Filed under: Diet
Carbohydrates provide our bodies with energy. “Good” carbohydrates—usually the complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—have more fiber. They also contain vitamins and minerals. “Bad carbs” include refined carbohydrates—foods made with white flour—and processed foods with added sugars. To find out more about eating the good carbs, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on carbohydrates.
Warfighters who eat a variety of fruits and vegetables are more likely to be at their optimal weight and less likely to develop diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But it can be hard to find a “rainbow” of fresh foods when it’s cold and gray outside and the summer farmers’ markets and roadside stands are months away. Fresh fruits and vegetables, while a great choice, can be expensive in winter and can spoil quickly, making it hard to keep them on hand. Frozen fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, might be just the ticket to make sure you get plenty of these nutritious powerhouses in your diet. Here’s why:
- Nutrition. The nutrient content of frozen fruits and vegetables is comparable to that of fresh ones. That’s because frozen fruits and vegetables are processed at their peak ripeness, while fresh ones might be eaten when they are either under- or over-ripe, when nutrient content is generally sub-par. (There are a few exceptions, though. The processing of frozen “cruciferous” vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts destroys important enzymes that give them their disease-fighting capability. Opt for fresh versions of these veggies, and steam them lightly or eat them raw.) When purchasing frozen vegetables, choose versions without added salt and with minimal processing such as chopping or dicing for highest nutritional value.
- Cost. Although fresh fruits and vegetables are usually cheaper when they’re in season, their frozen cousins are your best bet in the off-season. If you’re on a budget, resist the temptation to purchase those meal-in-a-bag concoctions containing meats and/or rich sauces, though. You pay twice: first for the convenience and second for the calories. Instead, prepare frozen veggies in your microwave according to the cooking directions on the package. If you add some lean protein such as chicken or tofu, some spices, and a side of whole grains, you’ll have the makings of a great meal.
- Availability. The best thing about frozen fruits and vegetables is that they’re right there in your freezer. You can stock up on your favorites when they’re on sale and have a ready supply every time you cook—no excuses. Use them within three months of purchase, though, for optimal quality.
Fresh or frozen, fruits and vegetables are essential for optimal performance. Be sure you get enough every day.
Do milk products make you queasy, gassy, or—worse—send you running to the bathroom? If so, you might have lactose intolerance, a condition caused by a deficiency of lactase, an enzyme produced in the small intestine. Lactase breaks down lactose, a naturally occurring sugar present in milk and milk products.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include nausea, gas, cramping, and diarrhea and usually occur 30 minutes to two hours after eating milk products. Anyone (at any age) can develop lactose intolerance, but it’s more common among adults of African, American Indian, Asian, Jewish, or Mexican heritage. People who have digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease are more likely to be lactose intolerant too.
Some people with lactose intolerance have to avoid all milk products, but others can handle small amounts of cultured milk products such as yogurt, kefir, or buttermilk. If you think you have lactose intolerance, experiment with milk products to see what you can handle.
Many processed foods (including MREs) contain milk products, so learn to be label-savvy: Look for words on food packages that indicate a product might have milk or milk products such as whey, curds, milk byproducts, dry milk solids, and nonfat dry milk powder. Missing your ice cream? Over-the-counter enzyme products can help you tolerate lactose-containing foods if taken with the first bite of food.
Don’t confuse lactose intolerance with milk allergy, an immune response to casein or whey, two proteins found in milk. Symptoms of milk allergy are typically mild and include:
- Runny nose, sneezing, or shortness of breath
- Swollen lips, tongue, or throat
- Rash, hives, or itchy skin
However, severe milk allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a serious, life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. People with severe milk allergy should read labels carefully to avoid all milk products.
Of course, limiting or avoiding milk products could put you at greater risk of developing osteoporosis or “brittle bones.” That’s because milk products contain calcium, an essential nutrient for healthy bones. Look for other calcium-rich foods such as dark-green leafy vegetables, almonds, beans, shellfish, or calcium-fortified juices, soymilk, or almond milk.
