Filed under: Diet
March is National Nutrition Month, and it reminds us about the importance of healthy eating. The theme this year is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” HPRC receives many questions that ask what the best supplements are for weight loss, bodybuilding, and enhancing performance. Our message is always the same: Focus on food first. Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has educational resources to help spread this message, including our “Real Food” poster and “Nutrition: Fueled for Fitness” brochure. Be sure to visit OPSS for infosheets, videos, and other educational materials for Warfighters, healthcare providers, and family members.
March is National Nutrition Month®, a month-long education campaign sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to promote healthy eating. This year’s theme is “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” It focuses on how healthy eating and tasty food go hand-in-hand. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website provides lots of great tips, tools, and resources to help you develop healthy, tasty meals for you and your family. Also, visit HPRC’s Family Nutrition section for additional resources.
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.
An “adverse event” can occur as a result of taking some dietary supplements. Learn how to identify an adverse event from the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ, and find out where you can go to report one. And for healthcare providers, HPRC has a helpful video, “How to Probe for Dietary Supplements Use and Report Adverse Events.” (Click on the “Video” tab to access the link.) Documenting adverse events is an essential part of how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluates potentially dangerous dietary supplements, so it’s very important to report potential problems.
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.
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!