March is National Nutrition Month and with so many fad diets on the market and misinformation, healthy eating can be a difficult struggle. Clever marketers constantly bombard us with the next “holy grail” to weight loss or muscle gain, feeding on our own personal insecurities about the way we perceive ourselves. They then add that a misguided study can be released and we are all eating “low-fat, high carbohydrate” or cutting out things like eggs from our diets. Finally, top that off with claims that anyone can now be a distributor for popular nutritional supplement brands, and you have perhaps one of the most confusing areas of science ever. The tough thing about all this is that we all have to eat to survive!
Building a Better Plate
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates
A healthy diet is one that is sustainable and utilizes all food groups. Sustainability includes foods that are natural, locally grown, and avoid wasting natural resources or damaging the climate. Another aspect of sustainability is that an individual can eat this way throughout their lifespan. This is a good determinant of the quality of one’s diet…can you eat this throughout your life and maintain the highest quality of health?
Start with Color!
When it comes to half your plate, the more color the better. Half your plate should be vegetables and fruits, when an emphasis on vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are generally nutrient-dense and low in calories (avoid heavy sauces and dressings which add unnecessary calories) making them the best carbohydrate choice when you are trying to cut out a few extra calories. Stay clear of white potatoes and french fries, but certainly enjoy a sweet potato or yam.
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants and other phytonutrients that help neutralize damage from free radicals and help fight disease in the body. There are roughly 25,000 phytonutrients in plants and are manifested in the color of food. For example, beta-carotene is converted to Vitamin A, which helps maintain eye health – yes, mom was right when she said, “carrots make your eyes sparkle!” Aim for five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day.
The Less Legs the Better!
When it comes to protein, selecting lean cuts of meat is preferred. About one-quarter of your plate should be focused on protein. Choose items such as fish and poultry over beef and pork. Because of the abundance of Omega fatty acids found it cold water fish (such as salmon, sardines, halibut, mackerel), it is recommended that you consume 2-3 servings of fish each week. When choosing pork or beef, go for the loin cuts, which tend to be the leanest. Dairy products and eggs are also good sources of protein.
If you prefer a more plant-based protein, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, and green leafy vegetables are your best bet.
Keep it Brown & Close to the Ground!
Round off your plate with a whole grain. Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains are loaded with fiber. Fiber not only helps the digestive system in keeping you regular, but it allows for better absorption of phytonutrients from food. Fiber reduces cholesterol, the risk for heart disease, and helps maintain a healthier weight.
Grains such as brown rice, whole wheat products, oatmeal, quinoa, millet, barley (excludes pearl), amaranth, rye, buckwheat, and others, pack an abundance of energy that helps maintain blood sugar levels. Think eating a few donuts for breakfast versus a bowl of cooked oatmeal…oh the sugar crash!
Don’t Cut the (healthy) Fat!
Fat is essential to the body for nervous system function, hormone production, transport of Vitamins A, D, E, & K, energy production, and the formation of healthy cells and tissues. Fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, but it’s important to understand that our bodies require fat for good health. Fat doesn’t make you fat…too many calories do!
Foods containing polyunsaturated fats, (omega fatty acids) such as cold water fish, contain important omega-3 fatty acids, while plant-based fats, such as healthy oils (olive, grapeseed, sunflower) contain omega-6 fatty acids. Other foods containing healthy fats include avocados, walnuts and almonds, chia and flax seeds, and eggs. And some new research is showing that dairy products have healthy fat properties too.
Avoid saturated fats (solid at room temperature like animal fat) and trans-fatty acids (synthetic fats that extend shelf life) found in cookies, crackers, pastry mixes, baked goods, fried foods and just about everything that has a shelf life!
Go 3 for 3!
Be sure to get in all three macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) every three hours in order to be fueled to fight!
Avoid the white hazards: Refined sugar and flour and white potatoes
Beware of the fakes: Stay away from trans-fatty acids and artificial sweeteners
Skip the energy drinks: not only do they provide no nutritional value, they contain stimulants which may unnecessarily elevate blood pressure and do more harm than good.
Fuel for your day!
Front load your calories during the day when you need them and eat less in the evenings when you are no longer burning calories. Consider fueling like preparing for a mission – bring in your supplies early in the fight so you are prepared. You won’t need those supplies when the fight is over! If weight loss is your goal, fueling earlier in the day has been shown to be beneficial. A 2013 study in the Journal of Obesity showed that women who ate more calories for breakfast, when controlling for all factors, lost 2.5 times as much weight as women who ate their largest meal at dinner time.
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a challenge. MCCS Health Promotion offers monthly nutrition classes for active duty Marines and Sailors. Please call 253-6359 to find out about National Nutrition Month classes or how to talk to a certified nutrition counselor.