Filed under: Diet
About half of all military personnel use some dietary supplements, and military women most commonly use weight-loss supplements. But is there a place for dietary supplements in enhancing women’s health? Dietary supplements, by definition, are intended to “supplement the diet” and can contain a dietary ingredient such as a vitamin, mineral, herb or other botanical, amino acid, or combinations of these and/or other substances or constituents intended to be consumed by mouth.
Active women may require more nutrients, but vitamin and mineral needs normally can be met by eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans focus largely on the recommendation that nutrient-dense foods and beverages—such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds—can provide all the nutrients needed by most everyone. These recommendations are based on research that shows a varied, healthy diet lowers the risk of most diseases.
Some dietary supplements have been found to be beneficial for women’s health, such as folic acid, iron, and calcium. Folic acid, a B vitamin involved in the production of new cells in the body, has been shown to help prevent birth defects. Women who are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant should take a supplement that includes 400 micrograms of folic acid per day. Fortified foods such as green, leafy vegetables, enriched whole grain breads, flour, pasta, rice, and most ready-to-eat cereals also contain folic acid. Adolescent girls, women of childbearing age, and especially pregnant women also need more iron, which is a mineral involved in the transport of oxygen in the body. Women in these groups should choose iron-rich foods, particularly red meat, fish, and poultry, as well as iron-fortified foods. When iron levels are low, symptoms may include feeling extra tired and weak, along with a decrease in immune function. A healthcare provider or dietitian can determine the need for supplementation if diet alone cannot maintain iron levels or for those who have iron-deficiency anemia. Calcium is an important mineral that helps maintain strong bones, healthy teeth, and proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves. All women should strive to get their calcium from foods such as low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, dark-green, leafy vegetables, and foods such as orange juice and soy milk that have been calcium-fortified. Those who may need more should discuss calcium supplement options with a dietitian, since there are many forms available and it is important to determine how much and which kind is suitable for your particular needs.
Some dietary supplement products marketed for weight loss are targeted toward women. Do they work? According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some weight-loss supplements contain hidden prescription drug ingredients. For additional information, see Operation Supplement Safety’s (OPSS) “Are there any safe supplements to help me lose weight?” Furthermore, women looking to enhance their performance may turn to dietary supplement products. OPSS has additional resources for competitive athletes to search for particular products that are certified, as well as helpful red flags on what to avoid.
Some women’s nutrient needs differ from those of men, and they can vary over the course of a lifetime. From adolescent girls, to women of childbearing age, to women over 50, these needs change based on the demands of the physiological changes that occur in the body. One thing is certain: A variety of nutritious food is really the spice of life and should be the basis for fueling all of life’s stages.
The first anniversary of the MyPlate food icon is being celebrated during the month of June, hoping to remind consumers to make healthy food choices. Users can download these one-page printable sheets, each with 10 tips to help get started with and maintain a healthy diet. To access these tips, go to this page of MyPlate, and then post them on your refrigerator or locker.
If you are eating good-quality foods in a well-balanced diet, then supplements aren’t necessary to achieve optimal performance. However, if you think you need to take supplements, make sure that you are well informed about the effectiveness and safety of the supplements you are taking or considering adding to your diet. Visit HPRC’s Dietary Supplements Classification System and the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database to learn more about performance supplements. In addition, check out our introduction to Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS), the new Department of Defense educational campaign about to be launched to help determine the relative safety of a dietary supplement product.
Good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), helps prevent fat and cholesterol from clogging your arteries. A higher HDL number (> 60 mg/dl of blood) is better. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered bad cholesterol. It carries cholesterol to your arteries and can cause them to become blocked. A lower LDL number (< 100 mg/dl) is better. High-LDL or low-HDL cholesterol levels are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Visit this American Hearth Association web page for more information.
The latest news on DMAA includes the New Zealand government’s ban just placed on DMAA-containing products. DMAA has already been declared a drug in Canada and is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, the United States Anti-doping Agency (USADA), collegiate sports teams, and most professional sports teams.
HPRC has again updated its list of DMAA-containing dietary supplements, including a number of additions as well as some products that have been discontinued or reformulated. The additions mostly represent lesser-known products that have been around a while, but surprisingly there are a couple new products too. And we have added two new “aliases” to the list of other names for DMAA. To download the list, click on this link to “Dietary Supplement Products Containing DMAA.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons defines a stress fracture as a tiny crack in a bone that occurs when fatigued muscles lose their ability to absorb shock and then transfer stresses to the bone. Most stress fractures occur in the lower extremities, and more than half occur in the lower leg and foot.
A stress fracture is an overuse—sometimes referred to as chronic—injury, which means that it develops over a long period of time—from weeks to months. According to a 2011 systematic review published in Military Medicine, stress fracture incidence is high among U.S. military recruits, ranging anywhere from 3% for men to 9.2% for women.
Since it can take several weeks or months for a stress fracture to heal, the best approach is to avoid getting one. Here are some tips for prevention:
- Apply the progression principle of training—gradually increase your training intensity. Slowly incorporate higher-stress activities such as jumping and interval training into your workout. Setting incremental goals can be helpful in carrying out your training routine in a gradual way. And check out HPRC’s Physical Fitness Resources for more information on training and ways to avoid injury.
- Check your footwear and make sure it matches your training. Replace footwear that is old or worn.
- Pay attention to the surface where you train, since some are easier on the bones and joints of the lower extremities. For example, it is better to jog on softer surfaces such as rubber track or grass rather than on concrete. Also, it’s better to begin training on a flat surface and then progress to hills.
- Monitor your diet, specifically calcium and vitamin D intake, and read the National Institute of Health’s Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet on calcium. To learn more about nutrition take a look at HPRC’s Nutrition Resources.
What do you put in your body to boost your performance, increase your energy, shed pounds, build muscle, or otherwise supplement your diet? What’s in that drink, pill, or powder? What will it do for you? What will it do to you? Is it worth the risk?
More and more Warfighters are taking dietary supplements, most without being fully informed that some of the ingredients could have harmful side effects. HPRC has just unveiled its Dietary Supplement Classification System to provide this kind of information and help you make informed decisions about a particular supplement. To start exploring this new resource, visit HPRC’s new web pages. If you have a question, contact us via “Ask the Expert.”
Warfighters must be in excellent physical condition to endure a variety of physical tasks for extended periods. Healthy eating will greatly affect your physical performance. For good health and performance, eat the energy-providing nutrients (known as macronutrients)—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These foods supply fuel and are involved in many functions in your body. For detailed information on each of the macronutrients, see the Warfighter Nutrition Guide.
Whether you are at home or on operations, healthy snacking can sustain your mind and body so your performance is maximized. Keep high-nutrient foods on hand at home, while at work, or during night operations. For specific suggestions and tips on healthy snacking, see the Warfighter Nutrition Guide.
Eating disorders affect more women than men, and usually there is no single cause. Risks of developing an eating disorder can stem from genetics; biologic, emotional, and personality disorders, as well as family situations. Warfighters are not immune to these disorders and may even have a higher percentage than the general population. Having an eating disorder can significantly impact your performance. Not getting enough food or not eating healthy, consistent amounts of food means that your body is not being fueled optimally for performance. The University of Maryland Medical Center has put together a report on risk factors, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for eating disorders as well as links to other helpful resources.