Filed under: Diet
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.
Fall sports are under way for many adolescent athletes, making it important for teens to know what and when to eat and drink to be at their best. HPRC has created a resource—“Fueling the Adolescent Athlete”—to help your adolescent athlete fuel his or her body for optimal performance. This table provides general guidelines for what teens need to drink and eat before, during, and after practice or workouts.
Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. But knowing whether you are hydrated can be difficult. Check out this urine color card from the U.S. Army Public Health Command to get an idea of what to watch out for. And see if your child’s school has the chart posted in the locker rooms and nurse’s office.
For more adolescent and family nutrition information, check out HPRC’s Nutrition section.
If you’re avoiding grains due to a particular diet plan, or if you think you have to exclude grains due to gluten sensitivities, you may want to think again. HPRC has put together a table of grains (with and without gluten) and their basic nutrients to point out how nutritious grains can be. Even for those who are gluten-free or sensitive to gluten, the table shows there are plenty of healthy, gluten-free options to incorporate into your diet.
As the table indicates, whole grains are very nutrient dense: They contain fiber, vitamins such as niacin and folate (and other B vitamins), minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, as well as protein and branched-chain amino acids.
A diet rich in whole grains has been associated with lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Paleo diet followers, as well as those who are following a gluten-free diet, need not eliminate whole grains from their diet. The benefits are vast, with many choices for a varied diet. For more information about whole grains, see the ChooseMyPlate.gov resource, “Why is it important to eat grains, especially whole grains?”
Need a great post-workout beverage? Try drinking a glass or two of chocolate milk during the first 15-60 minutes after exercise to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscles.
Why chocolate milk? The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio in chocolate milk is roughly four-to-one, the best ratio for replenishing glycogen stores while providing adequate protein for muscle building and repair. One eight-ounce glass of chocolate milk provides about 200 calories. It provides carbohydrate, protein, electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and calcium in an easily digestible liquid form that is inexpensive and readily available, and it tastes good! But be sure to choose heart-healthy low-fat versions.
For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, or for those who simply prefer a plant-based diet, fortified chocolate soymilk is a great alternative.
Olive oil is known for its flavor, versatility, and health-promoting qualities. Nutrition experts think olive oil may be partly responsible for the many health benefits associated with the “Mediterranean diet,” an eating pattern that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and “healthy” fats. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat—one of the healthy fats. It contains vitamins A, E, and K, plus many other beneficial compounds that might reduce your risk of heart disease.
Heating olive oil or holding it at high temperatures for long periods of time can reduce its beneficial qualities. If you use olive oil for deep-frying, it should be discarded after one or two uses.
Interestingly, olives can “pick up” airborne toxins present in smoke from fires, car exhaust, and other pollutants. So it might be a good idea to choose olive oils produced from olives grown in areas where air quality is good most of the growing season. This is likely true for all edible oils.
Olive oil can be used in countless ways: Drizzle on pasta or bread, brush lightly on meats or fish, coat vegetables for roasting, or use nearly any way that butter or other fats can be used—even baking! Of course, as with all fats, be sure to use olive oil in moderation to avoid gaining weight.
Wheat products such as bread and pasta are mainstays of our diets. However, some people are sensitive to gluten, a blend of two proteins found in wheat and other grains such as rye and barley. Three distinct conditions caused by gluten sensitivities have been identified: wheat allergy, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Wheat allergy is more common in children than adults, and many children outgrow the condition. Symptoms include hives, itchy throat or eyes, and difficulty breathing. Wheat allergy can be life threatening and requires immediate medical attention—an especially serious consideration for Warfighters in the field.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, his/her immune system attacks the small intestine, impairing the way the body digests food. Symptoms include bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lactose intolerance, and anemia. If not treated, celiac disease can cause neurological disorders, osteoporosis, and other autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes. About three million people in the U.S. have celiac disease.
In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS, a person is sensitive to gluten but—as the name suggests—does not have celiac disease. Symptoms include diarrhea or abdominal pain and vague, non-intestinal symptoms such as bone or joint pain, leg numbness, or skin rashes, making diagnosis difficult. About 18 million people in the U.S. have NCGS.
The only way to treat gluten sensitivities is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Things to avoid include:
- Wheat, rye, and barley
- Flours made from wheat: self-rising flour, graham flour, cake flour, pastry flour
- Oats, unless certified gluten-free
- Communion wafers and matzo
- Soy sauce
Even if a product label says it is “wheat free” it might contain rye or barley. FDA has established guidelines for labeling gluten-free foods.
Gluten-free foods can become “contaminated” with gluten in home kitchens, so be sure to use clean tools for preparing and serving gluten-free foods, and designate appliances, such as a toaster, for use with gluten-free products only.
Many people with gluten sensitivities are deficient in calcium, folate, iron, and certain B vitamins. They should have their vitamin and mineral status monitored by a doctor.
Although following a gluten-free diet can be challenging at first, with a little practice it can become second nature. There are many gluten-free products on the market and many bakeries now offer gluten free selections. People who follow the diet typically experience significant improvements in their health and quality of life that make the effort worth the challenges. You can learn more about celiac disease and gluten-free diets from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If there’s one constant in the military lifestyle it’s change. You could be engaged in a high-intensity ops tempo one day, and then find yourself at a desk job the next day (and vice versa). Similarly, you could be training for a triathlon, and then suddenly recovering from an injury. When your circumstances change, your calorie needs change too.
