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Food and color additives: What are they?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
If you read product labels, you know there are numerous “mystery” ingredients in many foods. This FDA brochure takes some of the mystery away.

Food and color additives exist in many of the foods that we eat. They are used to improve safety and freshness, maintain the nutritional value of foods, and improve texture and appearance. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put together a helpful brochure reviewing how additives are approved for foods, types of food ingredients, and a description of food and color additives.

Organic foods: Are they worth the cost?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
We all see organic foods at the store, hear people talking about them, and may make the choice to purchase and eat organic foods. But is all the hype about the benefits worth the cost?

Many of us have seen foods labeled as organic, but most people don’t know what that means. In order to be considered organic, foods must be certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and meet certain standards. Generally, organic foods must be produced without the use of any artificial fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms. As a result, organic foods have become quite popular.

Because of the differences in production, organic foods tend to be more expensive than conventional foods. For example, the average price of a gallon of regular milk is $2.89, but the average price of a gallon of organic milk is $5.99. That’s more than double the cost, which may not be affordable for many people. For military families who prefer to buy organic foods, discounted prices may be available at their local commissary. Ask grocery stores and wholesale stores about military discounts and coupons. For those who qualify, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) allows organic fruits and vegetables to be purchased with cash-value vouchers. The eligibility of other foods is state-dependent, and each state’s approved food list can be found on USDA's WIC page.

The price difference between organic and conventional foods is clear, but the benefits of choosing organic are not as obvious. Organic foods are thought to be better for the environment and our bodies. However, from a nutritional standpoint, there is not enough evidence to suggest a clear benefit to purchasing organic foods over conventional foods. If pesticides are your concern, visit the Environmental Working Group website to learn more.

So, the next time you’re trying to decide between organic and non-organic, remember that nutritional differences don’t need to be a major factor in your decision because there don’t appear to be any. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is beneficial no matter which option you choose.

For more information on organic foods, check out USDA's website.

Know the most common food allergens

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Keep yourself safe from food allergies

For some people, eating certain foods can cause serious allergic reactions, even death! The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, fish and shellfish, tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, and pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soy. Other food allergies are possible, so it’s important to read food labels for ingredient information if you are at risk. Click here for more information.

Will chia seeds cause me to pop positive?

HPRC has heard this question a lot lately. Chia seeds have become a popular food item, but are they safe for you to consume or will they affect your drug test?

Chia seeds have become a staple in many grocery stores, given their nutritional value and recent attention as recipe ingredients. But will consuming this seed cause a positive drug test? HPRC has a new OPSS FAQ to answer this question, plus other information about chia seeds and what to avoid.

Haven’t been to OPSS lately? Check it out for new FAQs and information sheets about various topics related to dietary supplements that can help you make informed decisions.

The ABCs (and Ds) of healthy, tempting school lunches

School has started up again, so it's time to start packing...

School has started, and the scramble to come up with interesting and appealing lunches for your children probably has, too. If you find you’re bored with the “ham sandwich, apple, and a cookie” routine shortly after the first bell, imagine how bored your child’s taste buds will be in a few weeks! Keeping your child interested in healthy eating is as easy as ABC (and D).

Adventure: Offer your child some variety. Choose high-fiber, whole-grain tortillas or breads for sandwiches and opt for tasty spreads such as salsa, hummus, or pesto for extra flavor. Lean roasted meats such as chicken or turkey are healthy, lean sources of protein; or try fat-free refried beans for an appealing vegetarian option. Tuck some lettuce and tomatoes in for fun, flavor, and nutrients. (Keep wraps and bread from getting soggy by wrapping veggies in meat slices.) Your child doesn’t care for the taste of whole-wheat breads? No problem. Whole-grain white-flour wraps and breads offer lots of fiber but have the taste and look of traditional white-flour choices.

Butters: If nuts aren’t off limits at your child’s school, try something different than the typical peanut butter and jelly: Almond or hazelnut butter topped with fresh fruit such as bananas or mango slices, or fruit spreads such as marmalade or apple butter. Nut butters are great sources of protein with healthy fats and don’t require refrigeration—a plus if cold storage isn’t available.

Cut-ups: Cut up fresh fruits and vegetables the night before and add some to your child’s lunchbox. Cantaloupe pieces, pineapple chunks, and kiwi slices are popular with kids and full of vitamins and other nutrients. Toss in some cauliflower or broccoli florets with a side of pre-packaged dip or salsa. If you’re short on time, pre-cut fruits and veggies are available from your local grocer, but they may be more expensive.

Dessert: Oatmeal cookies, dried fruit, or low-fat yogurt (if kept at 40ºF or less) are terrific, healthy choices.

Let your child dictate just how adventurous his or her lunchtime options should be—they might surprise you! For more great lunchtime ideas, the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge Cookbook features 54 kid-friendly recipes. And remember: Safety first! Keep lunchboxes clean and cool (store in the refrigerator overnight) and provide a moist, cleansing towelette in your child’s lunchbox so he or she can wash up before eating.

