Navigating the Buffet

Like all buffet-style dining, the dining facility offers a vast selection of food options. Before you enter the DFAC, prepare yourself to say no to unhealthy items because they will inevitably be available. Despite popular belief, there are healthy meal options at every DFAC. If you’re not sure which food items are the healthiest, pay attention to the “Go for Green” labeled foods.  These foods are high performance, healthy food options. 

Make a Healthy Plate  

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Try One of These

  • Salad with extra vegetables and fruit topped with protein source (lean meat, beans, chick peas)
  • Turkey sandwich on wheat bread with vegetables and low-fat cheese and mustard or low-fat mayonnaise
  • Burger with low-fat cheese on wheat bread with side of grilled or steamed vegetables
  • Chick pea or bean salad with added vegetables and vinaigrette-based or low-fat salad dressing
  • Baked/boiled/grilled chicken or fish and steamed veggies with wheat roll

Just Say No!

  • Large portions. Don’t be afraid to ask for a smaller serving size
  • The snack line (pizza, fried chicken sandwich, French fries, pizza)
  • Ice cream, cake, cookies, and other desserts (try fruit instead)
  • Salads topped with heavy amounts of cheese, bacon, and/or fat-based salad dressings like ranch, blue-cheese, and thousand island
  • Soda, juice-cocktail, and sweet tea. Did you know that on average, a 20 ounce fountain soda has ≈225kcal and 50g of sugar? That’s a lot of sugar and calories for such a small drink
  • Vending machines. Vending machine foods are typically high in empty calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. Always have a healthy snack on hand to curb your appetite in between meals
  • Multiple trips. Do not return for second or third helpings.  Give yourself enough time (20-30 minutes) to “feel” full rather than eating seconds before you’ve had time to digest your food

Sports Drinks

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What to look for: natural sources of electrolytes like bananas & coconut water 

What to stay away from: sports drinks all together unless intensely exercising

Sports drinks are intended to maintain hydration and restore electrolyte balance lost during heavy exercise. Electrolytes are maintained in body fluids and needed for nerve impulses and muscle contractions. Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are lost through heavy sweat and must be replaced to keep the concentrations in your body fluids constant. But, buyer beware.  On average, sport drinks contain 20 grams of sugar in one 12 oz. serving.  That’s over 13 teaspoons of sugar in the average 32 ounce sport drink bottle. All of the added calories from sugar can seriously interfere with weight loss/maintenance efforts in addition to sending blood sugar levels on a roller-coaster ride of peaks and valleys. Therefore, it is important to know when sports drinks are appropriate and useful and when they are not necessary.

Sport drinks are ideally used by athletes engaged in high‐intensity workouts lasting 60 minutes or more. They are not recommended for routine consumption.  However, factors such as duration of exercise and weather conditions can affect the need for an athlete to supplement carbohydrate and electrolyte loss with a sport drink.  It is especially important to be mindful of electrolyte loss when exercising in high temperatures.

Most people exercising at a moderate-vigorous rate can stay hydrated and energized by eating a healthy meal or snack and drinking enough water prior to and during their workout. Check out the list below of electrolytes and common food sources for each.

Potassium-bananas, kiwis, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes

Magnesium- green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nut butters, pumpkin

Calcium- milk, yogurt, black eyed peas

Chloride- olives, tomatoes, celery

Sodium- The typical American diet is quite high in sodium, so dietary need to supplement is rare. However, nut butters are a healthy source of sodium if needed.

Physical Activity vs. Physical Fitness

As a Soldier, it is important to be physically active as well as physically fit to be prepared for combat. The terms physical activity and physical fitness are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference in these terms.

The Differences

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Physical activity involves day-to-day actions that keep the body moving and blood flowing, whereas physical fitness consists of workouts that elevate heart rate and perspiration.  Both physical activity and physical fitness are equally important to a healthy lifestyle. 

For those looking to increase their daily physical activity amount, it may be helpful to insert small bouts of activity spread throughout the entire day. 

