Tag Archives: healthy eating

Three Easy Tips for Improving Your Heart Health

Healthy lifestyle concept, clean food good health dietary in heart dish with sporty gym aerobic body exercise workout training class equipment, weight scale and sports shoes in fitness center

While Valentine’s Day gets the majority of the heart-related attention in February, there’s another reason to celebrate – February marks American Heart Month, an observance focused on raising awareness about maintaining a healthy heart through proactive prevention. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Even if you are young and healthy, it is important to begin tracking and monitoring your heart’s health. Healthy habits formed in early adulthood can have long-lasting positive impacts on your well-being. Although some individuals may face certain risk factors for this disease outside of their control, the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center outlines how certain medical conditions associated with heart health are “controllable, and entirely preventable in some cases with lifestyle changes.”

Here are a few ideas for improving your heart health:

Understand your potential risks. Consider making an appointment with your primary care physician at least once a year to exclusively discuss and evaluate your heart health.  Be open about your family history, discuss your current medications and routinely monitor your cholesterol. You can also use self-service blood pressure kiosks located at several pharmacies and drug stores to check-in on your levels. The American Heart Association’s My Life Check® self-assessment tool can provide insight in to your personal risk factors.

Get your heart pumping. While any form of routine exercise is likely to bolster your holistic health, this blog from Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends focusing on three types of exercise for your heart: aerobic, resistance training and flexibility-centric movements. Boosting your endurance and strength doesn’t always have to happen at a gym, and you can always consult your Command Fitness Leader for new ideas on how to stay active. No matter your preferred activity, reducing your stress levels through exercise can also improve your heart health.

Practice healthy eating. Ingredients found in processed food may lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even heart disease. Building balanced meals and incorporating healthy options as much as possible is important to maintaining your health. NHLBI’s comprehensive set of heart healthy eating resources offers recipe ideas and tailored eating plans. From avocado and shrimp spring rolls to banana oat cookies, this list of aggregated recipes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Million Hearts® 2022 initiative outlines creative ideas for eating mindfully.

Improving your overall health doesn’t just start and end with making sure your heart is strong. Push forward with your other 2020 resolutions and your heart, as well as the rest of your body and mind, will thank you.

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.

Nutrition’s Role in Building Resilience

2017 FITmas_Nurtition_v2

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.

Proper nutrition is vital to maintaining good health and mission readiness.1 In this article, you will find tips on making healthy food choices, whether at home or while deployed. You can also help boost the resilience of your whole family by sharing these tips with loved ones.

Why Nutrition is Important

One of the most important drivers of good physical and psychological health is what we eat.2 Food provides the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. Nutrients include:3

  • Proteins (e.g. fish, chicken, beans)
  • Carbohydrates (e.g., bread, fruits, vegetables)
  • Fats (e.g., walnuts, olive oils)
  • Vitamins (e.g., vitamin D, folic acid)
  • Minerals (e.g., potassium, calcium)
  • Water

In short, healthy food is really fuel for the body. This fuel is key to your physical and mental performance, and helps maintain emotional control during field operations.4 Beyond performance, nutrition also plays an important role in protecting overall health throughout a lifetime. A diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products helps lower the risk of certain diseases such as diabetes.3

Nutrition Tips

While healthy food options may be limited while deployed, the military has long understood the role of nutrition for service members. The military is continually working on improving the food supply for deployed warriors such as introducing the Unitized Group Ration–Express, a nutritionally complete meal-in-a-box group ration, and re-assigning some dietitians at dining facilities to implement education programs and food selection recommendations.If you are deployed, keep these helpful nutrition tips in mind:

  • To boost energy, consume complex carbohydrates such as fruits and whole grain bread
  • To meet the demand for increased energy needs in the field, increase your intake of food to prevent fatigue
  • To meet the need for increased energy in cold weather and at high altitudes, try to eat healthy, nutritious snacks in between meals and drink more than your thirst may dictate since the sensation does not keep pace with water loss.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration; even mild dehydration can reduce your physical and mental performance

While home, and when possible while deployed, the following daily nutrition recommendations are important to keep in mind:1,5

Fruits and vegetables Eat at least 3 – 5 servings of colorful vegetables and 2 or more servings of fruit each day.
Grains Aim for 6 or more servings of whole grain products each day.
Fiber 20 – 35 grams of dietary fiber are recommended daily, although a low-fiber diet may be preferred during some operations.
Dairy Aim to have 3 cups of low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese, each day.
Meat/beans Eat 7 ounces of meat or beans (legumes) each day, with lean or low-fat choices that are heavy on fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.

In addition to these food groups, research is also uncovering the importance of omega-3 fatty acids to a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, certain cancers, circulatory problems and high blood pressure. Researchers have also linked omega-3 deficiencies with increased risk of depression or other psychological health concerns. Some studies indicate that supplements provided to warriors who have low levels of omega-3s might provide a significant boost in their mood and additional resistance to stress.1 Seafood, including oily ocean fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, are among the richest fish sources of DHA, one of the most efficient forms of omega-3 fatty acids. While there is no official recommendation on a recommended daily allowance for omega-3, dietary guidelines call for increasing the amount of seafood consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern.6

 

What Line Leaders Can Do

As a line leader it is important to stay informed about your service’s nutrition programs. It is also important to educate units about nutrition using guidance from each respective service.1 Finally, you should provide a model for healthy eating behavior and encourage everyone to make nutrition choices that help build resilience and contribute to mission success.

Additional Resources

Sources

1Scott Montain, Christina Carvey and Mark Stephens. “Nutritional Fitness” [PDF 4.65MB], Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century, Supplement to Military Medicine-Volume 175. Published August 2010.
2The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
3Nutrition, MedLine Plus, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
4Module 6: High Caliber Nutrition in the Field [PDF 1.10MB], U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional). Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
5Patricia A. Deuster and others. “Sustaining Health for the Long-Term Warfighter” [PDF 451KB], The Warfighter Nutrition Guide, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
6Covington, Maggie. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” American Family Physician. Published July 1, 2004.
7Health Consequences, Overweight & Obesity, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

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