Army health leaders advocate for importance of nutrition
WASHINGTON (March 23, 2015) -- During National Nutrition Month in March, "we encourage each of you to renew a commitment to achieving your personal Performance Triad goals," said Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho.
This year's theme is "Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle," she said.
The Performance Triad focuses on the importance of sleep, activity and nutrition as a way to boost Soldier and Family performance and resilience, said Maj. Bethany A. Belanger, PhD and registered dietitian. She serves as the nutrition lead for the System for Health and Performance Triad at the Army Office of the Surgeon General.
The reason nutrition is part of Performance Triad is that there is a proven interaction among sleep, activity and nutrition, meaning a healthy or unhealthy choice in one impacts the others, she said.
For Soldiers looking to improve their physical fitness, cognitive performance or manage their weight, those three factors should be considered synergistically, Belanger added.
For example, she said, lack of sleep can result in a person's tendency to crave unhealthy foods like those that have a high fat or sugar content, which in turn leads to weight gain and lack of physical fitness.
Getting back to the basics of healthy eating and making more informed and healthy food choices is easier now than it's ever been, Belanger said, noting a proliferation of healthy eating websites and apps that are helpful.
The best places to begin, she said, are visiting ChooseMyPlate.gov and EatRight.org. ArmyFit also provides information and personalizes it with Soldiers and Family members' Global Assessment 2.0 scores.
It is not only important to eat a nutritious and balanced meal, she said, it is also important to stay within one's calorie limits. To find one's nutritional needs and calorie limits, visit those websites or see the installation's registered dietitian/nutritionist, usually located at the medical treatment facility.
Unit master fitness trainers are also schooled on nutrition basics and are another resource, she added.
Belanger said she and many other dietitians use the free app Fooducate, which provides a food tracker option and gives nutritional ratings. For instance, a food logged might receive a D or F if it is highly processed and loaded with sugars and unhealthy fats. The app will also provide similar, healthier alternatives and works by scanning in a food or beverage barcode or finding a product using the food database. Food and beverages not found in the database can also be manually entered.
A number of activity monitors like personal readiness devices also track food, activity and sometimes even sleep, she said. "They are great motivators and can be real eye-openers."
HEALTHY EATING TIPS
Belanger provided a few healthy eating tips she said she hopes people will remember.
While eating three meals a day is standard fare for most, she suggests light snacking between meals to keep the blood-sugar level up, as it tends to drop after four hours, and can signal cravings.
Instead of junk food from vending machines, she suggests preparing healthy snacks that are loaded with essential nutrients, such as calcium, protein and fiber. These could be nuts, fruits, veggies, even half of a peanut-butter sandwich.
Having these healthy snacks readily available, she said, is especially important when a person is experiencing emotional roller-coasters like stress, boredom, happiness and depression.
A lot of Soldiers, especially those engaged in high-performance fitness programs, have questions about taking supplements, she said.
They might be looking for "that magic pill or food that's going to give them all the energy they need to perform, lose weight or be stronger," she said.
Supplements can range from bodybuilding powders to multivitamins, and advertisers do a good job promoting them, she said.
Unfortunately, the industry is not regulated and many supplements do not do what they advertise and some are even dangerous to take, she cautioned.
She encouraged Soldiers to be smart about their supplements and question the ingredients and the quantity of those ingredients. Also, choose supplements that have been third-party tested and visit the Human Performance Resource Center website for more information.
If still in doubt, see a registered dietitian/nutritionist, she said.
Belanger said in her own opinion that eating healthy food is the best approach and for many, supplements are probably not even necessary. "Ask yourself if you really need it. We suggest utilizing food first."
More and more, healthy food choices are being offered at installation dining facilities, Belanger said, adding that it is still a work in progress.
Several years ago, the Go for Green Program gave a big boost to that effort, she said, explaining how it works:
Go for Green is a nutritional recognition labeling system providing Soldiers with a quick assessment of the nutritional value of menu offerings. Food items are labeled green (eat often), amber (eat occasionally), and red (eat rarely) based on the impact the food can have on a Soldier's performance.
For example, foods labeled green are high performance foods that can positively impact a Soldier's performance and foods labeled red are performance-inhibiting foods which can negatively impact a Soldier's performance. The program has posters and menu cards for the serving line providing explanation of the color-coding system.
The Army is also working to improve nutrition through its Joint Culinary Center of Excellence and Army Quartermaster Corps, both at Fort Lee, Virginia, as well as Army G-4, she said. Their goal is to "make choices easy and convenient for the Soldier and Army communities."
Lastly, Belanger advocates for making small changes to healthier eating over time and making those changes a lifelong commitment. "There will be times when you fall off the healthy nutrition wagon. When that happens, the best thing you can do is just pick yourself up and get back on."