Tag Archives: eating habits

Boost your mental performance with better nutrition

Smoothie bowl with fresh blackberries, blueberries, banana, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia  seeds and coconut

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Human Performance Resource Center. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Human Performance Resource Center. To learn more, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/.

Have you ever felt tired, sluggish, or foggy after eating a big meal? Have you seen how kids (and kids at heart) get hyper or seem like they’re not thinking straight after a candy binge? Then you probably know that what you eat affects how you feel.

In a state of optimal nutritional fitness, what you eat supports healing and your immune system, helps prevent injury, improves energy levels, and allows you to achieve optimal emotional, cognitive, and physical performance. When you eat right, you’re likely to feel more energized, less fatigued, and have better focus, judgment, accuracy, and reaction time. The opposite is true when you fuel your body improperly. Whether you’re at home or deployed, follow these tips to help you to stay alert, focused, and performing at your best.

Mental Performance Nutrition Tips

To achieve nutritional fitness, focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. Read more on the recommended diet for Military Service Members.

  • Boost your intake of magnesium. Magnesium is important to regulate muscle and nerve functions, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It also helps make protein, bone, and DNA. Nearly half of all Americans over age one are deficient in magnesium, and the deficiency is even greater for some gender and age groups. Foods high in magnesium include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), fortified breakfast cereals, milk, and yogurt.
  • Eat plenty of foods high in B vitamins. These nutrients support metabolism, brain development, blood and nerve cell health, DNA production, and the development of serotonin, which impacts mood, memory, and emotions. Foods high in B6 include poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and noncitrus fruits. Foods high in B12 include beef, liver, clams, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy, and fortified breakfast cereals. Foods high in folate include asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, oranges, nuts, beans, peas, and grains. Food is the best source of most vitamins, but supplements can help if you’re unable to eat some of these foods.

“We don’t eat nutrients, we eat food.”

Paul Jacques and Katherine Tucker,
Tufts Human Performance Research Center on Aging

  • Fuel your body consistently. Eat meals regularly to maintain blood glucose (sugar) and muscle glycogen (stored energy) levels throughout the day. Balance meals and snacks with whole grains, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help keep your blood sugar steady. Avoid skipping meals, too much sugar, and imbalanced meals that are mainly refined flours (carbohydrates). Dips and spikes in your blood sugar can make you feel tired, shaky, or less focused. If you skip meals or don’t eat enough, your blood sugar can drop, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and a decline in performance. Symptoms of low blood sugar include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, weakness, fatigue, sweating, confusion, and fainting. You don’t actually need to have full-blown hypoglycemia to begin feeling these effects.
  • Rethink your meal choices on the night shift. At night, your body’s metabolic processes slow down. Eating at night has been shown to be bad for your health, including an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infections. But for night-shift workers, it can mean the difference between staying alert—or not—on the job. The right type and amount of foods and beverages can help keep up your blood sugar to stay alert.
  • Get a caffeine boost, but not too much. Caffeine improves alertness, vigilance, attention, and reaction time when taken in small to moderate amounts. Caffeine can also help mental performance in sleep-deprived situations. But dose and timing matter;  refer to Operation Supplement Safety for more information.
  • Drink enough water. Water is the most abundant component of the human body—around 50–70% of your weight—so your body needs fluids regularly to function properly. Performance can start to decline once you’ve lost as little as 2% of your body weight. Even mild to moderate dehydration can reduce alertness and cause fatigue, tension, and difficulty concentrating. Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. Aim to drink half your body weight in water each day to stay hydrated (e.g. 100 oz if you weigh 200 lbs). And don’t rely on thirst as a good indicator of your fluid needs. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.

Bottom Line

Mental performance is just as important as physical performance. Fortunately, proper nutrition can help with both.

Savor the Flavor of Eating Right during Navy Nutrition Month 2016

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There are a variety of factors that influence our food choices, from childhood experiences to current hunger levels, the food around you, emotions and more. Our perceptions of “healthy” versus “unhealthy” food can be shaped by as many factors, including confusing labels, clever marketing and fad diets. March is Navy Nutrition Month and this year’s focus follows the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Nutrition Month campaign theme: Savor the Flavor of Eating Right. This theme encourages you to explore the different ways to follow a nutritious and balanced eating plan packed with tasty foods, while taking the time to enjoy and appreciate the many flavors and social experiences food adds to our lives.