To learn more about lactose intolerance, read this informative article from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
There’s an old adage you may have heard: “Eat after eight, put on weight.” And maybe you’ve experienced it first-hand: You noticed that eating those late night pizzas and ice cream really packed on the pounds. But was your weight gain due to timing or just the high calorie counts? According to research in the field of circadian rhythms (CRs)—the 24-hour cycle of your body’s biological, hormonal, and behavioral patterns—it seems that when you eat could be just as important to weight gain as what you eat.
Deep within your brain sits a small cluster of nerve cells—a “master clock” of sorts—that’s responsible for orchestrating your CRs. Each biological system in your body works on a different CR schedule, and the master clock keeps all the schedules in sync. For example, CRs influence your body’s production of the hormones that regulate hunger, as well as how your body uses and stores fats and sugar, ultimately influencing your body weight, performance, and overall health. Other hormones, such as the ones that tell you when you’re full, are switched on or off according to a variety of inputs.
The two greatest influences on how well your master clock is able to keep things in sync are light and food. Light tells your brain how much sleep you get (think: eyes closed, less light). Food (smell, taste, and consumption) tells your body to produce a myriad of chemicals. As a result, staying up late at night, working shifts, and eating at all hours of the day and night—whether voluntarily or due to the demands of overseas deployments, training demands, shift-work schedules, and even parenthood—can play havoc with your circadian rhythms.
In an interesting twist, not only do CRs influence hunger and body weight, but excess body fat and/or a high-fat diet may disrupt CRs. This can lead to further weight gain, culminating in a collection of health problems known as “metabolic syndrome.” In the U.S., regular loss of sleep closely parallels the occurrence of metabolic syndrome. In addition, researchers have found that people who sleep less or have poor-quality sleep are more likely to become obese.
What to do? Make a conscious effort to “normalize” your daily routines as much as possible to maintain regular mealtimes. Whether you choose to eat three regular-sized meals or four to six smaller meals a day, space them out through the daylight hours to take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms. Here are some suggestions to avoid eating late at night:
- Try to eat a balanced dinner at least two hours before you go to bed, and take a walk afterwards when possible.
- Sip on soothing herbal tea or flavored water (without sugar).
- Be aware that watching TV (especially food-related ads) can trigger your desire to eat.
- Sometimes it can help to create new nighttime rituals that don’t involve eating, such as light stretching or yoga, taking a warm bath, listening to soothing music, or reading (or listening to) a book.
But if you find yourself up late at night—whether it’s due to a hard day at work, regular shiftwork, or temporary shifts due to jet lag or an infant’s night feedings—resist the urge to snack out of boredom or to “keep your energy up.” Shift workers should pack or purchase a healthy meal to eat during their work hours—one that includes lean protein and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Eat early in the shift if possible, so you’ll have the energy you need to think and move efficiently. Travelers and parents should look for healthy snacks that follow a similar pattern. And try to limit coffee, tea, and other sources of caffeine to just two to four servings a day.
Of course, eating is just one half of the CR equation. Getting enough sleep is important too, so read HPRC’s overview for great tips on how Warfighters can improve their sleep.
The Nutrition Facts panel on a food label can be a Warfighter’s best friend when trying to decide what to eat for optimal performance. That’s because it provides you all the information you need to compare the nutritional content and value of foods and make good choices for your health and performance.
The Nutrition Facts label answers these questions about a food:
- How big is a serving?
- How many calories does it have?
- Does it contain nutrients that I should get less (or more) of?
- How does it fit into my overall nutrition goals?
- What percentage of key nutrients does it provide?
For tips on how to use and understand the information on a Nutrition Facts label, check out this easy guide from the Food and Drug Administration. Although label reading can be challenging at first, with practice you’ll become an expert at using the Nutrition Facts label as a helpful tool for following a healthy, balanced diet.
Holiday parties provide opportunities to relax and enjoy good food and good times with family, friends, and colleagues. But they also can derail your weight and fitness goals. Buffet tables laden with calorie-rich treats and beverages can weaken the resolve of even the most committed folks. To keep yourself on track, remember these tips:
- Never go to a party hungry. Eat a protein-rich food before you go. Protein foods tell your brain that you’re satisfied and help you avoid overindulging. Low-fat milk or yogurt or a handful of nuts are great choices.
- Follow the MyPlate strategies for filling your party plate: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables then fill the rest with whole grains and lean protein such as fish or chicken.
