Filed under: Nutrients
Many raw fruits and vegetables are tasty, low in calories and fat, and high in fiber. And eating them might help you feel fuller and consume less, which is especially helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. However, some cooked produce can be just as delicious—and even more nutritious.
Many cooked fruits and vegetables (such as tomatoes, corn, spinach, carrots, and asparagus) provide more antioxidants, which protect cells and help your body function properly. For example, cooked tomatoes and asparagus release vitamin-rich lycopene, which can help lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. And cooked spinach provides greater amounts of calcium, iron, and fiber.
However, broccoli is best eaten raw because myrosinase, a valuable enzyme, is damaged during the cooking process. Vitamin C can be lost during cooking too. But you can find it in citrus and other foods. In the warmer months, eating raw produce can save time as well as keep your kitchen cooler since you won’t be cooking! Still, raw fruits and vegetables might be hard to find when you’re on a mission or in a smaller dining facility. So instead, choose from what’s offered—whether it’s dried, canned, frozen, or dehydrated.
Try to include a variety of produce in your meal plan, aiming for 2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of veggies each day. Choose fruits and vegetables from the rainbow of colors (red, blue/purple, green, yellow, orange, and white) to maximize nutrient intake. Eat both cooked and raw varieties to make sure you’re getting nutrients, antioxidants, and more. For example, eat raw carrot sticks one day and cook them on a different day. And enjoy the benefit of obtaining all that nature intended to provide!
Military training and pregnancy increase women’s nutritional needs, specifically for vitamin D, calcium, iron, folate, and iodine. While HPRC always recommends choosing whole foods first, sometimes it can be difficult to get enough of those nutrients through food alone. When nutrient needs are higher than normal or when nutrient-rich foods aren’t available, vitamin and mineral supplements can help women to restore nutrient levels in their bodies. Just remember that you don’t need supplements unless you have known nutrient deficiencies, so talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplement. Read more...
The post-workout recovery phase is just as important as the workout itself. Refueling with the right nutrients can help your body heal damaged muscles, build more muscle, and replace nutrients lost during exercise to prepare you for your next workout or mission. A combination of protein and carbs in a snack is the key for recovery. It’s also important to drink enough fluids for rehydration. The best time to refuel is within 45 minutes after your workout, but if you plan to have a meal within 2 hours, you can skip the snack. Otherwise, you might be eating too many calories, which would spoil all your hard work. For more guidelines and snack ideas, please visit HPRC’s Peak Performance: Refueling.
Fruits and vegetables provide many essential nutrients that benefit health and reduce risk of disease. Juicing provides an easy, convenient way to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. However, most countertop juicers extract the juices from fruits and vegetables but leave behind the skin and pulp—where most of the performance-enhancing nutrients and fiber are found. To get the most from your fruits and vegetables, add the leftover skin, pulp, and fiber to other foods such as muffins, breads, or pasta sauces so you don’t miss out on the benefits they provide.
Juices that are mostly fruit-based provide concentrated sources of carbohydrates (“carbs”)—great for when your carb needs are high, such as before or after working out. However, drinking high-carb juices at other times of day can cause your blood sugar to “spike,” setting you up for a “crash” later on. Vegetable-based juices offer an appealing, lower-carb alternative, especially for the veggie-hater. In particular, juices from vegetables such as beets, carrots, and celery that are high in nitrates can naturally increase blood flow and reduce blood pressure—real performance-enhancers. If the flavor of vegetable-based juices doesn’t appeal to you, try adding a small amount of fruit to provide a touch of sweetness without too many carbs. And you can add low-fat yogurt or tofu for a protein boost.
Juicing is a great way to use up fresh fruits and vegetables that are a bit past their prime, reducing waste and saving you money. That’s important because juicers can be expensive, ranging in price from $50 to over $1000! A good-quality blender probably costs less than many juicers, doesn’t remove beneficial fiber, and might offer more versatility.
Keep in mind that fresh, unpasteurized juices can be a food-safety hazard. Harmful bacteria on your hands and on the surfaces of fresh fruits and vegetables can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases severe dehydration or other health problems. Thoroughly wash your hands, fruits, and vegetables before making fresh juices, and clean juicer parts with hot, soapy water when finished. Drink fresh juices the same day you make them and freeze leftovers in ice-cube trays to add to smoothies or thaw and drink another day.
