can get free, nutritious meals even when school is out. Read more to learn how.

Children and teens are vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition, especially during the summer months when school is out. This can lead to lower academic performance once school begins again. Poor nutrition also makes kids more prone to illness and other health issues.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to fill this nutrition gap by providing summer meals for children up to age 18. What’s more, it’s free, and children don’t have to enroll to be eligible. They just have to show up and enjoy a healthy meal. (In fact, more than one meal may be available.)

Summer meal sites are located in many communities across the country at places such as schools, community centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, and faith-based centers. To find a summer meal site in your community, check out USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder.

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