- Choose wine over fancy mixed drinks or beer, and be sure to drink in moderation: one drink for women and two drinks for men. Sip slowly to make your drink last through the evening.
- If it’s a potluck, you really are in luck. Offer to bring a healthy salad or entrée, and fill your plate with your own delicious creation.
- Don’t waste your calories (and taste buds) on desserts that you don’t absolutely love. Choose your favorite and then share it with a friend. You’ll eat slower while you and your friend chat, and cherish the moment as much as the sweet!
In a 1960s TV cartoon series, George Jetson of The Jetsons simply popped a pill when he wanted to eat. “Dinner in a pill” was promised as the food of the future. So why hasn’t technology delivered on its promise? Simply put, no dietary supplement can reproduce the aromas, flavors, textures, or nutritional value of oven-roasted turkey, crusty, fresh-baked bread, juicy ripe pineapple, fragrant hot tea, or any other wholesome, delicious, performance-enhancing real food or beverage. And substituting dietary supplements for real food won’t help performance either – check out our video here. So skip supplements—not meals. To learn more about how real foods should come before dietary supplements, check out HPRC’s article in Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS).
The phrase “Garbage in, garbage out” was coined first by computer experts back in the 1960s. Since then, the phrase has gained a wider usage—even to the world of performance nutrition. Providing your body with high-quality fuels and nutrients is crucial to optimizing your performance. Like the poorly fueled runner in HPRC’s video, you’re likely to find that a diet of high-fat or sugary foods and drinks (“garbage in”) produces less than optimal results (“garbage out”). Instead, choose wholesome foods such as lean meats and fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, which provide high-quality fuels and nutrients.
Do you have a “snack drawer”? Most people do, whether it’s in their office desk, gym locker, backpack, or family minivan. Snacking can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle, preventing late-afternoon vending machine runs or mealtime overeating and providing crucial nutrients prior to workouts or missions. Snacking can also ambush otherwise healthy eating plans, so it’s important to choose snacks wisely.
Ideally, your snack drawer should be stocked with a variety of protein and carbohydrate snacks to meet your needs during the day. A healthy snack provides 100 to 300 calories, depending on your weight and activity level.
Opt for lean-protein choices such as water-packed tuna (the kind in packets fit easily into a backpack, briefcase, or purse), peanut butter, and dry-roasted nuts such as walnuts, almonds, or pistachios. If you have a fridge available, boiled eggs (up to one week) or single-serving cups of hummus, cottage cheese, or Greek-style yogurt are great choices.
Healthy-carbohydrate options include instant oatmeal or grits, whole-grain crackers, and dried fruit. Choices for the fridge include fresh fruit and veggies—a great way to get the recommended amounts you need each day.
Take advantage of snack time to add some hydration to your day. Water (flavored ones can make drinking water more appealing), milk, soymilk, and almond milk are great choices. Herbal teas provide a caffeine-free alternative. Of course, juicy fruits such as watermelon, oranges, and kiwis are terrific too.
Being prepared can help you make good choices the next time a snack attack hits. But don’t forget about food safety: Be sure to keep an eye on expiration dates and toss things when they’re past their prime. For more information about healthy snacking, read these informative tips from MedlinePlus.
Spices add flavor and color to many foods. But did you know they also might improve your performance while offering you protection from many diseases, including heart disease and cancer?
Your body’s cells continuously produce large quantities of what scientists call “free radicals”—highly reactive molecules that can damage cells. Ordinarily, your cells also produce antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals. But exercise, stress, and environmental pollutants can cause an imbalance between your body’s antioxidants and its free radicals. That’s where spices can come into play.
Not only do spices such as cinnamon, allspice, oregano, and turmeric (and others) demonstrate high antioxidant activity, scientists think they might actually help your body produce its own antioxidants. Some research suggests that eating spices as part of a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can prevent inflammation (a key player in the development of many diseases) and protect your body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals.
Get creative! Sprinkle a little cinnamon over your morning oatmeal, add a bit of allspice to a post-workout recovery shake, or stir some oregano or turmeric into your vegetable soup. A little bit goes a long way. Not only will you get a boost of flavor, you just might take a step toward better health and performance.