CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — National Nutrition Month kicks off Mar. 1, and Capt. Raine L. Holly says there are plenty of ways Soldiers can incorporate foods offered at dining facilities here into their diets to enhance their nutrition, performance, and overall sense of well-being.
“I always tell people if you make it to the table and you sit down and there’s not color on your plate, you need to get up and go try again,” the Okmulgee, Oklahoma, native said.
Holly serves here as the theater consultant and health promotion officer for 3rd Medical Command, 1st Theater Sustainment Command. Her duties include working with dining facility staffs to ensure menu offerings meet nutritional guidelines established for Soldiers, working with Holistic Health and Fitness, or H2F, dietitians, and creating programming promoting healthy dietary options.
Recently, she has worked with the staff of the Zone 2 dining facility here to develop a new specialty bar called Bold Bowls. The specialty bar will feature an assortment of grains, vegetables, protein sources and sauces so that Soldiers can learn more about what a plant-forward diet looks and tastes like.
Bold Bowls is slated to be offered in March.
One of the most effective way to enhance one’s dietary health, Holly said, is to eat a plant-forward diet. A plant-forward diet consists primarily of plant-based foods, but can incorporate meat.
“I was raised on a cattle ranch, so I do think that beef is king, but when you’re talking about plants and good nutrition, there’s so many minerals and vitamins that you get from plants that you don’t get from other food sources,” the medical specialist corps officer said.
“When we talk about this plant-forward diet, we’re really looking at a fantastic base of things like grain, whether it’s rice or brown rice or quinoa, or ancient grains like farrah … along with amaranth … or oatmeal—we have that every single day here,” Holly said. “Then adding plants, whether it’s fruit in the morning, like berries and bananas or citrus, or maybe it’s for lunch and it is those leafy greens with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower; add in some peppers, and then you can top that with your favorite dressing.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert L. Lively, the food advisor for 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, with the 1st TSC operational command post, said dining facilities have made great strides in providing healthier, plant-based options to Soldiers over the course of his 15 years in the culinary services field.
“A lot of things have changed, [like] targeting what the Soldiers eat, how they see the food on the serving line, and what we offer to them,” the Miami, Florida, native said. “Now we highlight what’s green—what’s good for you and what’s not so good for you.”
“What’s green” refers to changes implemented through the Go for Green, or G4G, campaign, a joint-service performance and nutrition initiative aimed at improving the food environment military personnel are employed and reside.
Lively said all of foods that are prepared in the kitchen are required to be labeled as green, yellow, or red, with green placards highlighting the healthiest options to choose. The placards also display serving size and caloric information.
“Take quinoa for example, it has a lot of protein and fiber, so it will actually help a person go throughout the day [moreso] than if you choose the yellow or the red card,” the food services technician said. “If you eat more of [red and yellow options] you’ll start being more sluggish throughout the day and you’ll lose a lot of energy because your body is trying to digest that.
“In a deployed environment you want to have all the energy that you can, so offering more green items and healthier items is critical to any day to day operations,” Lively continued.
In support of promoting healthier options, Lively said his team has added a vegetarian bar here that includes various grains, prepared vegetables, and a vegetarian chili.
Holly said she encourages Soldiers transitioning to a plant-forward diet to begin by making little changes.
“Start small and then branch out,” she said. “We all have our favorite foods and sometimes our favorite foods are the ones we grew up on, like macaroni and cheese, chicken strips, and french fries.
“I grew up in Oklahoma and I love chicken strips—they’re my favorite—but I don’t eat them every day,” Holly continued. “So if you’re not used to eating a plant forward diet, that’s okay, start slow, start simple, start with fruits and vegetables that you do like.”
The medical specialist corps officer said she uses the hunt and gather method when she eats in the dining facility.
“I first kind of survey the land and find out what’s there, and I start with a base of grain if I want one— sometimes I want potatoes, sometimes I want rice or a quinoa—and from there I either go to the deli and pick up hummus or I pick up beans off of the salad bar for my protein, and then I build everything around that, picking up dark, leafy greens,” Holly said.
She said Soldiers concerned about building muscle mass need not worry about not being able to get enough protein eating a plant-forward diet.
“You have athletes—Olympic athletes even—that are vegan that get plenty of protein from plants only,” Holly said. Lentils are a great example: one cup of lentils is a serving, [and it contains] 18 grams of protein, compared to 3 ounces of beef which is 22 [grams of protein].
“You’re right there, the difference is negligible,” she continued.
The medical specialist corps officer said if Soldiers have any questions about adopting a plant-forward diet, or about nutrition in general, the staff of the wellness center are here to help.
“Do the metabolic assessment, find out what your total fat mass is and your muscle mass is, and then have that conversation about what your resting metabolic rate is,” Holly said. “Are you wanting to gain, lose, or maintain—[they] can help you with all of that.”