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.

Army H.E.A.L.T.H. and the Performance Triad

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As introduced in a previous Army H.E.A.L.T.H. blog post, the fundamental components of the Performance Triad are nutrition, activity, and sleep. Emphasis has been placed on these three elements due to their ability to impact mental and physical performance. Interested Soldiers and their family members can utilize the tools on the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. website/mobile app to aide in the practical application of these three essential elements to their lifestyle.

How? Army H.E.A.L.T.H. works in conjunction with the Triad to offer custom nutrition and fitness plans in addition to sleep material specifically designed for military personnel. Whether looking for a new exciting fitness routine, or ideas for healthy, energizing meals, Army H.E.A.L.T.H. is the bridge that connects the Performance Triad to Soldiers and their family members.

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Eating a healthy diet is imperative for maintaining peak physical and mental performance. Soldiers face their own unique set of environmental factors that may either help or discourage healthy eating practices. Army H.E.A.L.T.H. can help Soldiers make the right dietary choices. The custom meal planner provides a detailed list of foods tailored for an individual’s specific requirements. For those with specific food preferences or needs, foods can easily be removed or modified.

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Most Soldiers share the common goal of maintaining a high level of physical fitness. However, no two Soldiers have the exact same fitness needs, routines, equipment, etc. Army H.E.A.L.T.H. can help Soldiers achieve their fitness goals by providing a custom made fitness plan according to each person’s individual goals. The fitness plan provides a detailed exercise routine that is made specifically for each individual. Exercises are easily removed or modified to accommodate for injury or lack of equipment. The Army H.E.A.L.T.H. Fitness planner even takes each Soldier’s next scheduled APFT into consideration when creating a new plan.

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Most service members know that it is recommended to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night…a recommendation that is often easier said than done. In the Army, lack of sleep often results from operational requirements or high-operations tempo training. Army H.E.A.L.T.H. provides information regarding how to improve sleep quality and quantity under the most difficult, military specific situations. Resources are also provided for working with commanders and peers to ensure that Soldiers are enabled to get enough sleep and, therefore, function optimally.

An Ode to Military Moms

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She knows all the words to the Army, Marine, Navy, or Air Force fight song. She knows how to put together a care-package better than Fed-EX. She knows how to use Skype and FaceTime like a pro. She knows the desperation of stalking her child’s journey through boot camp on the official company Facebook page. It’s the only line of communication between her and her child and she doesn’t mind sifting through thousands of pictures of other kids at the chance of seeing a picture of her Soldier in training. She knows the joy of seeing her child travel the world: Germany, Korea, the UK, or maybe even the highly coveted Italy or Hawaii. She’s happy her child can see things she hasn’t seen, visit places she hasn’t been, and live dreams she’s only imagined for her child. She’s even more excited when her child returns back to the continental U.S. and she can conveniently text or call without having to deal with different time zones, international phone plans, calling cards, or scheduling conflicts.

She’s got a sacrificial heart, willing to give her child up to her country. She sees the greater good. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s happening immediately. She trusts, she supports, she loves. Seeing her child experience the loss or injury of a comrade, she also knows the pain of seeing her child hurt. Thinking of the lost and injured comrade’s family, friends, and parents, her heart grows bigger, with more compassion. Hearing about her own child’s war stories, her heart grows anxious, yet patient. A daily reminder of the love and sacrifice of military moms of children who serve.

She’s married to a Soldier. Sometimes he’s home for Mother’s Day and sometimes he’s not. Therefore, sometimes, she plans her own Mother’s Day, by herself (not unlike many civilian moms). On Sunday, she might not be pampered. She might not wake to breakfast in bed. But, she will be joyful knowing her children are a gift she shares with her husband. A daily reminder of the love and sacrifice of military moms who are married to service members.

She wears the uniform with pride and strength. She’s spent many Mother’s Days with her family and many far away. If away from home, she might call or Skype with her child. Then again, she might spend Mother’s Day working through the night without any special meal, without the technological capability to talk to her family. She might remove a picture of her child from her uniform pocket and smile. A daily reminder of the love and sacrifice of military moms who also serve our country.

She’s spent Mother’s Day thinking about the dreaded call telling her that her child was hurt while overseas. Heart racing, she is thankful her child is alive and here for another day. She hurts for her injured child, but she is proud, she is strong, and she will be her child’s rock through his/her recovery. She will help her child heal mentally and physically. She will watch her child grow, again. A daily reminder of the love and sacrifice of military moms of children who were injured while serving.

She’s spent Mother’s Day grieving the unbearable loss of a child as a result of service to their country. Her pain cannot be erased. Her child cannot be brought back. She feels alone in her day, even though she’s surrounded by those who love her. She is reminded not only of her loss, but of all the wonderful things about her child. She thinks of her child gallantly fighting for his/her country, and the heroic life her child so selflessly sacrificed out of love, too. A daily reminder of the love and sacrifice of military moms who have received a folded flag.

To all military moms, we thank you. Happy Mother’s Day.

What is the Army Performance Triad?

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The Performance Triad is a comprehensive plan that encourages Soldiers to make healthy choices regarding their physical activity, nutrition, and sleep habits. The Triad focuses primarily on activity, nutrition, and sleep because these components all interact to influence performance and health.

Nutrition

Whether training to be a Soldier Athlete or striving for a higher level of personal fitness, it is important for Soldiers to stay hydrated and fuel their body with the right food for the right job. It is especially imperative to build an eating strategy that will complement the requirements of each individual mission. Focusing on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole wheat carbohydrates is fundamental to building a healthy plate.

Activity

Practicing a safe and effective fitness routine is essential to prevent injury and overtraining, maintain physical readiness, and improve overall health. But, physical activity encompasses more than just PT or exercise at the gym. Moving more (at least 10,000 steps/day) throughout the entire day has been linked with improved health outcomes such as reduced blood pressure, improved glucose levels, and maintenance of a healthy weight.

Sleep

The adverse effects of chronic sleep loss include poor mental and physical performance, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and increased risk of obesity, to name a few. Barriers such as noise, light, and dietary choices may interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. Add the diverse, demanding lifestyle of a Soldier in the mix, and things only get more complicated. Practicing healthy sleep habits can be the key to ensure clear thinking and optimal performance. Sleep 8 to be great!