Eating right and maintaining regular physical activity can be stressful in today’s busy world.  This year make mindfulness a priority at mealtime by focusing on:

  • Enjoying the sight, sounds and good memories associated with eating;
  • Making half your plate fruits and vegetables;
  • Trying one new food from each food group every week; and
  • Having a basis of 3 meals daily with healthy snacks to hold you over when there’s more than 4-5 hours between meals.

A solid foundation within these concepts will help to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote overall physical and psychological health. You’ll also be well on your way to building new nutrition habits that can help take the stress out of healthy eating.

Remember, what you eat is only half of the focus – how you eat is equally as important. Engage all your senses when you eat – observe the shape and color of your food, savor the fragrant aroma, eat slowly, taste the different flavors and pay attention to every bite. Make every meal an experience to enjoy the full benefit of your food!

Don’t think healthy foods can taste good? Think again! It is a common misconception that whole foods—such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes—are boring, bland or tasteless.  In fact, these foods have more inherent natural flavor than their fried, sugary, or heavily-salted processed counterparts. The great thing about preparing a dish with fresh and wholesome ingredients is that you can season to your taste and give the dish your own personal flare. By using herbs such as thyme, bay leaf or rosemary and spices like cumin, allspice or paprika, you can create savory dishes with minimal effort. Experimentation with spices will lead you to discover new and satisfying options for healthy foods.  Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Library of Recipes to find great-tasting options using easily accessible ingredients.

Savoring the flavor of eating right begins with having access to the right resources to help increase your knowledge of how to choose and prepare good foods that are good for you.  Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website for tips, meal ideas and more!  Also, check out the recently published Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the most up-to-date evidence based information on how to eat for optimal health.

A balanced diet is an essential part of preserving our mission readiness and ability to thrive in our personal lives and careers. Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, the OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. He has nearly 10 years of experience in counseling thousands of service members and their families on nutrition and health-related issues, having delivered close to 600 nutrition-related lectures to more than 20 commands and institutions across the DoD.  Check out more of his healthy eating tips on NavyNavStress, like this post on Healthy Eating Barracks Style. For additional Navy Nutrition resources, visit http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/navynutrition/Pages/default2.aspx.

Eat Together to Live Better

Eat Together to Live Better_Image.docx

The dinner table has long been a cherished icon of American culture, signifying connection, communication and shared experience. While mealtime with loved ones and friends may be a staple of the holiday season, the frequency often decreases dramatically during the rest of the year. Work schedules, family commitments and the daily churn may make regular “sit-down-dinners” seem nearly impossible. However, the advantages of enjoying a meal with others far outweigh the excuses.  As you gear up for a healthier year, take a look at a few ways that sharing meals can benefit your physical and psychological health.

You’re likely to eat smarter. According to Stanford University, Americans consume one out of every five meals in the car [1]. It’s no secret that when eating alone on the go, you’re likely to make less nutritious choices and eat hurriedly without stopping to consider whether you’re still hungry. Sitting down to share a meal with others is an opportunity to slow down the pace, as you’re likely to pause between bites to engage in conversation. These pauses are chances to listen to your body and be mindful of signals that you may not have room for more. As an added bonus, frequency of shared meals is associated with higher intake of fruits and vegetables [2]. Try practicing mindful eating to reap the full benefits of engaging with others while focusing on your meal.

Mealtime can foster community. Gathering around the table to enjoy meals with shipmates or family helps to promote connectedness and belongingness, protective factors against suicide and the negative effects of stress. Mealtime is an opportunity to bond and engage with others by sharing experiences, offering support and improving communication. To encourage interaction, optimize your mealtime environment by turning off the television and ensuring that mobile devices are out of sight.

