Tag Archives: food choices

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

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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

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

A Buffet of Tips to Make Healthy Food Choices during the Holidays

21 Days of TSF PHYSICAL-FOOD

Amidst the bright lights, decorations and cards, this time of year may evoke a range of emotions—from excitement and love, to anxiety and loneliness. Whether sharing the holidays with shipmates at sea, enjoying a big meal with family or celebrating solo, your mindset can affect your nutritional choices and vice versa. “Remember it’s all about balanced eating,” says Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, OPNAV N17 Nutrition Program Manager. “The food we consume can affect the way we think, feel, act and interact with those around us. A balanced diet is an essential part of preserving our mission readiness and ability to thrive in our personal lives and careers.” Here are a few mealtime tips to help you balance your mood, cravings and the stress of shedding post-holiday pounds this FITmas.

Celebrating the Holidays in the Barracks? While you may miss family dinners this season, you don’t have to spend meals alone. Make plans to share a meal with your roommates and other Sailors in the barracks. Eating together creates a community support system, thwarting feelings of loneliness by promoting shared experience. Opt for healthier menu items like steamed vegetables (frozen steam-in-bag veggies can be found at the commissary), low fat cheeses, and quick sources of protein (canned low-sodium salmon or chicken breast). Check out the Guard Your Health campaign’s Class I Recipes for barracks-friendly meals, like this 8-Can Taco Soup.

Find Yourself Stress Eating More Often? Stress-eating may have gotten a bad rap (but we’re not giving you permission to down a bag of M&Ms while reading this post!). Eating the right foods when your emotions are running high can actually help calm you down, and finding the right foods doesn’t have to add to the stress. For example, try going for a handful of almonds instead of reaching into the candy jar. Almonds contain vitamins B12 and E, as well as magnesium and zinc, helping your body balance “fight or flight” responses when stress strikes. And, you don’t have to banish carbs to Mount Crumpit with the Grinch, just choose wisely! Carbohydrates help the body produce serotonin, which helps promote a sense of calm and reduce cravings. Go for complex carbs like 100% whole grains, remembering that moderation is key. Watch for added ingredients like sugar and other markers of highly-processed food. Green vegetables, beans, corn and potatoes are also smart carb choices.

Practice Mindful Eating. Mindful eating is helpful any time—from stressful situations, to facing a plethora of delicious-but-not-so-nutritious dishes at a holiday meal. To practice mindful eating, start by listening to your body. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if you are reaching for food out of emotional pleasure or discomfort. If you are indeed hungry, start with a small serving on your plate (about the size of two fists). Eat your meal with intention, one forkful or spoonful at a time, placing your utensil down between each bite. Focus on your food’s taste, smell, texture and how you feel while eating it. (You can still connect with others during your meal, but try not to talk with your mouth full!) Once you’ve finished your first serving, allow yourself three to five minutes before going for more. Consider whether you’re still hungry or if you’re overindulging just because the food is available. Eating mindfully can help you enjoy the flavor of your meal without plowing through it and seeking more— helping to keep your energy levels balanced and thwart the holiday poundage.

You may not be able to eat your way out of stress altogether, but you can make smart choices to help navigate stress, build resilience and promote Total Sailor Fitness from the inside-out. To help you determine your ideal caloric and nutrient intake, use an online tool such as the SuperTracker on www.choosemyplate.gov.