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Probiotic foods and your health

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
There is some evidence that probiotic foods can tip the balance toward the health of your digestive tract. It’s easy to find foods with probiotics you can benefit from.

Some recent evidence suggests that probiotic foods can contribute toward a healthy population of microorganisms in your digestive tract (gut). But what exactly are probiotic foods?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), probiotic foods contain “live microorganisms which, when consumed in adequate amounts as part of food, confer a health benefit on the host.” In other words, they are foods that contain microorganisms (primarily bacteria and yeast) that may play a role in keeping the human gut healthy.

An astonishing number and variety of microorganisms—some good and some bad—occupy every nook, cranny, and passageway of our bodies. Most inhabit our digestive tract and play key roles in digesting food and digestive health. Maintaining the proper balance of good and bad organisms is essential. In fact, having more “bad” than “good” microorganisms is also associated with increased risk for short-lasting diseases such as colds and gastroenteritis and long-lasting diseases such as asthma and certain types of cancer.

More than 5,000 different strains of bacteria may reside in the average person’s digestive tract, which makes it hard to determine which ones might be good and which ones might be bad. But generally speaking, two strains seem to offer the greatest benefit to humans—Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Both can be found in many widely available probiotic foods.

Fortunately, it’s easy to find probiotic foods these days. Take a walk down the dairy aisle of your local grocery store and you’ll likely find yourself inundated with products promising a variety of beneficial health effects, many of which are attributed to the products’ probiotic content. Choices include traditional fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk as well as foods far from the dairy aisle such as sauerkraut, pickles, and miso (a soybean product).

Keep in mind that if you eat a greasy cheeseburger, fries, and a sugary soda followed by a yogurt “chaser,” it’s unlikely you’ll see much benefit from the probiotic organisms in the yogurt. The greatest benefits from eating probiotic foods occur when they are part of a diet that includes whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and low-fat sources of dairy and protein. For more detailed information, read “Oral Probiotics: An Introduction” from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

What’s the story with carnitine?

Carnitine, a component that occurs naturally in red meat (and sometimes is added to dietary supplements and energy drinks), may help reduce complications associated with heart attacks, but new research suggests it also may contribute to heart disease.

Carnitine is a naturally occurring substance in the human body that helps cells use fat for energy. The liver and kidneys can produce carnitine from amino acids provided by the diet, but carnitine also comes from many foods, especially red meat, and is an ingredient in many dietary supplements and energy drinks.

Sometimes doctors use carnitine to treat certain heart conditions. Recent clinical trials suggest that carnitine supplements may help reduce many of the complications associated with heart attacks, such as chest pain and irregular heart rhythms.

But new research suggests that long-term consumption of dietary carnitine also may play a role in the development of atherosclerosis—“hardening of the arteries”—especially in people who eat red meat regularly. So what’s the bottom line? More research is needed to determine the risks and benefits associated with carnitine.

You can learn more about carnitine in HPRC’s Dietary Supplement Classification System.

Nutritious food choices are just a click away

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
A user-friendly, searchable version of USDA’s nutrient data is now available for download to personal computers and via phone apps.

Warfighters and family members looking to track their food choices now can use the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (called The Standard Reference or SR). This nutrient data is widely used and has been incorporated into many smart phone “apps” and interactive websites. Of particular interest is the USDA’s SuperTracker, where users can customize their dietary plan and physical activity. For more information, read how to access this nutritional data.

High-flying meals for U-2 pilots

“Tube food” provides meals for U-2 pilots on long missions.

Army researchers have developed a special method of meal delivery for U-2 pilots on long flight missions, which can sometimes last up to 12 hours. Pressurized suits and bulky equipment limit pilot movement and prevent them from opening their helmet visors—so feeding themselves until now has been impossible. Chefs and nutritionists in Natick, MA, teamed up to create meals that meet a pilot’s calorie and nutrition needs. The meals are turned into a consistency similar to baby food and delivered to the pilot by way of a metallic tube about the size of a tube of toothpaste. The containers fit into a port on the pilot’s helmet in a way that doesn’t interfere with the suit’s pressure. Watch this video to see these tube meals in action!

What are the favorites among pilots? Caffeinated chocolate pudding and chicken-à-la-king are the most popular. Other meals include beef stroganoff, key lime pie, applesauce, and sloppy joe.

Green coffee beans—health or hype?

Weight-loss supplements with green coffee beans have been popular lately, but some products have more in them than just coffee beans. Get the facts about ingredients and always read product labels carefully.

It can be tough figuring out the truth about the health benefits of many natural products. One product that’s getting a lot of attention these days is green coffee beans. As a Warfighter looking for ways to optimize your performance or perhaps drop some weight quickly, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the marketing hype and claims, especially if it’s an appealing message. Make sure you get the facts.

Green coffee beans are the raw, unroasted seeds or “beans” of the Coffea plant. They contain a chemical called chlorogenic acid (CA) that supposedly offers some health benefits. Roasting reduces the amount of CA in coffee beans; as a result, green coffee beans contain more CA than the roasted beans you use for your morning coffee. Some research suggests that CA might prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and help with weight loss. But it’s important to note that most of this research is preliminary, and there just isn’t enough evidence to say that CA will definitely help with any of these health conditions.