Likelihood of risk-taking behavior may decrease. Sharing meals together, especially as a family, has been linked with decreased risk-taking and destructive behaviors. This includes lower likelihood for alcohol misuse, illegal drug use, as well as suicide related behavior [2]. One study indicates that youth who ate a meal with their family five or more days a week were half as likely to consider suicide. Additionally, those who experienced depressive symptoms within the previous year who regularly shared meals with others were also less likely to consider suicide during that timeframe [3]. Actively engaging with others during mealtime can enable early recognition of distress, providing the opportunity for proactive support and care.

Don’t think you have enough time to sit down and eat with your shipmates and loved ones? Start by committing to achievable goals, like setting aside thirty minutes one day per week to build a routine. Get everyone involved in the decision-making process, and remember, any meal can be a shared meal (not just dinner on a weeknight!). Plan your meals in advance to minimize stress and spending while maximizing nutrition. To promote connection among shipmates, organize a regularly occurring potluck within your unit or association.

Make your mealtime an opportunity to step away from your hectic day and connect with others on a personal level. Fostering engagement is 1 Small ACT that can help you be there for Every Sailor, Every Day.

Sources:

  1. What’s for Dinner? (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://news.stanford.edu/news/multi/features/food/eating.html
  2. Oregon Shared Meals Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2015, from https://public.health.oregon.gov/PreventionWellness/Nutrition/SharedMeals/Pages/index.aspx
  3. Utah Health Status Update: Risk and Protective Factors to Youth Suicide. (2015, February 1). Retrieved December 23, 2015, from http://health.utah.gov/opha/publications/hsu/1502_Suicide.pdf

Tools for Healthy Eating, Barracks Style

oatmeal porridge in a bowlFor those who live in the barracks, dining options may seem limited to a repetitive menu of sandwiches, TV dinners and ramen noodles. It doesn’t have to be that way! These days many foods can be prepared without a stovetop or traditional oven, taking the stress out of creating tasty meals in the barracks while keeping your fitness in mind.

March is Navy Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Enjoy the taste of eating right.” Whether you’re seeking the comfort of a home-cooked meal or just trying to make the best of affordable microwave-cooking, the following simple tips incorporating the Principles of Resilience can help you eat healthy, “barracks style.”

  • Plan Ahead. Make good use of the available space in your room, shelves, locker, refrigerator and/or freezer, and always have them stocked with healthy meal and snack options. This will encourage you to eat what you have on hand and prevent you from eating out too often.
  • Build a Sense of Community. Make meal plans with your friends, neighbors and roommates. Eating together creates a community support system to enhance and maintain healthy eating habits. If you enjoy dining out with others, just work it into your weekly routine. Reserving eating out for social occasions helps to maintain a healthy body and budget. Opt for healthier menu items like steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted choices, and limit the fried stuff. Request gravy, sauces and dressings on the side. A good practice is to share a meal or take half home.
  • Don’t Just Rely on Premade Meals! With a little planning, you can still enjoy whole foods, even with limited refrigerator or storage space. Before your next grocery trip, make sure your list includes a variety of shelf-stable foods from each food group:
    • Grains: Look for cereals or granola bars with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and few ingredients—read the labels! For a hot breakfast or snack with minimal prep, opt for instant oatmeal, cream of wheat or brown rice. Whole wheat or whole grain bread, tortillas, pita bread, and crackers are nutritious snack or sandwich options.
    • Vegetables: Fresh, canned or frozen, you can still get your veggies in with minimal prep!
    • Fruits: Choose fruit cups or fruit canned in its own juice or water (vice “heavy syrup”) to avoid added sugar, or opt for dried fruit.
    • Dairy: Choose low fat cheese or yogurt with minimal ingredients on the label. Try plain yogurt topped with your own fresh or dried fruit for added flavor.
    • Protein: Explore quick options like tuna packets, fat free chicken breast canned in water, nuts, nut butters, canned beans or Greek yogurt. (Choose low sodium canned and packaged foods with less than 480mg per serving on label)
    • Healthy Oils: Top off your salad or sandwich with olive oil, oil-based salad dressings, low fat mayonnaise, hummus or spreadable butter alternatives made with plant oils. Look for a greater amount of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats and limit saturated and trans fats.
  • Get Creative with Your Equipment. Microwaving doesn’t have to mean under or unevenly cooked meals. Use ceramic, heat-resistant glass or BPA-free microwaveable plastics, and incorporate tools like a microwavable plastic folding omelet pan or vegetable steamer. Be sure to rotate food often for optimal taste and even cooking. If you’re looking for more variety, try using a toaster, electric grill, rice cooker or toaster oven (with the option to toast, bake, or broil).
  • Watching your weight?  Use an online tool like https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/ to calculate how many calories you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight and divide your calories into three meals per day.  For example, if you need 1800-2000 calories daily, then strive for 600-700 calories per meal.  Focus on heart-healthy, nutrient-dense foods from each food group.

