Tag Archives: mindful eating

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.

Savor the Flavor of Eating Right during Navy Nutrition Month 2016

12565415_10153979519098304_7417447286282311774_n

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.

Food Everywhere – Too Many Choices!

Lt. Cmdr. Amit Sood, a dietitian, offers tips for you to enjoy the flavors of the holiday season and develop mindful eating as a way of life.

Food is often the center of attention during the holidays, and trying to regain a sense of control for the New Year can be tough. Many factors influence your food choices – the food around you, hunger level, boredom, your perception of healthy versus unhealthy food, among many others. This is where ‘mindful eating’ comes into play. You may have heard this phrase, but what exactly does it mean, and what is the benefit to us?

Earlier this year, we discussed mindfulness in the context of stress eating as: “experiencing and being fully aware of what your body is telling you in the present moment.” We live in a society where food is abundant and readily available, so being mindful of our body’s needs for nutrition and our food choices is key to maintain proper nutrition. You can start by creating a healthy eating environment.

If you think back to boot camp or officer training, meals were only available at one place, with set menus and times. Now, whether at home, in the office, barracks, commissary, or around your ship’s living spaces, no matter where you are, your environment is one of the main triggers of your food choices at any given time. If there’s a box of doughnuts in your spaces, you will likely crave it, and if you don’t, then you’ll probably want it anyway, just because it’s there. To avoid this common pitfall, especially around the holidays when potlucks and cookie exchanges are in abundance, ask yourself the following to see how you can improve your eating habits:

  1. Am I overindulging in food choices and quantities that I do not ordinarily eat because it’s available?
  2. Do I find myself eating when I’m bored or stressed?
  3. Am I grazing on food throughout the day without taking the time to taste and enjoy it?
  4. Do I mindlessly chomp on salty or sweet snacks in front of the TV?
  5. Am I skipping meals and not paying attention to when I’m really hungry?

If you answered ‘yes,’ to any of these questions, consider re-focusing your efforts to eat with the intention to nourish your body, enjoy the flavor of your food, and sustain positive energy levels throughout the day. Planning and preparing your meals ahead of time with a focus on healthy whole grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of highly salted, sugary, or fatty snacks will increase your sense of controllability and help you sustain positive food choices in your daily routines and during holiday festivities.

Here are some additional tips to control your eating this holiday season and set you up for success in the New Year:

  • Don’t purchase food that you are vulnerable to overeating.
  • Keep food in designated areas that will only be accessible during set meal and snack times.
  • Avoid grocery shopping when you are hungry.

You can also visit the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, Health Promotion and Wellness Department’s “Relax Relax” Toolkit for an audio presentation on Mindful Eating.