Tag Archives: diet

Fueling Your Body and Mind with Food

Fueling Your Body and Mind With Food_blog image

The relationship between food and health is complex. The foods we eat have a chemical effect on the brain and impact how we feel. Eating processed foods—from nutritional supplements like protein powders to combo meals from your favorite drive-thru—can keep your body from accessing the beneficial nutrients it needs to help you feel and perform your best. Why is this? Many of the essential and naturally occurring nutrients are stripped, altered or replaced during processing. This includes fiber, phytonutrients and other healthy compounds.

Current studies show that a balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein promotes optimal health and better mood. These whole foods are made of vitamins and minerals that are broken down during digestion, making them available for the body to use as energy and for essential processes like cellular repair. When essential components are missing, we experience a decline in energy, alertness and mood.

Supplement vs. Whole Food

Supplements typically use artificial or synthetic vitamins and minerals, which may not offer the same benefits as whole foods. The human body is designed to recognize natural and whole ingredients, so it isn’t able to utilize the man-made vitamins and minerals as effectively.

Many supplements isolate particular nutrients and leave out essentials that the body would otherwise use if the food was consumed in its natural form. Take whey protein powder supplements for example. While this milk-based protein produces a rapid increase in amino acids needed for muscle growth and repair, casein protein can also help prevent muscle breakdown (which in turn, supports growth). Where do both whey and casein naturally occur? In milk! In general, service members consume enough protein through their food and don’t actually need to supplement their protein intake.

Comfort Food vs. Whole Food

Our mood often influences what we eat, but what we eat can also influence our mood. Consider these scenarios:

  • Two Sailors are experiencing similar stressors. They’re in the midst of preparing for permanent change of station (PCS) moves that are causing a lot of strain in their households and on their wallets. At work, they’re both hit with short-fused tasks that their current supervisors are keeping close watch on, in addition to the other things they have to get done.
  • When Sailor A gets home, tired and frustrated, he reaches for cookies, potato chips and a soda and heads to the couch. He starts to get his mind off of everything, but about 20 minutes later he’s back to feeling drained and irritated.
  • When Sailor B gets home, tired and frustrated, he goes for some leftover grilled chicken and vegetables in the refrigerator and a glass of water. His problems don’t go away after he eats, but he’s able to regroup and shift focus to the things he can get done at home to support the move without feeling angry or annoyed.

Why the different outcomes? The comfort foods Sailor A went for are highly processed, high in added sugar and fat, and low in nutrients. While they may have an emotional appeal (especially if they were his go-to comforts as children) those effects wore off quickly. The vitamins and nutrients he needed to rebalance his mood, such as serotonin, were missing or less effective because they were in a man-made form that wasn’t as accessible to his body. This emotional rollercoaster can increase feelings of anxiety, depression and fatigue, causing the craving cycle to begin again. Sailor B got the benefits of serotonin, boosting his mood and giving him the energy to do something productive. Not only did he get his mind off of his day, but he’ll sleep better and be more focused and alert.

How to make changes

Eating healthy or healthier doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Here are a few ways to make the switch to whole or less processed foods:

  • Re-think fast food. For a quick and healthy meal, opt for a rotisserie chicken at your local grocery store, a salad and fresh fruit.
  • Shop the perimeter of your grocery store for fresh meats and produce. Most frozen food is good too; just skip items with gravies and sauces. Living in the barracks? Check out these tips to eat healthy while saving time, space and money.
  • Swap out your sugary snack stash for your favorite fresh fruits and vegetables; the original comfort foods. Pair them with 10-15 nuts or a tablespoon peanut butter or other healthy spread.
  • If going for a processed food (something that comes in a bag, box, container or package), aim for five ingredients or less. Watch out for high-fructose corn syrup and other hidden sugars.

Talk to your Health Promotions Office or Registered Dietitians (RD/N) office for more information and resources.

LT Pamela Gregory, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian with nine years’ experience in counseling a wide variety of clientele on nutrition and health-related diseases/ topics. LT Gregory uses a functional nutrition approach to assist clients in their treatment phase.

References:

  1. (2015, Aug. 31). Is Whey Protein the way to go? Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/hprc-articles/is-whey-protein-helpful-to-optimize-performance.
  2. (2014, Jan. 2 ). Can Food Affect Your Mood. Retrieved Jun. 21, 2017, from http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/02/food-affects-mood.aspx
  3. (2012, Jan. 1) Journal of Food Science, 77 PP R11-R24.
  4. (1999). Impact of Processing on Food Safety. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 459 PP 99-106.