Visit the “Eaters” link on the Navy Nutrition website for more resources on grocery shopping, meal planning, and healthy stress-free eating, barracks style!

A balanced diet is an essential part of preserving our mission readiness and ability to thrive in our personal lives and careers. Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, the OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager, is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. He has nearly 10 years of experience in counseling thousands of service members and their families on nutrition and health-related issues, having delivered close to 600 nutrition-related lectures to more than 20 commands and institutions across the DoD.  With a passion for promoting nutritional awareness to enhance health and quality of life for individuals and populations, Lt. Cmdr. Sood hopes to offer simple and practical ways to maintain healthy eating practices 365 days a year.  He is a firm believer in the phrase “food is medicine,” and that every individual should embrace this idea to help them think about food as a therapeutic agent, thus leading to food choices that are beneficial rather than detrimental to overall health.

– NavyNavStress note

Good Nutrition can Keep you Healthy from the Neck Up, too

We often think of fueling our bodies with the right foods to achieve optimal performance as warfighters, and of course to manage our weight and overall waisthealth. The benefits of proper nutrition don’t stop there though. Healthy eating habits not only help you stay fit from the neck down, but from the neck up. As we recognize Navy Nutrition Month throughout March, get the skinny on keeping your mind and body nourished, and “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.”

Combatting stress with a good diet doesn’t start once your conscience kicks in after that second helping of your go-to comfort food, but should be a proactive and ongoing effort. Research shows that people are more likely to select food for taste over nutritional value—but nutritious and delicious foods are easier to find than you may think.

Did you know omega-3 fatty acids have been found to aid in the prevention of stress through their essential role in brain biochemistry?  Rather than experimenting with the unknowns of nutritional supplements (that do not require approval from the Food and Drug Administration), go for naturally-occurring sources of omega-3s. Salmon, eggs and lean meats are excellent—and tasty—suppliers of these vital nutrients and each help you incorporate more protein into your diet, the healthy way.

Why protein to reduce stress? Protein supplies the brain with amino acids, helping to promote healthy brain function through the steady creation of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that carry and regulate signals throughout the body).  Quality protein can be found in a variety of sources, not just meat and dairy products. Try pairing your salmon with a side of black beans, or reach for a handful of raw almonds instead of going for the cookies when you’re stressed.

And then there’s sugar. We all know that tense situations and stress can lead to cravings, particularly for sugar. While glucose is essential for our bodies to function, our body’s sugar supply needs to be slow and steady for good performance. Added sugar can cause your glucose levels to spike, then fall rapidly, thus intensifying cravings and impacting alertness and decision-making abilities, so avoid those peaks and valleys from sources such as sugary drinks, sweet desserts or additives. To find balance, incorporate more of your favorite complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains and fruits, to satisfy your sweet tooth, while allowing yourself to have small portions versus the “cold turkey” route. Try a banana and peanut butter sandwich – a healthy, sweet, delicious and protein-packed alternative to your vending machine favorites.

Hungry for more? During the month of March and throughout the year, the Navy has a buffet of resources to support making healthy choices every day. Check out our feature in All Hands Magazine for more tips, and visit Navy Nutrition and Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center to help you incorporate the nutrients you need to stay fit from the neck down—and up.

Laughter is good medicine for stress relief! Navy Operational Stress Control and Suicide Prevention would like to thank cartoonist Jeff Bacon for his continued support.