Whether you get your fruits and vegetables in a glass or on a plate, make sure you’re getting enough for optimal performance. Use this handy calculator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find out how many you need each day.
Beets are often overlooked in the produce aisle, but they have been gaining popularity for their potential cardiovascular health and performance benefits. This is because beets contain a high amount of nitrate, which improves blood flow to your heart and muscles. While the performance-enhancing benefits of nitrates from beets have yet to be fully established, there are many other reasons to include beets in your lunch or dinner menu. Beets are a great source of fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, and vitamin C—all important nutrients to keep you at the top of your game.
If beets aren’t your favorite food, there are plenty of other nitrate-rich (and nutrient-rich) vegetables, including arugula, rhubarb, lettuce, celery, radishes, and spinach. Try eating roasted beets or a salad with dark-green, leafy vegetables two to three hours before your next workout. Keep in mind that eating a variety of high-quality foods is key to optimal performance, so for more information on proper fueling, see HPRC’s “An Athlete’s Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing.”
You may know that calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones, but do you know that magnesium plays an important role too? People who eat enough magnesium in their diet tend to have higher bone mineral density (a measure of bone strength) than those who do not. Not getting enough magnesium can put you at risk for osteoporosis (weak, fragile bones).
So make sure you get at least the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium, which is 400–420 mg for men and 310–320 mg for women. According to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Military Nutrition Research, only 30% of military personnel meet or exceed the recommendations. However, this doesn’t mean you need to start taking magnesium supplements. You can easily get enough magnesium from eating a variety of magnesium-rich foods in each food group:
- Vegetables—dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach
- Fruits—bananas, avocados
- Protein—beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as fish and seafood
- Grains—fortified cereals and whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta
- Dairy—milk, yogurt, and soymilk
As an added benefit, many of these foods are also rich in other nutrients, such as calcium, that help keep your bones strong. For additional information, see the Magnesium Fact Sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements. And for information on other nutrients related to bone health, see HPRC’s Healthy eating for healthy joints.
A new Air Force guidance, which will be go into effect in a few months, directs all downrange DFACS (dining facilities) to stop buying energy drinks, nutritional shakes, and energy bars. Air Force DFACs in the U.S. do not buy these products either. The new guidance is a result of health concerns from consuming energy drinks and these other products. Read the article in the Air Force Times for more information.
Have you heard about Go for Green®?
Go for Green® is a DoD-wide, joint-service food-identification program. It’s designed to help you easily identify the nutritional value of foods when you’re standing in line at the dining facility (DFAC) deciding what to eat.
Foods in DFACs are color-coded Green, Yellow, or Red to help you choose foods for optimal performance. When using Go for Green® in the DFAC, look for these symbols to identify “Green,” “Yellow,” or “Red” foods.
What do the colors mean?
Go: High-Performance Food
“Green” foods can and should be eaten everyday. These foods score high in nutrient density (the ratio of nutrients to calories in a food) and help you perform best. Most “Green” foods can be eaten without having to worry much about portion size.
Caution: Eat occasionally
“Yellow” foods are still healthy in small amounts but should be eaten less often than “Green” foods. How much and how often depends on your health and performance goals. Try to eat “Yellow” foods just some of the time.
Limit: Eat rarely
“Red” foods are meant to be treats eaten just once in a while. They have little nutritional quality but are often an enjoyable part of eating. Most people can have a few “Red” foods each week and still meet health and performance goals. Try to limit how much and how often you eat “Red” foods, and balance them with plenty of “Green” foods.
Although the Go for Green® program is geared toward use in the DFAC, it translates well to just about any setting—home, fast-food restaurants, even when eating MREs. Eating the Go for Green® way can promote a healthier, better-performing you. For more information, visit the Go for Green® website. Download the Go for Green® Guide for a handy reference.
Need help deciding how much to eat? Look for future posts about how to personalize Go for Green® based on your individual calorie and performance needs.
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.