The Costs of Hidden Sugar

Soda_Cans

The average American eats about 5,000 tablespoons of sugar per year, amounting to roughly 152 pounds (or the weight of one person)[i].  That’s three pounds or six cups of sugar per week! Many of today’s health disparities are related to the increased consumption of added sugar and refined fats, including the rise of diabetes, hypertension and childhood obesity[ii].

Unlike naturally occurring sugar – such as the sugar found in milk or fresh fruit – added sugars are those that do not naturally occur in the food themselves. Rather, these sugars are added to a food or beverage during processing or preparation before packaging. Added sugars appear in many forms and often crop up unexpectedly, along with added fats and other harmful ingredients. We consume them so frequently that our bodies begin to crave them, deteriorating our health while boosting the packaged and fast food industry’s profit margins.

You may have experienced the power of a sugar craving and chalked the urge up to your “sweet tooth.” But you may not be aware of how addictive these sugars actually are. Studies have shown that Oreo cookies are more addictive than heroin[iii].  The brain views sugar as a reward, so the more we eat it, the more we want. Since the 1970s, added sugar intake in the United States has risen dramatically. The increased consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – the prevailing sweetener used to flavor popular beverages in the United States – has been found to mirror the growth of the obesity epidemic.

Finding ways to cut down or eliminate added sugar from your diet can be tricky if you don’t know what to look for (not all sources are as obvious as Oreos). Here are a few facts and FAQs to help you uncover hidden sugars and make more informed decisions.

Added sugars hiding out on your food labels go by different names. Here are just a few to look out for (there are more!):

Anhydrous Dextrose Molasses
Brown Sugar Nectars (e.g., Peach Nectar, Pear Nectar)
Confectioner’s Powdered Sugar Pancake Syrup
Corn Syrup Raw Sugar
Corn Syrup Solids Sucrose
Dextrose Sugar
Fructose White Granulated Sugar
High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Cane Juice
Honey Evaporated Corn Sweetener
Invert Sugar Crystal Dextrose
Lactose Glucose
Malt Syrup Liquid Fructose
Maltose Sugar Cane Juice
Maple Syrup Fruit Nectar
Agave Allulose

Know the foods that often have sugars added to them. Again, there are more! Be sure to read the labels to look for the aliases above.

Peanut Butter Ketchup
Salad Dressing Yogurt
Granola Bars Frozen Meals
Spaghetti Sauce Dried Fruit
Fruit Juice BBQ, Sauces and Marinades
White Wine Canned Fruit and Vegetables
Applesauce Breakfast Cereal
Protein Drinks (including Ensure or Boost) Soups
Breads & Crackers Baked Beans
Pastries (Cake, Pies, Cookies, Muffins) Energy Drinks (Monster, Red Bull)
Candy and Ice Cream Electrolyte Drinks (Gatorade, Powerade)
Beverages (Soda/Coffee/Vitamin Water) Flavored Potato Chips


Know how much sugar is recommended and safe to consume.
Dietitians and other health experts recommend getting ten percent or less of your daily calories from sugar. This equals 13.3 teaspoons of sugar per day if you’re consuming 2,000 calories. Beware, the average 12-ounce soda contains 16 teaspoons of sugar! Just one soda per day could lead to a weight gain of 15 pounds in a year.

Sugar does not provide any additional vitamins or minerals that assist the body in its daily functions to promote energy and a healthy lifestyle.  For example, a two-ounce chocolate bar has 30 grams of sugar and the same calories as three medium bananas. Bananas are low in fat and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Despite containing natural sugar, bananas will satisfy your sweet craving while helping you feel fuller longer. Natural sugars found in whole fruit don’t affect the body the same way due to their naturally occurring fiber.

So, are artificial sweeteners a better swap?
Artificial sweeteners may seem like an appealing substitute for the taste of sugar without the calories, but they come with some not-so-sweet trade-offs. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), artificial sweeteners that have been approved for use and are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) include sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame and neotame. However, studies have shown that frequent consumption of artificial sweeteners may lead to increased weight gain and overall increase in body mass index (BMI)[iv] . The perception of saving calories from artificially sweetened snacks or sodas may lead to replacing those calories through other sources. In other words, you may give a slice of cake the greenlight because you feel like you’ve made a healthy choice by drinking a diet soda with your lunch. Additionally, artificial sweeteners may alter the way we taste food due to their intensity, which can make less sweet foods – such as fruits and vegetables – undesirable[v].