The Go for Green® plan is based on a Warfighter consuming 2,500 calories per day. Your needs might be different depending on a number of factors such as your age, sex, and level of activity. Go for Green® can help you choose appropriate foods for your calorie needs. But first, find out how many calories you need each day with this handy (downloadable, Excel) calculator from HPRC.
If your needs are greater than 2,500 calories per day—perhaps your job or workout regimen is very physically demanding—eating a few “yellow” foods (especially from the protein, fruit, and starchy food categories) and one or two “red” foods each day is appropriate for you. “Yellow” and “red” foods help boost the calorie content of your meals and restore your body’s carbohydrate and fat stores—essential fuels for Warfighters with high-calorie needs.
If your needs are less than 2,500 calories per day—maybe because you sit at a desk all day or you’re nursing an injury—it’s important to remember that reduced physical activity means reduced calorie needs. Steer clear of “red” foods and keep “yellow” ones to a minimum. Aim for plenty of “green” foods to help you heal and enhance mental and physical performance, and be sure to watch your portions to avoid unwanted weight gain.
And remember, “Green” foods are always a good choice for optimal performance, whatever your circumstances or calorie needs! For more information, visit the Warfighter section of the Go for Green® website and click on the “Personalizing G4G” tab.
A hot trend in nutrition and dieting for some Warfighters is internal cleansing (or “cleansing” for short). Typical cleansing programs promise renewed energy, weight loss, and a fresh start—appealing offers following the rigors of a deployment, a recent change of duty station, or just life in general. Variants of cleansing programs may include “detox” (short for detoxification) diets, dietary supplement products, enemas, or some combination of these.
Although some detox diets emphasize eating lots of fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water, many detox diets lack certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and are dangerously low in calories. It might be difficult for a Warfighter to obtain adequate calories for optimal performance while following a typical detox diet.
Detox supplement products often contain herbs and other plant-based chemicals that have a laxative effect. Long-term use of laxative products can cause changes in the structure of your large intestine (colon) that might have serious health effects. Laxatives can cause dehydration, which impairs performance. In addition, according to the Food and Drug Administration there are concerns about dietary supplement products containing hidden active ingredients that can result in harmful effects.
Detox enemas, often marketed as “colon cleanse” products, cause the contents of the colon to be quickly expelled. Detox enemas contain a variety of substances, some of which can cause allergic reactions or electrolyte imbalances. Since many detox enemas are self-administered, there’s also the risk of tearing the inside of your rectum during the procedure, which can cause septicemia—a type of bacterial infection in the blood.
The guiding principle behind cleanse programs is that environmental and dietary toxins supposedly build up in your body, and you need to get rid of them to be healthy. However, there really isn’t any scientific evidence backing up these claims. Your body is designed to detox itself by getting rid of wastes through urine, feces, and sweat. The best way to take advantage of these built-in detox systems is to drink plenty of water (to produce more urine), get plenty of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (to help pass feces), and exercise (to produce sweat)—a proven program to help you perform better and live a healthy life.
A new Air Force guidance, which will be go into effect in a few months, directs all downrange DFACS (dining facilities) to stop buying energy drinks, nutritional shakes, and energy bars. Air Force DFACs in the U.S. do not buy these products either. The new guidance is a result of health concerns from consuming energy drinks and these other products. Read the article in the Air Force Times for more information.
Have you heard about Go for Green®?
Go for Green® is a DoD-wide, joint-service food-identification program. It’s designed to help you easily identify the nutritional value of foods when you’re standing in line at the dining facility (DFAC) deciding what to eat.
Foods in DFACs are color-coded Green, Yellow, or Red to help you choose foods for optimal performance. When using Go for Green® in the DFAC, look for these symbols to identify “Green,” “Yellow,” or “Red” foods.
What do the colors mean?
Go: High-Performance Food
“Green” foods can and should be eaten everyday. These foods score high in nutrient density (the ratio of nutrients to calories in a food) and help you perform best. Most “Green” foods can be eaten without having to worry much about portion size.
Caution: Eat occasionally
“Yellow” foods are still healthy in small amounts but should be eaten less often than “Green” foods. How much and how often depends on your health and performance goals. Try to eat “Yellow” foods just some of the time.
Limit: Eat rarely
“Red” foods are meant to be treats eaten just once in a while. They have little nutritional quality but are often an enjoyable part of eating. Most people can have a few “Red” foods each week and still meet health and performance goals. Try to limit how much and how often you eat “Red” foods, and balance them with plenty of “Green” foods.
Although the Go for Green® program is geared toward use in the DFAC, it translates well to just about any setting—home, fast-food restaurants, even when eating MREs. Eating the Go for Green® way can promote a healthier, better-performing you. For more information, visit the Go for Green® website. Download the Go for Green® Guide for a handy reference.
Need help deciding how much to eat? Look for future posts about how to personalize Go for Green® based on your individual calorie and performance needs.