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is important for your health. Learn how much you need and where to get it.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone that your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight, earning it the nickname “sunshine vitamin.” It plays key roles in reducing your risk of many health conditions, including depression, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and others. Spending 10 to 15 minutes outside on a sunny day with your arms and legs uncovered can provide nearly all the vitamin D most people need—challenging when you’re wearing a long-sleeved uniform or working inside all day—but you can also get some vitamin D in your diet from fatty fish (such as salmon), mushrooms, and many fortified foods.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for most individuals is 600 IUs. People who have a vitamin D deficiency or certain medical conditions might require supplemental vitamin D but only under the supervision of their healthcare provider. That’s because excess vitamin D can be stored in your body, putting you at risk for toxicity. Over time, too much vitamin D can lead to irregular heart rhythms, kidney damage, and other serious health problems. If you take large doses of supplemental vitamin D and eat foods that are fortified with it, you could easily obtain more than recommended amounts.

Despite the risk for toxicity, nearly one-fourth of people living in the U.S. have low vitamin D levels, so all adults and children should have their vitamin D status checked by their healthcare provider. For more information about vitamin D, read this fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Fuel your adolescent athlete for optimal performance

HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships, Nutrition
Fall sports are under way for many adolescent athletes. Help your teen gain the edge by knowing what he or she should eat and drink.

Fall sports are under way for many adolescent athletes, making it important for teens to know what and when to eat and drink to be at their best. HPRC has created a resource—“Fueling the Adolescent Athlete”—to help your adolescent athlete fuel his or her body for optimal performance. This table provides general guidelines for what teens need to drink and eat before, during, and after practice or workouts.

Staying hydrated goes hand in hand with peak performance. But knowing whether you are hydrated can be difficult. Check out this urine color card from the U.S. Army Public Health Command to get an idea of what to watch out for. And see if your child’s school has the chart posted in the locker rooms and nurse’s office.

For more adolescent and family nutrition information, check out HPRC’s Nutrition section.

Avoiding grains? Think again.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Whole grains are an essential part of a healthy diet and have known health benefits. Avoiding them is unnecessary.

If you’re avoiding grains due to a particular diet plan, or if you think you have to exclude grains due to gluten sensitivities, you may want to think again. HPRC has put together a table of grains (with and without gluten) and their basic nutrients to point out how nutritious grains can be. Even for those who are gluten-free or sensitive to gluten, the table shows there are plenty of healthy, gluten-free options to incorporate into your diet.

As the table indicates, whole grains are very nutrient dense: They contain fiber, vitamins such as niacin and folate (and other B vitamins), minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, as well as protein and branched-chain amino acids.

A diet rich in whole grains has been associated with lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Paleo diet followers, as well as those who are following a gluten-free diet, need not eliminate whole grains from their diet. The benefits are vast, with many choices for a varied diet. For more information about whole grains, see the ChooseMyPlate.gov resource, “Why is it important to eat grains, especially whole grains?

Grains Table [JPG]

Got (chocolate) milk?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
It’s important to replenish your body after working out. Chocolate milk provides essential nutrients and is inexpensive, easy to find, and tasty.

Need a great post-workout beverage? Try drinking a glass or two of chocolate milk during the first 15-60 minutes after exercise to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscles.

Why chocolate milk? The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio in chocolate milk is roughly four-to-one, the best ratio for replenishing glycogen stores while providing adequate protein for muscle building and repair. One eight-ounce glass of chocolate milk provides about 200 calories. It provides carbohydrate, protein, electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, and essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D and calcium in an easily digestible liquid form that is inexpensive and readily available, and it tastes good! But be sure to choose heart-healthy low-fat versions.

For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, or for those who simply prefer a plant-based diet, fortified chocolate soymilk is a great alternative.

Ode to olive oil

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Fats, Nutrition
Learn more about this versatile, tasty, healthy fat.

Olive oil is known for its flavor, versatility, and health-promoting qualities. Nutrition experts think olive oil may be partly responsible for the many health benefits associated with the “Mediterranean diet,” an eating pattern that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and “healthy” fats. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat—one of the healthy fats. It contains vitamins A, E, and K, plus many other beneficial compounds that might reduce your risk of heart disease.

Heating olive oil or holding it at high temperatures for long periods of time can reduce its beneficial qualities. If you use olive oil for deep-frying, it should be discarded after one or two uses.

Interestingly, olives can “pick up” airborne toxins present in smoke from fires, car exhaust, and other pollutants. So it might be a good idea to choose olive oils produced from olives grown in areas where air quality is good most of the growing season. This is likely true for all edible oils.

Olive oil can be used in countless ways: Drizzle on pasta or bread, brush lightly on meats or fish, coat vegetables for roasting, or use nearly any way that butter or other fats can be used—even baking! Of course, as with all fats, be sure to use olive oil in moderation to avoid gaining weight.

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