Are fat-free snacks better?
No. Typically foods are flavored three ways: with fat, sugar and sodium. So, if one of the item is removed then other two are likely increased. Fat-free cakes, cookies and ice cream can have up to twice as much sugar than the regular serving.  Looking at the food label ingredient can help determine if that food item is a smart choice.

How to read the ingredients list.
Names of ingredients are listed in the order of the amount that the food contains, from the most to the least. For example, the Kellogg’s Raisin Bran Crunch ingredients list begins with whole grain wheat, sugar, raisins, and rice. The most abundant item found is whole grain wheat, the second most abundant is sugar, then raisins and so forth. Brown sugar syrup, glycerin, corn syrup, molasses and honey are also on the list (sources of added sugar). This one cereal contains five different types of sugar or sugar-like substance. Not quite as healthy as you may have thought.

So, what can I eat?
Practice small swaps to help you see progress, such as exchanging your lunchtime soda for twelve ounces of water (sparkling water is a healthy bubbly alternative), or packing fresh fruit and nuts rather than heading to the vending machine during your mid-day slump. Weaning yourself off of sugar isn’t easy, but you can find balance by integrating more complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains) into your diet and allowing yourself a small portion of a sweet treat every once in a while rather than quitting “cold turkey.”

Sugar takes a toll on the body and mind, with the slump following a sugar rush possibly accelerating mood disorder symptoms. It’s also been shown to negatively impact memory. With excess sugar leading to short-term impacts, such as weight gain, and long-term impacts that can shorten your lifespan, such as diabetes, it’s increasingly important to pay closer attention to what you eat. For more information, check out the healthy eating resources at Navy & Marine Corps Public Health Center, NOFFS Fueling Series and eatright.org.

LT Pamela Gregory, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian with nine years’ experience in counseling a wide variety of clientele on nutrition and health-related diseases/ topics. LT Gregory uses a functional nutrition approach to assist clients in their treatment phase.

 

[i] http://www.dhhs.nh.gov/dphs/nhp/documents/sugar.pdf

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2892765/

[iii] http://www.sugarscience.org/the-growing-concern-of-overconsumption/#.WJit4Gq7pIB

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3210834

[v] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030

How Stress Impacts Your Heart Health

heart-health-blog-image

Heart disease refers to numerous problems which are often related to plaque build-up in the heart’s arteries (atherosclerosis)[1]. There are a variety of risk factors for heart disease, some of which may be out of your control, such as genetics and age. Other risk factors – such as lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet or unchecked stress – can be minimized through lifestyle changes. That’s good news considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.

Stress is a natural reaction; it is the body’s way of coping with a perceived threat. As part of the ‘fight or flight’ response, stress signals the body to produce more energy by elevating the heart rate, increasing production of LDL cholesterol and blood glucose. This response should subside when the perceived threat (stressor) is no longer present. However, when we’re unable to unwind or are exposed to stress for a prolonged amount of time, the short and long term effects can be damaging. Stress can lead to poor eating choices, missed workouts and a lack of sleep. Without action, this combination of factors may lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

According to the 2013 Fleet and Marine Corps Health Risk Assessment, only 12 percent of active duty Navy respondents and 13 percent of active duty Marine respondents indicated that they experienced work stress. However, those numbers increased as time away from home station increased. To help navigate stress, follow these tips:

Not all risk factors can be avoided, but exercising Controllability when it comes to navigating stress and making lifestyle choices can reduce risk. Small acts can help you do your part to protect your heart, improve your health and enhance your military readiness.

February is Heart Health Month. The Every Sailor, Every Day campaign thanks Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center for providing the above information, which can be found in their fact sheets “Heart Health: Risk Factors and Lifestyle Choices” and “Help your Heart, Help your Life” located in the February HPW Toolbox.

 

[1] What is Cardiovascular Disease? (2017, January 10). Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Caregiver/Resources/WhatisCardiovascularDisease/What-is-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_301852_Article.jsp#.WJns3dXR_9c