For example:

  • Take the stairs as often as possible
  • Park as far away from the door as possible
  • Go for a family walk after dinner (don’t forget the dog!)
  • If sedentary at work, take small “walking-breaks” at least once per hour         

FITT

Whether for personal fitness goals or in preparation for the APFT, service members are often searching for new ways to increase their physical fitness.  When creating a new workout, it is important to remember the FITT formula. The factors in this formula can determine the success of a fitness plan. Consider a few recommended guidelines regarding the FITT formula:

Frequency: 3-5 times/week

Intensity: target heart rate range

Time: 20-30 minutes

Type: varied  

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Bottom Line: Although both are essential for a healthy lifestyle, there is a difference between physical activity and physical fitness.

Fat is Not the Enemy

Although the “fat-free craze” of the past has long since been discouraged by health professionals as a viable part of a balanced diet, the amount of products boasting “low-fat” this, and “reduced fat” that, are more abundant than ever. But, fat isn’t the enemy; and, most importantly, all fat isn’t created equal. Some healthy fat is actually a good thing. The key to navigating the revamped “fat craze” can be found in understanding how reduced-fat foods are made and how to recognize healthy fats when you see them.

Fat Free Isn’t Always a Good Thing

What happens when all or some of the fat content is removed from a food? Usually, it doesn’t taste as good because the flavor and texture are now drastically different. To make up for this, manufacturers add sugar, salt, and/or thickeners to replace the missing fat. Now, the food has nearly the same amount of calories, a little less fat, but with more sugar, salt, and other, well, crap. If that doesn’t sound like a healthy swap, it’s because it’s not. Take into consideration a comparison between regular and reduced fat peanut butter.

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Peanut Butter

Compared to the regular peanut butter, the reduced fat peanut butter has 60% more salt and 30% more sugar in addition to a plethora of added fillers and thickeners. Even though the regular peanut butter has more fat, it is healthy fat. Regular peanut butter is the clear nutritional winner.

Think ‘Type’ of Fat, not ‘Amount’ of Fat

The good news is, healthy (unsaturated) fats like those found in olive oil, peanut butter, and avocado can and should be a part of a healthy diet. Unsaturated fats have been shown to decrease risk for cardiovascular disease as well as increase satiety (the feeling of being satisfied). Just one look at the list below of foods containing healthy fats and it’s easy to see how delicious and nutritious healthy fat can be. Remember, everything in moderation!

What to Look For

Heart healthy fats such as unsaturated, monounsaturated, and/or polyunsaturated fats might not be listed on the nutrition label. One way to determine the amount of unsaturated fat is to subtract the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol from the total amount of fat. Try to select foods with more unsaturated fat than saturated and trans fat. Keep in mind that plant based foods are higher in these healthy fats than foods originating from animal sources.

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Caffeine: What to Look for & Stay Away from

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What to look for: natural sources of caffeine like coffee, tea; ≤400 mg caffeine per day

What to stay away from: un-natural sources of caffeine like energy drinks; caffeine-alcohol combinations; ≥400 mg caffeine per day

When consumed in moderation, caffeine has some health benefits. The issue arises when too much coffee, energy drinks, or supplements high in caffeine are consumed. High amounts of caffeine can negatively impact cognitive and physical performance. The effects are even worse when caffeine is combined with alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can blunt the “downer” effects of alcohol, reducing the feeling of drunkenness and further impairing the ability to exercise good judgment and make good decisions.

Energy drinks may be one of the most widely consumed sources of caffeine among military personnel. Like other dietary supplements, energy drinks are not considered “food” or “drink” by the FDA and therefore do not have regulations for caffeine content or other stimulants included in their products. In fact, it is not mandatory to list all ingredients on the label, which leaves consumers in the dark as to what ingredients they are actually drinking.

Known adverse effects of energy drink consumption include: nausea, kidney damage, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and heart attack.  Coffee and tea are safer alternatives to energy drinks since they are made from natural sources (cocoa beans and tea plants). Dietitians suggest consuming no more than 1 to 3 8 ounce cups per day. Go easy on the cream and sugar to limit the extra calories from sugar and fat. Coffee, tea, and dark chocolate also contain heart healthy antioxidants.

Take Home Point:  The best way to keep energy levels steady is to eat a balanced diet with snacks that are low in refined sugar, and drink plenty of water. When choosing to consume caffeine, be sure to do so in moderation and select natural sources over manufactured energy drinks.