Filed under: Food
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.
Food and health are hot topics these days. Just turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, or glance at the margins of your social networking site and you’ll hear and read about the supposed health benefits of dietary supplements containing this or that food component and the promises that they will “burn belly fat” or some similar claim.
Many of these promising food components belong to a group of compounds referred to as phytochemicals—chemicals produced by plants as a means of protecting the plants from various diseases.
Interestingly, when you eat plants (such as fruits and vegetables), the phytochemicals they contain might protect you from disease too. Researchers have found that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases. Scientists haven’t discovered exactly how these compounds work to protect us, but they have discovered that they seem to have a synergistic effect. That is, the compounds seem to work better in combination, especially when they are supplied in their natural form—whole foods. Consuming isolated single compounds, as in dietary supplements, rarely has the same beneficial effect as eating the whole food. See these resources about fruits and vegetables and how they may impact your overall health.
Focusing on single nutrients (in pill form) is not only expensive, it just doesn’t offer the promise that a balanced, varied diet can. Focus on food, instead. For more information about the benefits of food versus dietary supplements, check out this OPSS brochure, “Nutrition: Fueled for Fitness.”
June is National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month. And it’s no wonder—during the warm summer months many fresh fruits and vegetables are at their peak. So take advantage of nature’s bounty and make an effort to include more fruits and vegetables into your family’s diet. Here are some tips to help:
- Start early: Top your morning breakfast cereal with fresh berries, bananas, or peaches for added flavor and nutrition.
- Add some crisp lettuce leaves and juicy tomato slices to a sandwich or wrap.
- Kids love foods they can “dip,” so encourage them to dip their veggies in a delicious, healthy fresh tomato salsa.
- Keep fresh veggies and fruits on a platter in the refrigerator so kids (and you!) can grab some any time—cooling off by the pool, reading a book, or cooking dinner.
- Go to a farmers’ market to find the freshest, in-season produce.
- Plant your own garden—or just a small tomato plant on the back porch. There’s nothing quite like homegrown fruits and vegetables.
- Have some dessert! Fruits are full of natural sweetness—the perfect way to round out a meal.
Eating fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, and many other diseases. To find out how many fruits and vegetables you and your family should be eating, use this great calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has more information about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables as well as lots of great tips to help you incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet.
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.
Did you know that protein sources such as chicken breast, tuna, and chocolate milk—even at the highest quality and price—cost less than $6 per pound? In contrast, protein supplements (Muscle Milk, whey, soy or casein protein powders, Myoplex, etc.) are usually over $10 a pound. The smart choice seems obvious.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has now been launched to answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Visit the OPSS section of HPRC’s website now to learn more!
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.
A recent article in the New York Times looks at the combination of neuroscience and exercise. A new theory suggests that your brain, not your hormones, increases or decreases your appetite after a workout. Researchers at California Polytechnic State University studied different areas of the brain that control whether we want and like food and how these areas are affected by exercise or sitting still.
Scientists found that “responsiveness to food cues was significantly reduced after exercise.” Compared to sitting for an hour, exercisers were much less interested in food, even ice cream sundaes. The subjects in the study were in their 20s and fit enough to sustain strenuous exercise for an hour. This is in contrast to a study that found the same areas in the brain were excited in an overweight and sedentary population after exercise, causing them to want and eat more food.
While the effect is still unclear and more variables need to be tested, researchers conclude that exercise has a definite impact on how your brain responds to food.