Although no serious side effects have been reported from green coffee beans in their natural form, some dietary supplement products containing green coffee beans have been found to contain undeclared drugs, insects, and mold. Of the 126 products containing green coffee beans ranked by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 40 have been assigned a rating of “1” or “2,” which indicates there are serious concerns about their safety and effectiveness. None have a rating in NMCD’s green zone, which suggests that there are some concerns about them all. Note also that green coffee beans are not always the only active ingredient, so be sure to check the product label.

It’s also important to note that green coffee beans contain caffeine. Side effects of consuming too much caffeine are all too familiar—difficulty sleeping, rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, nausea, and vomiting. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, or those who have been diagnosed with certain medical conditions (including anxiety, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis) should check with their doctor before consuming green coffee beans. For more information on caffeine, read the OPSS FAQ on caffeine.

Solid fats vs. oils

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Solid fats vs. oils can make a difference in the overall makeup of a healthy diet, and choosing unsaturated oils can help lower blood cholesterol.

Solid fats are solid at room temperature, come mainly from animal products, and are high in saturated or trans fats. Examples are butter, milk fat, cream, stick margarine, shortening, and beef, chicken, and pork fat. Some saturated fats increase blood cholesterol levels in the body. Oils are liquid at room temperature, and come from many different plants, and are good sources of heart healthy unsaturated fats. Examples are olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and peanut oil. Coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are high in saturated fats and are considered solid fats. When using fats, replacing solid fats with unsaturated oils will provide essential nutrients to the diet and help lower blood cholesterol levels. Read about food preparation to promote health for more information.

Small changes can pay off in a big way

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
Resolutions don't have to daunting—making small, not big, changes that fit easily into your lifestyle are good options for family health and weight loss over time.

It’s the New Year! If you’re already despairing about resolutions, keep in mind that making small changes in behavior that fit easily into your lifestyle are good options for family health and weight loss over time. For one month, try choosing three small habits to focus on changing that you can apply to any situation, whether you’re at home, overseas, or travelling. Try setting up email or calendar reminders if that helps you, or put up tangible reminders such as sticky notes around your house. To get you started, here are some ideas:

  • Keep unhealthy foods such as potato chips, cookies, etc. out of sight so they are less tempting.
  • Put down your fork and knife between bites.
  • Portion out “snackable” foods that come in large bags/containers into smaller one-serving containers, so you don’t keep dipping in.
  • Choose water over soda.
  • Keep fresh fruit on hand to replace fatty, high-calorie snacks.

For more help, Military OneSource has a Health and Wellness Coaching Program that can help you lose weight and improve your overall fitness. Finally, for more information on making healthy food choices for you and your family, visit HPRC’s Family Nutrition section.

Caffeine in supplements – how much?

Some of the most popular dietary supplements sold on military bases may give inaccurate—or no—information about caffeine content on their labels.

A Military Times article reports on a recent study of more than 30 of the most popular dietary supplements (in capsule form) sold on military bases analyzed to determine their caffeine content. Of the 20 supplements that listed caffeine as an ingredient on their labels, six did not specify the amount. These same six contained high amounts of caffeine (210-310 mg per serving)—three or more times the amount permitted by law in soft drinks. Five others revealed significantly different amounts—some more, some less—than the quantity stated on the product label.

Consuming too much caffeine can result in health issues. And if you don’t know how much is in the supplement you’re taking, it could be easy to overdo it if you also drink coffee or energy drinks. Visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ on caffeine for additional information.

The cost of eating well

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Be careful how you spend your food dollars. The best “meal deal” can actually be healthy whole foods!

Do you think nutritious foods are expensive? Think again. A cost-per-calorie comparison of the prices of fat- and sugar-laden convenience foods to the prices of nutritious whole foods showed the convenience foods coming up short.

A study conducted in a low-income area of Baltimore, Maryland, revealed that a diet based primarily on convenience foods from fast-food restaurants cost 24% more than a diet based on whole foods purchased in a grocery store. Of course, prices vary between seasons and geographic locations, but the message was clear: Don’t be fooled by “dollar menus” and “meal deals.”

Here are some more tips to stretch your food dollars:

  • Meats: Buy lean cuts of meat, poultry, and fish on sale and freeze for later use. (Use freezer wrap for long-term storage.)
  • Fruits and vegetables: Not only are fruits and vegetables less expensive when they are in season, the ones in season are freshest and have the best flavor. Take advantage of lower prices on apples in autumn, kale in winter, peas in spring, and strawberries in summer, for example.
  • Processed foods: Cereal, low-fat pasta sauces, and other slightly processed foods can be healthful choices, but name brands can be expensive. Store brands are often excellent quality and typically cost less.
  • Snacks and beverages: Opt for inexpensive (and healthy) snack choices such as popcorn, dried fruit, or peanuts. Milk and juice provide needed nutrients without the “empty” calories found in sodas and beer.
  • Coupons, coupons, coupons: They’re like free money.

With a little time and planning you can provide your family with healthy, nutritious meals and save money.

Women’s health and dietary supplements

Military Health System has designated October as Women’s Health Awareness month. Find out how dietary supplements play a role in a women’s life.

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.

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