By David VergunAugust 9, 2013
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (Army News Service, Aug. 13, 2013) -- Soldiers who switch to a healthier diet will notice an immediate change in how they feel and perform, said a registered dietitian.
It's important to eat a variety of foods to get the optimal amounts of the nutrients that promote health, said Col. Laurie Sweet. Just adding eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day to a balanced diet that also includes whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and healthy fats can make all the difference. Fish, nuts and beans are also excellent choices, she added.
In contrast, Sweet said Soldiers should eat fewer processed foods, foods that have added sugars and fats, refined grains and foods that have low nutrient density or empty calories. These foods are associated with weight gain and increased risk of chronic diseases.
Unfortunately, fewer than 15 percent of service members reported consuming three or more servings of fruits, vegetables, or whole grains a day, she added. An excellent basic tool that anyone can use to encourage better food choices is the "My Plate" concept. My Plate suggests having half a plate of fruits and vegetables at each meal along with small portions of protein, whole grains and dairy.
Sweet spoke Aug. 8, at the Army Medical Department in Falls Church, Va., during Army Medical Command's first "Stand Up for Health Training Day," which focused on the Army's Ready and Resilient program's "Performance Triad."
Besides being a dietitian, Sweet is also a nutrition consultant to the Army surgeon general and the nutrition lead for the Performance Triad program.
The Performance Triad consists of three components, including activity, nutrition and sleep. All three are essential to a Soldier's good health and emotional well-being, as well as cognitive and physical performance, Sweet said.
Healthy nutrition, Sweet said, has a positive interactive effect with the other two legs of the Performance Triad, activity and sleep. Eating healthy foods contributes to rapid muscle rebuilding when consumed 30-60 minutes following workouts as well as improved sleep quality.
Poor nutrition habits can have negative consequences not just for health and performance but also for retention in the Army.
"Unfortunately, some 15 percent of active-duty Soldiers are enrolled in the Army Body Composition Program," she said.
In 2012, about 1,815 Soldiers were separated due to being overweight and having a high body mass index. Being overweight doesn't just affect a Soldier's appearance, she said. It also affects combat readiness.
Another troubling statistic, she said, is that once Soldiers retire, they often gain weight.
"Veterans fare worse than their civilian counterparts," she said. "Some 70 percent of veterans receiving outpatient care at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities are overweight or obese. That compares with 63 percent for the entire U.S. population."
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Sweet offered other tips besides which foods to eat and which to avoid.
Be cautious when considering dietary supplements, she advised, "since, unlike medications, most are not rigorously tested. You can't go wrong with whole foods."
The side effects of some supplements are unknown and some may be harmful, especially when they interact with certain medications, she said. Soldiers should inform their health care provider when taking supplements.
She also said health care providers should be asking Soldiers questions about their eating habits as well as about any dietary supplements they may be taking. She recommended visiting "Operation Supplement Safety" at: http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements/opss for more information.
Another tip is to refuel regularly, eat a meal or healthy snack at least every four to five waking hours. Breakfast should definitely be one of those meals, she said. A healthy snack might contain a mixture of protein and carbohydrates, she said. Nuts and fruit or low-fat chocolate milk, for instance.
Along with food, it's important to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, more for strenuous physical work, she said. Energy drinks should never be used for rehydration.
Reducing visits to restaurants will not only save money, Soldiers will have more control over the food they eat, she said.
Lastly, she said, Soldiers should seek advice. The Army has registered dietitians who can customize a nutrition plan for peak performance and to manage health conditions. Also, there are various websites and smartphone apps that can help Soldiers select the right foods and quantities, such as Fooducate or myfitnesspal. Keeping a food diary and using social media to share tips and challenges of eating right and shedding pounds can help as well.
"Soldiers will definitely experience positive lifestyle changes if they eat for good health and performance," Sweet said.
Editor's Note: This is the second part of three-part series about the Army's "Performance Triad," which includes activity, nutrition and sleep.