Filed under: Diet
Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and basil add a flavorful punch to meals, but they also may provide health benefits. Many herbs contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components. As plants, herbs contain beneficial phytochemicals, which are being researched for their role in cancer prevention. Here are some tips on using culinary herbs to make your meals both tastier and healthier.
- Pre-seasoned, pre-flavored foods (such as rice) often cost more than the basics. Buy unseasoned, plain staples for your pantry, and then add your own variety by using different herbs.
- If you’re trying to follow a low-sodium eating plan, substitute herbs in place of or in addition to a small amount of salt to season your meal.
- Can’t use up fresh herbs fast enough? Purchase dried or frozen herbs, which have a longer shelf life. Just check your recipe, as you probably need to use less of dried herbs than fresh.
Ready to test your green thumb? Place potted herbs on your patio, deck, or windowsill for fresh herbs whenever you need them. Adding herbs to your meat, fish, vegetable, and grains not only adds color and flavor, but it also may be good for your health. Learn more about herb and food combinations.
Fast food is often overloaded with calories, fat, and sodium, so it’s best to choose it less often and eat nutritious meals made at home or in the dining facilities. But juggling the demands of active-duty service, family, friends, and life in general can leave little time to shop, cook, and clean. Sometimes fast food might be your only option, so follow these tips to avoid the pitfalls:
- Make substitutions. Choose grilled chicken for your sandwich instead of fried chicken, and ask for a wheat bun. For your sides, trade in fries or onion rings for a side salad, fruit cup, or plain baked potato.
- Watch your toppings. Toppings such as bacon, cheese, and even sauces provide more fat and calories than you might realize. Skip these toppings and ask for extra veggies on your burger or sandwich. If you want a sauce, stick with ketchup or mustard.
- Go for greens. More and more restaurants offer salads as entrees, which is a great way to increase your veggie intake. But just beware of high-calorie additions such as bacon bits, croutons, fried tortilla strips, and creamy dressings. Instead, look for nutrient-rich toppings such as nuts, seeds, beans, fruit, and lean protein, and ask for a light dressing such as vinaigrette on the side.
- Keep your portion sizes small. Bigger portions mean more calories. Opt for the smallest size when it comes to burgers, fries, sodas, and desserts, and avoid value-sized meals. Doing so can save you a couple hundred calories or more! Check out this infographic on portion sizes to help you.
Fueling with fast food every day isn’t ideal, especially if you want to perform well. Just keep in mind that when you do eat it, making small changes such as these can have a big impact on your health.
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.
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.
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.
0 – Zero 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Granola bars are great for a quick, convenient snack, but some are more like candy bars in disguise. They can be high in sugar, fat, and calories. There are plenty of healthy variations of granola bars, though. You just have to know what to look for. Next time you’re in a store or in the commissary, compare Nutrition Facts labels and follow these tips:
- Look for a granola bar that has at least 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and less than 200 calories. This will help you stay full longer while keeping your nutrition in check.
- Find a granola bar with less than 10 grams of sugar. Most of it is added sugar. And watch out for hidden sources of sugar such as brown rice syrup and honey.
- When it comes to ingredients, look for ones you recognize or can pronounce. Remember, a granola bar with fewer ingredients is often better.
For information on how to read Nutrition Facts labels, check out this guide from the Food and Drug Administration.